Forty-five minutes before Shabbos, and the chaplain of Booth Memorial is working feverishly to repair the refrigerator door. “Please, I implore you to go home to your family. Shabbos is around the corner and you’re not going to make it home for Shabbos.” The chaplain ignores my pleas and continues to work desperately on the door so I could have a working fridge in the bikur cholim apartment. He finally gets the door back and races against time to come home for Shabbos. This Lamed-Vav tzadik was Rabbi David Keehn zt”l. He was niftar on Monday, October 25.
By the way, did I mention that he was blind, too? When I heard the news, I was shaken to the core. Rabbi Keehn gave selflessly of himself to me over 50 times, if not more, in the past decade; 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Rabbi Keehn was always there at my side as I cared for my parents. At 6:30 in the morning, when I would leave my dad’s bedside to daven in the chapel, he was at the hospital. “How is your dad or mom doing? “Okay, I guess.” He always asked if he could do anything for me.
At 11:30 p.m., I begged Rabbi Keehn to go home. He arranged for a comfortable chair so I could sleep next to my dad through the night. He secured permission for me to sleep over in the hospital so I could personally take care of my father. He went over every detail of my needs to make sure my stay in the hospital was pleasant. He didn’t overlook anything!
Rabbi Keehn spent so much time with my parents that I found new respect for rabbis. “Rabbi, you are a saint!” I said to him. Today, many rabbis act like CEOs and have no time for the commoner. He gave so much of his time that I begged him, “How can I repay you??” His humility and unending kindness remind me of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Reb Dovid zt”l, Rabbi Kaufman zt”l, and Rabbi Kelemer zt”l, who treated every person like a human being.
At the bikur cholim apartment, Rabbi Keehn personally bought everything from grape juice to toothpaste for hospital guests. Sometimes I wasn’t the only guest there, and Rabbi Keehn worked overtime to ensure that couples and families who were staying there were royally taken care of. Although I stayed 90 percent of the time at dad’s bedside, sometimes I ran over to the apartment to eat or just unwind. Rabbi Keehn personally made sure that all linens and towels were clean and fresh, and all necessary toiletries were stocked. Nothing was overlooked. People reading this article may be asking themselves, “How could he do all this being blind?” I used to ask the same question. The answer? “G-d’s miracles.”
I must have had 100 conversations with Rabbi Keehn. He was the most patient person I know. He reminds me of the chapter in All for the Boss, where Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman listens to an emotionally disturbed person who walks the streets of the Lower East Side talking to himself and no one talks to him. He is ignored, but the rabbi spends two hours in his shop listening to this unfortunate soul. He leaves, relieved that finally he was allowed to get many things off his chest.
Today, you don’t have to be emotionally disturbed to be ignored. If you’re not part of a clique in your local shul, you’re invisible. But that is another story. Like a soldier standing at attention in front of his officer, I would watch mom pour out her heart to Rabbi Keehn for hours a week, and he would stand there 100 percent attentive. “Mom, he has to go to other patients,” I implored. But Rabbi Keehn wouldn’t flinch, with a face of concern and a heart of compassion.
As dad’s end was nearing, I was so emotionally distraught on pressing issues that no one should have to go through. “Should we put a feeding tube in? I asked Rabbi Keehn. Dad was drifting between two worlds, and I longed for him to stay in this one, but what do I do? I had no answers. I was so confused and had no one to talk to. Rabbi Keehn was more than the chaplain. He was my guide, my rabbi, my friend, and my close confidant. He helped me sail through the turbulent times as dad’s life was slowly closing in on him.
My outside world stopped for my parents. Rabbi Keehn’s outside world stopped for us and all the sick patients who needed him. Sadly, while sleeping over at the hospital, many patients don’t have visitors, and Rabbi Keehn was, so to speak, everyone’s father at the hospital. There were many times that patients died and the only one to ensure kavod for the meis was Rabbi Keehn. I wonder how many days the rabbi went without eating and sleeping so that every Jewish and non-Jewish patient had the proper medical attention and had a comfortable stay in the hospital.
It’s kind of ironic – but that’s newspapers for you – but when the story broke about Rabbi Keehn’s death, he was mentioned on page 25. Hunki’s Pizza moving to the Five Towns was the big story. A legendary rabbi, a Lamed-Vav tzadik, a rabbi who treated every person as a human being, should have made headlines! Irreplaceable and a legendary chaplain, Rabbi Keehn, who treated everybody – patients and their loved ones – like a somebody for 28 years, is not headline news. But for the hundreds of people who were the recipients of Rabbi Keehn’s great generosity and kindness, he will always be headline news in their hearts and in the Real World, where he is enjoying his rightful place in Gan Eden. (Editor’s Note: We received news of Rabbi Keehn’s passing moments before printing and published a small obit with the time we had. Last week featured multiple fitting tributes to Rabbi Keehn on the cover. –NS)
On Friday, April 23, doctors at Booth Memorial told me that we did all we could for my father, and they could no longer render medical care. I asked Rabbi Keehn, “What is my next step? What do I do?” He worked so fast and found me hospice care that would take him on Sunday. Dad never made it to Sunday. Despite all my passionate T’hilim and promises to be the best Jew in the world, sometimes G-d says no. He was niftar at 11:07 p.m. right by my side. As tears were rolling down my face, I gently kissed his forehead and said, “I love you.”
And Rabbi Keehn was right by my side.