By Retired Chaplain Col. Jacob Goldstein
As I write this column, tectonic shifts and actions are occurring in our country. Our daily way of life has changed for many Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our schools are shut, synagogues are closed to prayer and other functions, people are confined to their homes, and our lives are turned upside-down in ways that are difficult to describe. How can we not go to synagogue to pray, attend a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a wedding, etc.? I wish to share with you an event that changed my life during my 38 years as the longest serving Chaplain in the U.S. armed forces.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I, along with millions of other Americans, was engaged in my daily routine. In an instant, our lives were changed by coordinated terrorist attacks, one at the World Trade Center in New York City. That day I received a message on my pager from the Headquarters of the New York National Guard, where I served as the Chaplain for the Joint Forces Command. The message called me and other unit ministry teams to the World Trade Center site. I saw the horrors of deaths and destruction in an area where hundreds were killed in the blink of an eye. The lives of all Americans were changed from that day forward. No longer were we the open society that existed up to the moment of those attacks. A new way of life started. There were additional security scanners in buildings, more intense airport screenings, and security guards in many buildings with questions asked of all who entered.

This brings me to where we are now in our lives, which have turned upside-down. Eventually after 9/11, our lives returned to a new normal as we adapted to a changed reality. Our country returned to its success, until this pandemic hit the entire world. Just as the Lord assured Moses in the desert, “Do not be fearful and tremble, for I the Lord am with you,” place yourself in the hands of Hakodesh Boruchhu, the Lord above, and continue to do good deeds, be charitable to one another, and engage in prayer as we Jews have always done in times of distress and danger.

I will conclude with an incident that happened to me at the World Trade Center site. On my third day there with almost no sleep, a fellow chaplain came to me and handed me a Yarmulke someone had found in the rubble. Instinctively I turned it over to see if it had an inscription inside. It said, “The wedding reception of Steven to Melanie, Sept. 10, 2001.” Imagine light in the darkness, a religious symbol for all to see. May the Lord guide us in all our deeds for good, heal those who are ill, and comfort the families who have lost dear ones during this time.

Volume 74. Number 2. 2020

By Captain Arnold E. Resnicoff, Chaplain Corps,
U.S. Navy (Retired)

On a Navy ship, before an important announcement over the public address system, the boatswain’s mate sounds the bosun’s call with a pipe/whistle, followed by the words, “Now Hear This.”

This sound to get our attention always reminded me of the shofar blast, and the words reminded me of the beginning of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel.”
In both these phrases, the word “hear” means much more than the physical act of hearing. The word is a command, closer to the old English word hearken. It means listen, understand, and obey. It is similar in some ways to another military phrase, “attention to orders.”

On the radio the word roger, which stood for the letter R in an older version of the phonetic alphabet, indicates message received. However, received means both heard and understood. Wilco (from “will comply”) adds the third layer, meaning the message was heard, understood, and will be obeyed. Although film actors often say “roger, wilco,” that would be redundant… although not as bad as the actors who say “over and out,” rather than choosing one or the other!

The idea that a military command includes all three of these ideas – hear, understand, and obey – is longstanding tradition, and the Navy reply, “aye, aye,” specifically affirms all three components: I hear, I understand, and I will obey. In other words, I have received the order, understand it, and will carry it out.

In the Bible, the Israelites at Mount Sinai, after receiving God’s commandments through Moses, respond “naaseh v’nishmah,” meaning “we will do and we will hear/understand.” That reply is the Biblical equivalent of “aye, aye” or “wilco.” However, commentators note that because the word do precedes the word understand, the theological and philosophical lesson is that we often hear more deeply and understand more fully only after we take action to incorporate the commandments into our lives.

On a ship, after “now here this,” we pay attention, preparing ourselves to understand the orders that come next, and then take action to follow those orders. In prayer, whether in synagogue or not, we should do the same when we hear the Shema. We should struggle to hear the words, to understand their meaning, and then to obey them through the way we live our lives.

When we hear “The Lord is our God,” that means that the false gods of ancient times, or the false gods of modern times like money or power, are not our God. But it also means we are not God. Truly hearing that one idea should change our lives.

When we hear “God is one,” we should understand that one God means we live in a world created with one plan. Ancient people who believed in many gods could not learn from history because they could not be sure the gods they dealt with on one day were the same ones as on another.
In a way, Jews introduced the idea of history with the idea of monotheism. We believe we can learn lessons of the past. We hear by searching for history’s lessons and then making those lessons a part of our lives.

