Monday, January 1, 2018

The Next Generation

Every chaplain is a recruiter for their denomination, whether you hold the official title or not.
Part of that job, is being interviewed by people interested but do not have enough information.
Below are some questions I have been asked recently.

1) Do you work more with veterans in a hospital setting, or active service members on bases?

I am an active duty chaplain, serving currently with two Marine battalions at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC.

2) What's your work like?

It's amazing. I could spend hours describing it but I'll keep it short.
I get to work with Marines and be there for them when they need to talk/need guidance/help/are in spiritual crisis.
I get to show Jews who are not open about being Jewish, that they can be.
I lead a diverse Jewish community of service members who know that they will not always be stationed where there will be a Jewish chaplain.

3) Did you serve as a chaplain while you were still a student?

No. I commissioned in my 4th year and went officer school (ODS for the Navy) that summer. I went to Chaplain School during the last semester of my 5th year.

4) Did you go directly into military chaplaincy after ordination, or did you have student congregations and/or congregations after you graduated?

I was selected for the reserves for a year and was the assistant rabbi of a congregation after ordination and went onto active duty after that.

5) You mentioned that you're working with Marines and Sailors; how did you choose which branch of the military to serve as a chaplain?

I went to the Navy because the Navy bases are usually around port cities, where there are other Jews. I wanted the chance to deploy and I wanted to serve with Marines. The Navy chaplains also cover the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

6) Do female chaplains have the same issues with harassment that servicewomen do?

Just because I have not does not mean it does not exist.

7) I know rabbis can feel isolated if they don't have a peer community, but it sounds like you've been posted to places where there are other chaplains from other religions, and that they've been really welcoming. Is that the norm, or do you feel like you've been lucky?

I think it is a little of both.
One of the things my Command Chaplain said to me during my farewell lunch, was that I was able to remind them all that there are more than Christians in the room and do so in a loving, welcoming way.

8) Has there been room for you to grow and develop in your work?

I have grown as a rabbi, that's for certain.
I get to be a rabbi of a congregation and have a battalion or squadron of my own.
I have grown as a chaplain, absolutely. Every day I learn something new!

9) What's your favorite part of your job?

Serving God and country. And I mean every word.

10) How do you balance the laws of Kashrut and Shabbat with life on a ship or a base?

I have only been on bases.

In Okinawa, Kashrut was hard. I had to find a balance and when the commissary (grocery store) got Kosher meat, I was in heaven.

Kashrut in Jacksonville, NC is a challenge but kosher meat is only a 90 minute drive away.

As an officer, you'll always have your own kitchen (base-specific). When I am out visiting my Marines in the far-flung reaches of the Marine Corps, I bring protein bars and eat the vegetarian MREs (meals ready to eat).

Shabbat is a little trickier. In Okinawa, I lived off-base so I could be within walking distance of the Jewish chapel on base. It did not take too long to get that approved.

In Jacksonville, because I am single, I do not rate on-base housing that would put me within walking distance, so I drive.

I have a blackberry that I answer on Shabbat because I assume that it is an emergency. It is with me, even during Chagim. As a chaplain, I stand "duty" for a week at a time. I answer it when it rings. And when I stand duty during Shabbat, I answer the phone.

There has to be some flexibility within our observance levels because of the nature of the military and its structure. 

11) The Jewish community in the Navy and Marines is small.

It is bigger than you realize. I have Marines coming out of the woodwork when they see my Kippah. They feel strong enough to say out-loud that they are Jewish.

12) How do you best navigate that minority status?

I am the guide-on for ALL minorities. I ensure that all minorities in my command are cared for and that they know I have their back, should they need religious accommodation support. I wear a Kippah on my head and hold it high. When an event is happening, I advocate for my religious needs - doing so to harmonize the needs of the command and my religious needs.

An example. My command hosts a memorial run every year for a Marine we lost 6 years ago. It is held on the first Saturday of August. I will drive to and from shul but to nothing else, so I bike to the event, give the invocation, walk around and talk to everyone and when it is over, I bike home.

