By LT Steven A. Ballaban

Ten months ago, my wife and I were blessed with a grandson who lives only a few miles from us. It has been a joy to experience the wonder of a new child without the exhaustion of being a new parent! His mother and father are loving and nurturing and they are a gift to him, as he is to them. They are particularly careful about feeding him healthy and nutritious food, so when his mother asked if I could bake him sourdough bread I said, “of course.”

I couldn’t find anyone who had a sourdough starter, so I spent three weeks cultivating the wild yeast that is the “secret ingredient” to sourdough. My first few loaves were appreciated, but not Instagram-ready! But finally, after about two months, I could bake loaf after loaf of perfect sourdough. For those of you who haven’t had the experience, it is nearly miraculous. Just a few cups of flour, some water, and a bit of salt. Plus a bit of starter – and 12 hours later you have amazing bread that fills the house with an aroma that makes it feel like home, and a chewy but air-bubble filled loaf that demands to be eaten right away.

As I reflect on the world and our people since October 7, I realize that we are the sourdough starter for every civilization and culture in which we make our homes. And Israel is the bowl in which our culture first began, and is preserved. Our Torah, our unique relation with G-d, our devotion to a fragile and fertile land, our passion for life, justice, and ethics… We bring these everywhere we go and somehow, miraculously, they inspire and infuse those around us to grow into a civilization that is richer, more diverse, and more productive.

The military is no different. When I first joined the Navy almost 39 years ago, I heard – as so many of you may have – “what are you doing? Jews don’t volunteer for the military?” Over the years I have met so many Jews in uniform, proud Jews who have made an outsized contribution to the success of our nation. Like the yeast in the sourdough, they have brought an understanding of the diversity of our country, they have been leaders in their units, some have been Lay leaders who ensure that there is the richness of Jewish life to nurture the hearts and souls of the other Jews around them. I will never forget my first visit to Stein Hall at the US Naval Academy, and seeing the exhibits of all of the Jews who have changed the Navy and made it what it is today. Albert Michaelson, the physicist who made the work of Albert Einstein possible and who was awarded the first Nobel Prize given to a military member in the US. Or Paul Shulman, who established Israel’s Navy after her independence. Or Hyman Rickover who imagined and created our Nuclear Navy program that is the heart of our submarine service and nuclear carriers. That is our past. But our future is in the hands of the two Jewish Midshipmen who were awarded the Rhodes Scholarship during my four years at the Academy. And the hundreds of other dedicated Jews whom I met, who educated their peers on the importance of the ideals of our faith and the need for religious tolerance and diversity for the survival of our nation. I have come to realize that the sense of service, honor, commitment to duty, professionalism, and patriotism that can be seen when military Jews gather is a strong yeast indeed!

At this time, when the future of our nation and the future of Israel are being tested more than at any time in my life, I know that no matter what happens, the Jewish people will continue to inspire many more loaves in the centuries to come. Because of people like those I have met during my service. Because of people like you.

LT Steven A. Ballaban was born in New York. He received his BA in English Literature from Vassar College in 1981. He continued his studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio and received his Masters of Hebrew Letters in 1985, and his Rabbinic ordination in June 1986. In 1989, he returned to Cincinnati, and earned a Masters of Philosophy in 1994 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1995. Following a 20-year career as an educator, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He began his training as a clinical chaplain in 2011 and received Board Certification as a Clinical Chaplain from the Association of Professional Chaplains in 2013, and was the 5th chaplain to earn a Clinical Concentration in PTSD from the National Association of Veterans Affairs Chaplains in 2014. His publications include 14 articles in the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion and an article on the treatment of trauma in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling.

He was commissioned as an Ensign (Chaplain Candidate Program Officer) in 1985 and entered Active Duty service in June 1986 following ordination. He continued his service as a drilling reservist until 1995, earning promotion to LCDR. His commission expired in 2002.

After receiving his credentials as a clinical chaplain at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Portland, OR, he returned to the Navy as a chaplain and was commissioned as a LT in August 2014. Following completion of training at Officer Development School in Newport, RI and Naval Chaplaincy School Basic Course at Fort Jackson in Columbia SC, he reported to Commander Naval Air Facility Atsugi Japan in December 2014. Afterwards, he served at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD from 2017-2022 as Second Battalion Chaplain, as well as the Rabbi at the Academy and also taught Leadership. Following his tour at the Naval Academy, he returned to the Reserve Component where he serves as the Chaplain at COMSUBLANT.
Chaplain Ballaban and his wife, Lynda, have been married for 17 years and together they have 7 children and 3 grandchildren.