“God is one” also teaches that God is uniquely whole, unlike human beings who are flawed and fragmented. Our nation’s founders dreamed that we should pursue “a more perfect union” when it came to our nation. We must do the same as individuals, pursuing integrity, the integration of our dreams, our words, and our actions, and trying to do a more perfect job of walking the talk.

In 1987, I was honored to give the prayer for the first United States Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust ceremony ever held in the Capitol Rotunda. These ideas drove the words of my prayer:
“ …if the time has not yet dawned when we can all proclaim our faith in God, then let us say at least that we admit we are not gods ourselves. If we cannot yet see the face of God in others, then let us see, at least, a face as human as our own.”

If we truly hear the words of the Shema, if we hearken to those words, struggling to understand their meaning with all our heart, our soul, and our might, with every fiber of our being, not only will our lives be changed, but so will our world.

Rabbi Resnicoff, a lifetime JWV member, began his Naval career as a line officer and then served in chaplain assignments including Command Chaplain, U.S. European Command, the “top chaplain” for military personnel of all services and all faiths in an area that at the time included 93 nations spanning 13 million square miles. Following retirement, he served as National Director for the American Jewish Committee and Special Advisor for Values and Vision to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. On October 23, 1983, he was present in Beirut during the Beirut Barracks bombing. His eye-witness report was read by President Ronald Reagan as a keynote speech in Washington, DC.

Volume 74. Number 1. 2020

By Rabbi Mark L. Winer, JWV National Chaplain

Chanukah gets a bad rap.
In the Jewish tradition, Chanukah is regarded as a minor holiday. Indeed, for hundreds of years, observant Jews were forbidden from celebrating Chanukah. Those who commemorated the Maccabees’ victory would receive no part of the “World to Come,” according to the Mishnah, the foundational compilation of the Talmud.

Only when the focus of Chanukah shifted to the miraculous oil lasting eight days, was the festival grudgingly admitted into Jewish observance. The story of the one day supply of oil which burned for eight days appears a few hundred years after the Mishnah in the Gemara.

Some modern Jews dislike Chanukah because many Jewish parents in contemporary America set up Chanukah as a Jewish counterpart to Christmas. No matter how wonderful Chanukah is, it cannot possibly hold a candle to what Christmas means to Christians. With the exception of Easter, Christmas is the most important holy day in the Christian year. Even eight days of presents and the most beautiful Chanukah Menorah cannot compete with what the Christmas tree, the creche, and the nativity mean to Christians.

Chanukah may not be so important in the Jewish tradition, nor does it really work as the Jewish version of Christmas, but Chanukah is a meaningful festival for modern Jews who delight in being loyal Jews and at the same time rejoice in being loyal patriots in their native and adopted lands. From my perspective, Chanukah is a particularly important holiday, for American, Israeli, and modern Jews everywhere in the world. It is especially powerful in its message to Jewish families in which one or more members have served in our nation’s armed forces.

Chanukah is the festival which most poignantly speaks to modern Jews. Like the Maccabees, we modern Jews stand up for our beliefs. We fight anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. We stand up for Jewish rights here in America and in Israel. American Jews spearheaded protests which culminated in the liberation of Russian and Ethiopian Jews. Our people recovered from the worst genocide ever perpetrated against any people. We both re-established the State of Israel after 2,000 years of exile and built American Jewish life to a level of strength and depth of observance and study without parallel in Jewish history.

Like the Maccabees of the Chanukah story we balance a healthy traditionalism and a sensible enjoyment of modernity. Proud, strong, and free, we rejoice as heirs to the noble legacy of the Maccabees.

Volume 73. Number 4. 2019

This article is being written during the month of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. Each morning in Elul, at the conclusion of the weekday service, the Shofar is sounded. It is the view of the Rambam, the great rabbinic sage, that the blast of the Shofar serves us as a wake-up call, reminding us that Rosh Hashanah, also known in the Torah as the Day of Judgement, is just around the corner. This is a time that reaches out to us, calling for self-scrutiny and introspection in preparation for what is coming. Just as a marathoner does not run an event without warming up and stretching, Elul is the time given to us for a spiritual warm-up.