It is a balancing act and one that starts with the first decision you make. You must hold your convictions ("hold the line," as General Mattis said) and be consistent.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Veteran's Day Mishebeyrach (Blessing)

To the one who blessed our ancestors,
Abraham and Sarah,
Isaac and Rebecca,
Jacob, Leah and Rachel,

Bless ____________________ (Name, rank, branch of the military) and all
of those who have served this country in the armed forces.

Bless them for their unselfish service as they defended freedom around
the world,
Stood up for those who could not do so themselves,
Protected the innocent and defenseless,
Through combative or non-combative posts,
By air, by land and by sea.

Bless them with peace,
healing the wounds that we can see and those we cannot.

Bring them comfort, knowing their actions
brought peace and security to those who had none.

May they see the pride that fills our eyes when we look at them as
veterans, the honor we have of having their presence with us today as
symbols of the embodiment of what it means to be an American Jew.

May God guard them, bless them and keep them in peace, just as they
brought peace to others.

And let us say, Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

18 month project

I have completed a project I started as soon as I got here.
I spelled out CAMP LEJEUNE finding items that look like the letter.

It only took me 18 months.

 C (Admiral Lejeune's monument on base)

A (Sign outside Intel bn) 

 M (dip bars outside Motor -T)

P (War memorial) 

 L (Radio Bn's Paraloft)

E (Sturgeon City Park) 

J (War Memorial) 

E (Jacksonville Commons Park)

U (creek on base) 

N (pedestrian bridge over Lejeune Blvd) 

E (the old railroad station on E. Railroad Rd)

New RP

I think it is wonderful when a new RP steps on deck and gets his end of tour award from his previous command straight off.

It says a great deal about that Sailor.

Keep it up, RP3!

Global War on Terrorism Memorial

I was invited to give the benediction to the GWOT memorial dedication at Ft. Benning, GA.

Though getting to meet the MCPON and SgtMaj of the Marine Corps was probably a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, getting coined by a Gold Star mother was powerful. And that was just at breakfast.

The memorial lists the names of every service member who has died since 9/11.

 There are blank spaces.

Below is my benediction and pictures.

Mekor Chayim, Source of Life,

My soul hurts.

It was ripped open 16 years ago, and yet, sometimes, it feels like yesterday.
The pain of my loss weighs me down and it feels hard to breath.

I feel alone – like no one can understand me except you, God.
 -- But not here –

Here I am amongst friends, bonded by our losses and tears.
Here I find family, Gold – Red – White and Blue.

Here, we honor our fallen family, who died protecting the defenseless and bringing hope to places that had none.

May this monument serve as balm for our souls, helping us heal together -  - as family and not as strangers.
And may it stand as a witness that the sacrifices of our family will not be forgotten – but honored and cherished - - not just today -  - but every day.

Avinu SheBashamyim, Heavenly Father,
If we could be so bold, we pray that you watch over Your children, Your precious service members and civilian counterparts and those who will follow in their footsteps of continuing the mission of bringing us one step closer to peace in the world.

For you have promised us through your prophet Isaiah,
כִּי־תַעֲבֹר בַּמַּיִם אִתְּךָ־אָנִי וּבַנְּהָרוֹת לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּךָ כִּי־תֵלֵךְ בְּמוֹ־אֵשׁ לֹא תִכָּוֶה וְלֶהָבָה לֹא תִבְעַר־בָּךְ

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; nor shall the flame kindle upon you.” (43:2).

May we see the day when there is no need to add names to this memorial or any memorial.
 And may that day come soon.

 Side view of the memorial (statues of two fire teams behind the marble slabs with all the names listed, behind a piece of the scaffolding from Ground Zero)

Veterans holding a gauntlet of flags for the Gold Star families to walk through. (In case you are not sure, this is a sign of respect.) 

 MCPON and I

 SgtMaj Green and I

Post-event wide-angle picture of the memorial

Weddings and Farewells

In the transient life that is the military, people come and go in our lives.

It was my honor to marry Hailey and Josh.
I am sad that so soon afterwards, they moved across the country.

But it was not "farewell." Rather it was a "see you later."

Sukkah building

The next morning after we ended Yom Kippur, we put up the Sukkah.

It was so nice to not have to worry about typhoons coming in.

Just a little rain.