Volume 78. Number 1. 2024

By Rabbi Heather Borshof

I grew up in central New Jersey, a county that had one of the largest Jewish populations in NJ. Public schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Even though I was exposed to other faith groups, I never thought twice about having to fight for or explain why I needed off for a Jewish holiday because it was never necessary.

When I first came into the military as a rabbi and Jewish chaplain, I discovered very quickly that Jews, as we are in the world, are a minority. In fact, I learned a new phrase: I am a “low-density faith” chaplain and Jews are a low-density faith religion in the military. This was a completely different experience for me than where I grew up and went to college.

For the first time, I met people who had never met a Jewish person. Many people do not recognize the tablets insignia that Jewish chaplains wear. Throughout my time in the military, and in particular during my time in Afghanistan, on a daily basis, individuals would inquire and ask what that “symbol” above my name was. I discovered that this was and is a wonderful opportunity to share who I am as a Jewish chaplain, and to communicate about who we are as a Jewish people. When we show our Judaism, whether that be the way we dress (wearing a Jewish star, or a kippah, or for me the Jewish tablets with the 10 commandments and the Star of David), we represent not just ourselves, but all of Judaism. So many people do not realize that Jews serve in the military and have always served in the military.

During my thirteen years on active duty in the Army as a Jewish chaplain, I have been fortunate to encounter very little antisemitism or opposition to practicing my faith freely. Once or twice, I have had leadership who did not respect or understand my requirement to serve the military Jewish community in addition to my regular officer responsibilities. However, most people are receptive and often even excited to meet a Jewish chaplain.

But I do know that for those Jewish military personnel who are not chaplains, the experience of finding others to be receptive and understand their needs is not always so easy. Many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen experience resistance when making a request to practice their Judaism. Whether that be for kosher meals or asking to be excused in order to attend worship services for a Jewish holiday, they are often met with opposition and are denied the chance to participate and practice their Judaism.

In the present day, we are facing more antisemitism than we have in recent years. That is not to say that it was not always there, but it is more public today and tolerated in a way that must be considered unacceptable to Americans. However, in the military I find that when Jewish people are refused the opportunity to practice their faith, it is more out of ignorance and a lack of understanding than it is out of antisemitism.

After the attacks on 7 October in Israel, Jewish students at many colleges and universities are experiencing antisemitism as they never have before. It is scary, upsetting, and problematic on many levels. I am currently stationed at West Point in NY, and I am pleased to see that the Jewish students here have not experienced that kind of antisemitism. In fact, many of the faculty have reached out and asked how they can be supportive of the Jewish community. It is a breath of fresh air, but I know that this is an anomaly and is not happening in many places around the country, so it is important that we speak up and speak out when we face antisemitism.

We have a strong Jewish community here at West Point, and our Cadets will be among the Jews who serve in the US military in future years. We hold several Jewish events and Shabbat services with Shabbat dinner on a regular basis here at West Point. The Jewish Cadets often bring their non-Jewish friends and they have a wonderful time. It is a terrific opportunity to expose those from other faith backgrounds to Judaism. This will give them a better understanding of the Jewish community when it is their time to be leaders in the Army and a fellow Jewish Soldier asks them for their help living their Jewish identity.

It can be challenging to be a “low-density faith.” Many have experienced first-hand the challenges that come with it, and it is important that we continue to educate others. As a low-density faith chaplain, I feel blessed to be able both to serve the military Jewish community and have an opportunity to work with all of those from other faiths as well. Everyone has so much to learn from one another, and together we can continue to teach each other, support each other, and make the military a stronger and more cohesive community.


Rabbi Heather Borshof

Rabbi/Chaplain Heather Borshof was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Central NJ. She holds a BA in Judaic Studies and Philosophy from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an MA in Jewish Education from Baltimore Hebrew University, and was ordained as a rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2010. Upon Ordination, Rabbi Borshof commissioned onto active duty in the United States Army and served as a Jewish Chaplain. She completed the Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course from Fort Jackson, SC in April 2011 and was assigned to Fort Belvoir, VA immediately following. In July 2013, she was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC with the 82nd Sustainment Brigade and deployed to Afghanistan in 2013-2014. From there, she was assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.From 2017-2020, she served as the chaplain for the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, VA, working with Wounded Warriors, while also serving the Jewish community. Rabbi Borshof arrived to West Point NY in July 2023, and currently serves as the Jewish Chaplain providing support to all Cadets and the Garrison. She currently serves as a Major in the Army.

Volume 77. Number 4. 2023

By Rabbi Harold Robinson, Rear Admiral CHC USN Ret.