Those of us who have served in the armed forces are well acquainted with the difficulties and challenges that came with that service. A key for dealing with both routine and extraordinary crises is the quality of our resilience and our ability to cope and rebound. Those who take their religious faith seriously are endowed with “Spiritual Resilience.” As a Vietnam veteran, my Jewish faith helped me cope and overcome the often traumatic episodes I encountered in combat as well as in daily life.

The process of developing spiritual resilience goes hand in hand with introspection and self-scrutiny. The military provides us with a model in the form of tactics in the short-term and strategy for the long-term. The process consists of asking ourselves a few challenging questions such as: where am I now on life’s continuum, where do I want to be, and how do I plan to get there. This process must be undertaken in small and thoughtful bites. If my ultimate goal is too ambitious, it will only lead to frustration; if not ambitious enough, it will lead to complacency. This undertaking fits into another theme of the month of Elul, that of Teshuva or repentance. Teshuva is a four step process: identifying inappropriate behavior, regretting it, abandoning it, and then requesting forgiveness from The Almighty.

Elul is the month that comes with the opportunity to seek out and identify the special and unique role for which we were created. As the Talmud Sanhedrin teaches, every person must recognize that ‘the world was created for me, not to exploit it – but rather to provide the opportunity to make a contribution to the betterment of society and the human condition. Should we fail, the world will be bereft of that unique offering only we are capable of contributing.

May you and all those you hold dear be inscribed for the coming year in The Book of Life for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and meaningful New Year.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

What unbelievably frustrating times. On the one hand, we live in the freest country that has ever existed; despite its flaws. Flaws are not the surprise. After all, we are human. Freedom is. It’s not typical at all of governments to be by and for the people, yet that’s what the USA has been successful at for 240 years. But what the freedom has begotten as of late has not been the pursuit of happiness – the recurring shootings, including two at synagogues in the past year as well as 4 attempted arsons of synagogues the week I am writing this – show that something is very off. I don’t pretend to have the ultimate answers to these troubling issues, but perhaps we can take the moment to focus on three points that each of us can advance in our own lives, to better impact the world around us.

Self, mission, and action. Every individual in the armed services understands that one must have a clear identity and knowledge of our responsibilities. This leads us to focus in on our mission, and most importantly, to get it done. As Jews, both as individuals and as a nation, we need to reflect likewise, and perhaps, apropos of the holiday of Shavuot, we can use G-d’s introductory line, His mission statement to the Jewish people, to do so. “And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Firstly, “And you shall be for Me”: This relationship with G-d might be a complicated one. But when we put aside the baggage and just take in the simple fact that G-d desires this relationship; that G-d cares about what I do and the choices I make, we have a better sense of self. This life is not just one of fulfilling personal bucket lists; it’s about recognizing that G-d put us here for a purpose.

That purpose is encapsulated first in the term “kingdom of priests.” The word Kohen (priest) actually means “one who serves,” but it is typically in the capacity of bringing others closer to G-d. The job of the Jew is to lift others higher. To assist others to understand that this world is not a jungle, it’s a place of meaning and purpose.

And finally, “A holy nation”: Sometimes the above is done in an active way, by actively influencing others, and sometimes that is done as a result of the Mitzvot you do in your own home, even by yourself. People around you will sense it, and see a person living a good, egoless, yet driven life, and they will be inspired to do the same.

Jewish war veterans understand these ideals more than most, having lived it in less than ideal circumstances. But now is the time for action. Tell your stories. Let’s touch people one by one, bringing one and all to recognize the preciousness of every moment of our lives, and to express that by spreading goodness, both within and without. We need to stand up strong and proud and spread the message: Live lives of goodness and purpose. That’s who we are, and what we are meant to do.
I wish you all a very joyous Shavuot!

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

By Chaplain (COL) Larry Bazer

After almost 30 years in the military, I’m still amazed with the surprise of people learning that I’m actually a soldier or more specifically—National Guardsman, and a rabbi! I even get, “You mean the Israeli Army, right?” “No, I’m in the US Military. I’m a United States Army officer and Jewish Chaplain.”

Jewish have served in the American armed forces since the Revolutionary War. During war and peace time, rabbis have marched, sailed, or flown along with our brave American troops, caring for both Jews and Gentiles. There are Jewish chaplains on full-time active duty and others with both Reserve components, either Reserve or National Guard. Only the Army and Air Force have both Reserve and National Guard, Navy and Marines only have the Reserve.