Anyone familiar with the US military knows that our chaplains services are unique in all the world. Chaplains must provide worship to those of their own faith, facilitate the worship of all those of other faiths and care for the emotional well being of all. Moreover, chaplains have actual rank and are supervised by and report to more senior chaplains often of entirely different faiths then their own. How did that happen?

Our US Constitution ensures majority rule and minority rights. On religion the First Amendment enshrines governmental neutrality. The framers of our constitution were but two generations removed from the turmoil of England’s religious conflicts. For them, the First Amendment was a necessary bulwark protecting individuals against the tyranny of a majority, preventing the establishment of a state religion and ensuring free exercise for the individual. Nowhere in American life is the interplay of these principals more poignant or more difficult than in our highly regimented armed forces which exercises a unique level of “authoritarian control” over those who serve. The courts have confronted the tension of free exercise verses non-establishment in military service. In the military everything is GI, Government issue. We eat the food provided, live in assigned quarters, wear required clothes. Moreover when OCONUS members are not always free to attend the religious services of their choice unless provided by the military. So, when military ‘establishes chapels and provides clergy for the exercise of religion is it violating the establishment clause? The courts have ruled NO, the military provision of clergy through the military chaplain corps is constitutional since it is the necessary means to ensure free exercise.

The courts have ruled chaplaincy exists to ensure the right of free exercise to everyone. They have also ruled that as an agent of the government, there are limits on the chaplain’s personal free exercise. These limit the chaplain’s activities in the larger command context not the chaplain’s activities within his or her own faith tradition. My right to swing my arm, ends at the tip of your nose. And consequently, the chaplain’s personal free exercise ends where it impinges on others’ ability to observe their faiths or limit the chaplain’s care for those of no faith.

Thus the chaplaincy embodies the constitutional tension between free exercise and non-establishment. Every military chaplain is ordained (or licensed) clergy, a representative of that ordaining community’s beliefs and teachings. Simultaneously, every chaplain is a commissioned officer; even the most junior chaplain outranks well over 90 percent of military personnel, has access to the decision makers in the command and often represents the commander. It is a precarious balance. What about free exercise of the individual chaplain? Is the chaplain free to exercise his or her religion if that religion requires the conversion of others? How can the ever present chaplain with direct access to the commander and the “invoker” at mandated functions provide free exercise without becoming an establishment of religion? One response is the Navy’s guidance; the chaplain must provide the rites, and rituals of the chaplains’ faith to co-religionists; must facilitate the perceived needs for other faiths and care for all service members, even those of no faith. Note our military chaplains facilitate the free exercise of religion for all, including rites and rituals anathema to the chaplain’s own faith. Our rabbis may know Judaism is the only expression of the one true God; but in the US military they are not free to signal to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and those of no faith that they are wrong. We expect non-Jewish Chaplains to reciprocate with the same equanimity.

Even a commanding officer’s personal free exercise of religion may be limited as he or she represents the government. How this applies to all members of the military varies with differing realities and circumstances. For example, a ship can accommodate a Muslim’s religious free exercise by ensuring a Muslim sailor has suitable pork-free rations. However it need not employ a cook (culinary specialist) who can never have contact with pork or pork products, nor need the entire ship be pork free.

George Washington’s, letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island is a tribute to American religious pluralism. He wrote:

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent rights, for happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Washington moved beyond tolerance to an acceptance, respect and inherent mutual, rights. American exceptionalism was born in the union of two principals—governmental neutrality on matters of personal faith, and in all other matters, majority rule limited by minority rights. This balancing act never requires an evangelical Christian to abandon belief in evangelism only its practice because in the authoritarian military context minority faiths experience evangelism as coercive. Chaplaincy is not for all clergy. A great civilian rabbi might never want to learn about other faiths, nor intone a prayer outside a strictly Jewish context. This may not limit him as a rabbi but it does indicate the rabbi is not called to military service. Not all who are willing are called.

So here we are, America is exertional blessed by chaplain services like no other nation and here we are the Jews, not just tolerated but part and parcel of America’s greatness.

Rear Admiral Harold Robinson was born and raised in Boston and Newton, Massachusetts. In 1970, he married Miriam Gariani of Holon, Israel. They have two children, Yair, the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Emeth; and Dori, a director, playwright, and educator. Rear Admiral Robinson graduated Coe College in 1968 and attended the Master of Arts Program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1999, the College-Institute awarded him a Doctor of Divinity and in 2005 he received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Coe. Following ordination, Rear Admiral Robinson was Rabbi of numerous synagogues. Elected in 2006, he continues to serve as President of the Naval Chaplains Foundation. Rabbi Robinson is an avid sailor and a veteran runner, having completed over fifty marathons including twenty-nine consecutive Boston Marathons.

Volume 77. Number 3. 2023

By Chaplain Captain Yitzchok Landa, USAF.

In the last edition of The Jewish Veteran, you read the D’vrei Hashomrim by Rabbi Doniel Kramer in which he provided thoughtful insights and observations about Pesach and the broken middle matzah.
Kramer pointed out that Pesach is an excellent opportunity to reconnect lost, disillusioned, or uneducated Jews with their heritage. What about Tisha b’Av?

Is there a way to connect those same individuals with the period of mourning, observed by Jews worldwide for centuries, which builds in intensity during the summer, beginning on the 17 of Tammuz (July 6, 2023) peaking on the Ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av, July 27, 2023)?

For too long, teachers and outreach directors have given up on programming for the Ninth of Av. It’s not fun, there is no intuitive attraction, and it appears to be unappealing. For many estranged Jews, the Tisha b’Av experience is precisely the kind of thing that repelled them from their heritage in the first place.

This is exactly why it is so important to use and understand the power and mission of this vital part of the Jewish calendar.

The traditional narrative of negativity surrounding the Ninth goes something like this: “Why does Judaism insist on romanticizing its own historical suffering? Why do we dwell and simmer in the pain of the past, broken-hearted over a building?” Invariably, such contemplation leads to: “Well, why did the Jewish people suffer so much, anyway? Where was G-d in the Holocaust?”

In truth, the message of this period of mourning is quite the opposite.

Certainly, we all feel the need to commemorate and memorialize that which is important to us. Recent losses are felt more acutely. The Department of Defense, the State of Israel, and many Jewish communities recognize the significance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and mark it solemnly.

In truth, all our losses deserve equal recognition. The value of one life lost is infinite and can never be appropriately honored. The distance of time may dull our sensitivity, but it does not diminish the value. Were we to fittingly commemorate all of the litany of suffering inflicted upon us in our history, our calendar would be one large smudge of black ink.

Instead, we cram it all into one day. One day for all the suffering and pain to be mourned and marked. Traditional Judaism does not mark Holocaust Remembrance Day (for which the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was chosen) but instead, marks it on the Ninth of Av.

We were never a people to stew in suffering, nor will we fail to honor the past. We mark it, but limit it to this day, leaving the rest of the calendar forward-looking and joyous. Why this day? The Ninth of Av was the cause of all the suffering that followed. It encapsulates the peak of our personal and communal spiritual illness, and the terrifying treatment of divine surgery that followed.

But there’s so much more. There is an underlying joy in the Ninth of Av.

The historical oppression of the Jewish People, our ancestors and siblings, all encapsulated in the Ninth of Av, has purpose and meaning. That purpose and meaning is a privilege not to be missed, and this is the real Jewish interpretation of suffering.

The parable is told of a young lamb, wandering with his mother and the rest of the flock through pastures. A shepherd and his sheepdog lead, providing peace and security.

The flock enters a forest, and the little lamb is separated from his mother and the others. He looks up, realizing he is lost and alone. Dark clouds gather and powerful thunderstorm kicks up, adding to his fear. Night falls, and animals of prey begin to prowl. Our little lamb listens to the howling wolves and snarling mountain lions and is paralyzed with terror.

Suddenly, in the darkness, he feels a blow. A familiar one that he has felt before! It is the staff of the shepherd, driving him back home! The sheepdog is barking at his feet as well. Can you relate to the warm flooding feeling of relief that fills the lamb at these sharp sensations?

This is the meaning of the wonderous words of the Psalm 23, recited at most military funerals, “Even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death… your rod and your staff console me.”

This is Jewish suffering. It is what keeps us together, keeps us true, and keeps us whole. If we could reach those ideals without it, the little lamb would never get lost. But our history is long and treacherous. What will ensure our survival? What will keep us dedicated to our national goals of spirituality, spreading blessings, and perfecting the universe for the benefit of all mankind? It is the sharp, directive rap visited upon us, orchestrated from above, through the blow of our enemies.

Israelis often say that the best way to destroy their country would be to leave it alone. They are only half-joking. We have endured for thousands of years not despite oppression but because of it. Like a grape, when we are squeezed, we improve. We recommit to our ideals.

Jews do not romanticize suffering. We mourn it. Every individual loss is indescribably tragic. We honor it appropriately and move on. But we know that as a people, the standard to which we are held keeps us sharp. Perhaps, if our enemies would cease and desist, they would indeed succeed in getting us to destroy ourselves.