What do Jewish chaplains do? Pretty much the same as any chaplain, regardless of religious denomination. We all care for the living, we also counsel, visit, or tend to those in need, or the most sacred work, honor the dead. We do both staff officer and clergy work. When I was deployed to Afghanistan the second half of 2011, I was on my commanding general’s special staff, and I was the only Jewish chaplain in the entire operational theater. One of the most memorable experiences I had was leading a Hanukkah Menorah lighting on my base, Camp Phoenix in Kabul. On a cold, wintery night, twenty-five people gathered around a five foot Hanukkiyah I had specially built. We were from all branches of service as well as government contractors. Not everyone who attended was even Jewish. I was proud to lead them in the blessings and songs. We finished up by feasting on latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). This scene was replicated all over the world on military bases or ships by Jewish chaplains or lay leaders. All were serving our nation as Jewish military personnel.

Presently, I’m serving on active duty at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, VA, after being a full-time pulpit rabbi for 25 years. For most of my military career I was part-time in both the Massachusetts and New York Army National Guard. I was a “weekend warrior…minus Shabbat.” I, like many Reserve Component rabbis, held other positions like pulpit, education, or hospital chaplaincy. When in uniform, I delivered prayers at many military ceremonies, or did counseling, or even gave the hamotzi at JWV events. In my present role, I’m overseeing the religious response mission of the National Guard’s domestic response or its State Partnership program with other nations’ armed forces. Luckily, I still get to teach some Jewish text or lead Hanukkah celebrations at the Guard Bureau or even at the Pentagon.

This coming April will be 30 years since I raised my right hand in the Jerusalem Consulate of the United States Embassy and took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States as an army officer. Ever since that sacred moment, I’m proud to wear the uniform of an US Army officer. I’m proud to wear the Jewish chaplain’s tablets on my uniform. I’m proud to be military combat veteran, and I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow Jewish War Vets, all of us, members at one time, of our United States military! For God and Country!

Chaplain (COL) Larry Bazer is the Deputy Director of the National Guard Bureau-Office of the Joint Chaplain. Prior to serving on active duty, he was the Joint Forces State Chaplain for the Massachusetts National Guard and the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, MA. He is still a proud member of Framingham/Natick JWV Chapter and MA Jewish War Veterans.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019


Rabbi Elie Estrin is a Chassid in uniform and the bearer of the first beard in the US Air Force in 3 decades.

My first Chanukah in uniform was a dark one.   Only the day before our scheduled Chanukah party at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, we’d gotten the devastating news that our unborn baby had 3 of the 12 congenital heart defects considered critical. Expectation for survival?   Negative.

Yet the fact that this painful news was thrown at us on Chanukah was itself bolstering; and the fact that I’d share the light of the holiday with my brothers and sisters in uniform was quietly invigorating.   After all, doesn’t this particularly holiday remind us that the fight against all odds is not over before it starts?  And the warriors around me, with their variety of experiences, each with their own tale of survival, were all testament to that.

The Maccabees did not just fight for their religious freedom, and leave it at that.  They sought out that elusive jug of oil because they knew that even after the battles have been fought, more needs to be done.  Victory would ring hollow if not followed up by bringing light anew into the world.

Light, and fire in particular, is so heavily symbolic in Judaism: The flicker of the flame that strives ever upward.  The idea that light will continue infinitely, so long as it does not get blocked – but that the blockage itself reveals that the light is there.  The concept that just a small amount of light dispels a whole lot of darkness.  The Macabees understood all this, and that’s why it was critical to find a source of light; a pure source of goodness and light, immediately after the war and the bloodshed.  Pure oil, extracted from intense crush of the olive press, symbolizing the idea that the most crushing of experiences are themselves transformative; capable of lifting us to become sources of light.

Rabbi Elie Estrin

The fact that they found the oil was itself a miracle.  Perhaps the greater miracle was that they even searched at all.  But search they did; and they indeed found.  And the results were greater than what could have been expected: the legendary seven extra days of light.

Knowledge of this first fortified my mind, and over the next nine weeks until the baby was born, I struggled to wrestle it into my heart.  In my personal fight, the search for oil was both the elusive goal, as well as the weapon of choice.  In our case, we turned deep to our Jewish experiences, and struck oil within them: we fixed our mezuzot.  We held a communal gathering of Torah study. And we celebrated the life we had with the children we had as best we could; working hard to ensure Shabbat remained sacred, pleasant and uplifting.  And every time the doctors asked us for an end-of-life plan for the unborn child, we rebuffed them.

Eventually the baby was born.  His heart functioned not for 4 hours, but for five days, while we fought to get him medical care; eventually resulting in open-heart surgery on his sixth day of life. And this year, our own Chanukah miracle, our little Nissi, will celebrate his second Chanukah as a true source of light to all who see his beaming smile.

And while that original battle might be over, the fight to find and spread more light never is.

Wishing all a Chanukah of ever-increasing light!

Rabbi Elie Estrin

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Color Guard at Maj. Gideon Lichtman’s Internment

Rabbi Aaron A. Rozovsky, Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life

JACKSON, Mo. – When we serve as Soldiers, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Airmen, and Sailors, we sacrifice a great deal.  We are away from our homes, communities, friends, and loved ones for extended periods of time.  We are in a calling that inherently places our lives on the line which is why some of us have to go to places like Arlington National Cemetery to visit our friends, and some of the things that we experience stay with us long after we take off our uniforms.  No one can blame a veteran for wanting to be left alone after having given so much.

Toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in parashah Ha-azinu (“Listen”), Moses delivers a lengthy sermon, often called “The Song of Moses.”  He details what will happen to the Israelites if and when they sin, and how they will be redeemed.  After this powerful declaration, he tells the people, “Take to heart all the words with that I have warned you this day.  Enjoin them upon your children, that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching” (Deuteronomy 32:46).  The 16th-century Italian Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno elaborates on this verse, writing, “At the end of your lives, when you pass on  an ethical will, enjoin these words upon them”.[i]

Rabbi Aaron Rozovsky

In his famous pamphlet series, The American Crisis (written in support of the patriot cause during the American Revolution), the English philosopher Thomas Paine declares, “These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot, will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”[ii]  Almost two centuries later, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.[iii]

If Moses, Sforno, Paine, and Kennedy were separated by so much time, distance, and circumstance, what could these men and their words possibly have in common?  Perhaps it is this: our service can never end, because the eyes of our descendants are upon us.  As Jews and as American fighting men and women, we are forever obligated to serve.  That is simply who we are at our core.  But we can’t be soldiers all our days, nor were we meant to be.  Taking off our uniforms does not mark the end of our service, nor is it the closing of a book; rather, it is the ending of one chapter in a lifetime of selflessly giving back to our communities and our nation. As members of the armed forces, we demonstrate to future generations why serving in uniform is so vital to embracing and upholding our national character.  Now as veterans, no longer in our dress uniforms or battle fatigues, but sporting our civilian attire, we must find new ways to serve. We must continue to be role models for the impressionable young people in our communities, in whose hands the fate of our nation rests.

About the Author: Rabbi Aaron A. Rozovsky is a 2018 ordainee of the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  He is the Director of Rabbinical Services at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi.  Rabbi Rozovsky is also a Chaplain with the rank of Captain in the Rhode Island Army National Guard.  He has been in the military for over 12 years and has deployed to both Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

[i] Sforno’s commentary on Deuteronomy 32:46 (courtesy Carasik, Michael. The Commentator’s Bible-The Rubin JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society. 2015. p.236)

[ii] Paine, Thomas.  “The American Crisis” (Vol 1).  Pennsylvania Journal.  December 23, 1776.  (courtesy

[iii] Kennedy, John F.  Inaugural Address.  January 20, 1961.  (courtesy

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

By RADM (ret) Harold Robinson, National Chaplain

Near the end of the Passover Seder, we play a table game called “Who knows…?” including “Who knows six? Six sections the Mishnah has!”  Following Passover, we begin reading one chapter a week of Mishnah Tractate Avoth, which translated means “Ethics of the Fathers”.  Avoth consists mostly of sage moral advice, aphorisms and a bit of theology attributed to the Tannaiem, the Rabbis of the land of Israel who lived up to around 200 CE.  Tractate Avoth is the source for many of our most familiar rabbinic dictums such as Hillel’s statement, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  And if I am for myself alone what am I?  And if not now, when?”  We read one of its six chapters each week for six weeks.  Traditionally, after concluding the reading, we repeat the cycle until the High Holidays.  Consequently, the entire tractate is found in most weekly Jewish Prayerbooks.  During this post Passover reading cycle, each Chapter is preceded by a prologue, a passage from an otherwise more difficult legal tractate, Sanhedrin; “’All Israel have a portion in the world to come,’ as it is said in Isaiah 60, ‘And all thy people shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever…’” thus affirming redemption – resurrection to eternal life in a perfected world- for all our people.

But our weekly reading of Sanhedrin is only an out of context snippet.  In its original context, the Sanhedrin passage deals with Israelites condemned to death by the court and affirms their punishment is only human, not divine, and that in the end of days the Holy One will redeem them along with the rest of us.  Moreover, the Tractate Sanhedrin passage continues by listing the exceptions – those categories of Israelites such as an apikoros, a heretic, who do not have a place in the world to come.  More detail on apikorsim, also known as hertics, will be given later. Included amongst the categories is a very short list of seven individually named unworthy Israelites.  Curiously, the list of unworthy Israelites singled out by name includes Balaam, the primary protagonist of the upcoming Torah portion entitled Balak, set to be read on 30 June 2018. Balaam was a non-Israelite prophet hired in by Balak, the King of Moab, to curse the Israelites in the wilderness.  However, each time he opened his mouth to curse the Israelite encampment a blessing came forth instead.  In fact, we recite his “blessing” each time we enter our synagogues for worship in the familiar refrain; Mah tovu ohalecha Ya-akov, mishcanotecha Yisrael, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel?”

Balaam’s inclusion in the list of the unredeemed is curious for at least two reasons.

First, he was not Jewish, so why would we cite him in a list of Israelites excluded from life eternal in the world to come?  This appears to be clear evidence that our sages believed the righteous of all nations would be redeemed.  Judaism teaches non-Jews who follow the seven laws given to Noah are redeemed, “saved,” just as righteous Jews are “saved.”

Second, it is curious that the rabbis condemn as unworthy of redemption the author of one of our most familiar and beloved liturgical poems.  Why?  Because, as the text in Torah makes clear, Balaam knew full well his intended curse was false, not God’s.  Indeed, even the she-ass upon which he rode could see the folly of his mission to curse Israel and tried to steer him off his fateful misadventure.  Balaam clearly knew the truth but tried to recite falsehoods.  It seems Balaam’s willingness to say whatever suited the temporal powers around him, and his total disregard for truth and what is right makes him worthy of clear condemnation despite his beautiful liturgical poem, the one bit of truth that he uttered only when coerced.  Parenthetically, in Avoth the rabbis declare the she ass’ ability to talk as not a miracle but one of the ten wonders built into creation itself just as the first Shabbat approached.

Now more information about apikorsim– heretics. It’s not easy to be an apikoros.  You might imagine Judaism would declare an atheist, one who declares a non-belief in God or one without any faith to be an apikoros, to be outside the fold.  Yet many of our most esteemed Zionists, such as Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson, who was a leading founder and early intellectual leader of Labor Zionism, were avowed socialist atheists.  In their day, some argued they were apikorosim, but who amongst us today would declare these greats of Jewish history to be outside the fold?  Unlike these giants of our history, one who accepts some other faith is called a mishumad, an apostate, meaning one who lamentably has chosen to leave the fold.  

Many years ago, I was a representative of the Central Conference of American Rabbis to a conference on Education of the Consolidated Kibbutz Movement held at the kibbutz movement education and conference center, Bet Berl, named so after the aforementioned Berl Katznelson.  The director of education for the Kibbutz movement, also named Berl in honor of Katznelson, began by relating that his father kept him from studying traditional Jewish texts such as Mishnah because he wanted to raise him to be an apikoros, a heretic.  What he got instead was an am ha-aretz, an ignorant one.  An am ha-aretz could be learned in many fields but was ignorant of our tradition and its meaning, perhaps knowing a bit here as there as is taught to children, but not really understanding the whole of Jewish tradition on an adult level.  Much like Balaam, the cursed prophet who knew the truth and tried to reject it, one must really know Jewish tradition and consciously reject it to be considered an apikoros.  Anyone can be an am-haretz, but you must aspire to be knowledgeable enough, learned enough, to be an apikoros.  I do not wish for a generation of apikorsim, but it would be wonderful to be amongst those sufficiently knowledgeable to qualify for the title.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018

By Rabbi Samuel B. Press, Post 587

As I began to think about what to write, I thought back on my beginning of a military career.  I am a third generation American.  Each generation has family who served in the military.  In my family, one person was disappointed.  My grandfather was a Marine.  He served with Teddy Roosevelt, was on the White Ships mission and had service wounds.  He was disappointed that I did not choose to be a Marine!

As did all in JWV, we entered the military coming from different backgrounds.  I had just finished receiving rabbinical ordination and entered a new “world” about which I knew nothing except what I read. My first assignment was a Strategic Air Command base in Loring, Maine.   Upon arrival I was told I would also be the Stockade Chaplain.  I quickly learned a stockade was not like I knew (a pen for animals), but in the military, it was the word for a prison.  My first day I got a call from the Stockade that they needed me.  I went to the building and was told an airman was contemplating suicide and I had to see him.  I said a psychiatrist would be better.  I was told that the psychiatrist would come in the morning.  I saw the airman, and I asked him why?  As he told me his story, I was about in tears.  When he finished, I was ready to commit suicide.  I knew nothing what to say.  Finally, I told the person that this was my first day.  I really do not know what to tell you.  I said if you die now, everyone will know I failed.  Please wait until the psychiatrist sees you.  The next morning I got a call from the stockade.  The airman attempted suicide and left a note for you.  It read, “Tell Chaplain Press I waited until after the psychiatrist saw me!”

My USAF career was one of or the most meaningful, worthwhile experiences of my life.  The military deserves accolades and praise for the quality of service people and their values.  I lived and saw the values of our country in its finest expression.  I saw heroism, often unrecognized, and also, the meaning of dedication, loyalty and a commitment of self, not for tangible gain, but for the ideals and love for our country.

In thinking of this column, I began to reflect on Torah readings.  We began with Genesis – not only with the creation of the world, but the story of the first families; not always happy stories.  As Tolstoy writes, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  In our stories, each story has rivalry, discontent, hurt and ill will.  Rabbi Soloveitchek taught that when we get to the story of Joseph making amends and forgiving his brothers, we now can enter the building of a nation.  Families and a people can work together with harmony, forgiveness and that abstract word “love” when we act in a loving way.  Winston Churchill in his solutions how to respond in war, found his first lesson, we all can choose.  Our challenge is what to choose: With the disharmony in our moment in time, with a divided country on the right and left, a constant is to use the pen to denigrate and “destroy” them with whom we disagree.  Most often we see parroted words to insure the writer is defined as part of the good.  Too often the hate filled opinions are not truthful, and their certainty never will convince others.

As I write now these thoughts, we are in the scripture readings of Exodus – the beginnings of our people. We read of slavery and freedom, the lodestone of our religion, in the giving of the Torah at Sinai. We read portions detailing commandments – laws, thoughts, ideas and visions from which we can read study and understand with our own perceptions.

We end this cycle with the celebratory moment of our freedom with the holiday of Passover.  The holiday said to be the most celebrated holiday on the Jewish calendar. Families, friends, guests join in a festive meals with matzoh and special foods prepared with different ingredients, wine, and rituals, and it culminates with the reading of the Haggadah – a book with not only the story of our people, but the time when generations meet and find memories.  Rabbi Soloveitchek once said when we study Talmud in our class, so do all the Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Akiba, Rabbi Gamliel, and myriads of others.  So too in our homes, there is a living presence of grandparents, ancestors, and the children engaged in the Seder, who are our future.

In the autumn of 1914 the German army stood at the gates of Paris and the Kaiser believed that his victory was at hand and that his troops “would return home before the leaves fall.”  The Kaiser believed the war was won. His arrogance betrayed him. The war lasted 4 more years, with unimagined proportions of bloodletting and destruction. At the battle of the Marne the German army was stopped. We know the German Army was no longer strong, and the results were so horrendous for all.

The Talmud records when Rabbi Akiba visited the site of the destruction of the Temple, all with him cried. He laughed. He said this was predicted, but G-d also predicted we have a wonderful blessed future. We make this future. It is in our hands.

The service ends, with the positive words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  Not a prayer, but the reality that wherever we are, we can choose to create a city of peace, an ambiance of love in our homes and all living in peace with in our hearts – with all others and all God’s creations.

And may we, expressing our indebtedness to JWV, (and like in Dayton, our grand chapters) live the words from Les Miz:

“Remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018