But they never will, and neither will we.

Volume 77. Number 2. 2023

By Rabbi Doniel Z. Kramer, Ph.D., BCC, CH (LTC-ret), USAR.


This Issue of “The Jewish Veteran” should be arriving in our homes around Pesach (Passover) time.

For Jewish chaplains on active duty or in VA settings, Pesach presents us with an excellent opportunity to reconnect lost, disillusioned, or uneducated Jews with their heritage.

The Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains’ Council plans to post a schedule indicating where Passover programs will take place on every military post where there is a Jewish chaplain or lay leader.

There is an intriguing custom performed during the Passover Seder ritual. It is called Yachatz, which means divide. The leader of the Seder takes the middle of the three matzot (plural of matzah) on the ritual table and breaks it in half, wrapping and hiding the larger piece, called the afikomen, which will be shared with everyone at the table at the conclusion of the festive Seder meal, and puts the smaller piece back between the two other matzot.

Many of our readers might recall the times in the 1980s and 1990s when so many Jewish federations and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) encouraged Jewish families to recite “The Matzah of Hope” prayer at the Seder during Yachatz. This meditation remembered the Jews in the Communist Soviet Union, imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, who were not allowed to practice their faith and were divided from and cut-off from the rest of the Jewish world. We prayed that just as the missing part of the middle matzah will be returned to the Seder table at the conclusion of the Passover meal, so too may all those Jews cut off from the Jewish world be restored to the Jewish people, and we could be one reunited Jewish family.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable Pesach Sedarim (plural of seder) that I attended was when my congregation and community welcomed and helped settle our first Jewish emigre family from the Soviet Union. This family was enjoying their first Pesach in freedom and joined us in reciting “The Matzah of Hope” prayer for Jews still imprisoned in Russia. That same prayer, which was recited by us the previous year, and collectively included them, was now being chanted by them for the first time, on behalf of their friends and relatives still in Russia!

That same message is as timely today for so many of our fellow American Jews who have dropped out, or were never formally and educationally initiated into our faith community. Some of these assimilated Jews may have some warm memory of a Passover Seder long ago perhaps at a grandparent’s home. If these individuals are in the military or work on military bases, a friendly, welcoming Seder conducted by a chaplain or lay leader could be the invitation to affiliate.

So too, with a Seder that a VA chaplain might conduct, often with the support of a local JWV post or district. Indeed, I am personally so appreciative of the members of the JWV Rockland/Orange County New York District, under the leadership of Commander Bernhard Storch, of blessed memory, who were always supportive of all of the Jewish and patriotic activities that I and others planned in the VA Hudson Valley HCS, both financially as well as physically. Their members volunteered to not only help set-up and serve, but also befriended our hospitalized veterans. And I know that this devoted service by JWV and JWVA takes place around the country! Yasher koach—all the power—to you!!!

There is another aspect to Yachatz. The first half of the Seder consists of reciting the Haggadah, retelling the story of the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt. Slaves were not fed full meals and were lucky to have broken pieces of bread to eat, and so only a piece of the matzah on the Seder table reminds us of the time when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt.

In this regard, the broken matzah offers an additional lesson. One of the most venerable traditions of Pesach is the Maot Chittim (literally meaning money for wheat) charity drive, when funds are collected to ensure that all Jews, especially those who are poor and destitute, have the funds to purchase matzah (hence the wheat reference) and all the other Seder necessities, to be able to conduct a meaningful, filling, and fulfilling Seder experience in a regal and respectful manner.  Jewish veterans who served and even fought while willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that evil oppressors and despots, like the Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, could be defeated, surely should be volunteers to fight in this war against poverty epitomized by the Maot Chittim campaign.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin concludes his discussion of Yachatz in his Passover Haggadah this way, “The saintly Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1811) once asked, ‘Who is a whole man? He who has a broken heart.’ As long as Israel is not yet fully redeemed, the second matzah must be broken.  It remains as a reminder and symbol within the very festival of redemption that we are not yet redeemed.”

May God bless you and your family with a very meaningful, delightful, and redemptive Pesach. Hag kasher vesamayach!

Volume 77. Number 1. 2023

By Chaplain (Major) Matt Friedman, California State Guard, 195th Wing/Joint Forces Head Quarters

It’s December – a month of happiness and trepidation. How do we get through it and more importantly, how can we get through it and be happy about it? I’ll start with the challenging element with childhood memories and move to the celebratory. Why that order? In ancient days the Rabbis, even when delivering the harshest of messages would always end with a positive idea and encouragement. That will come, but for now the trepidation.

Trepidation is a sense of concern with an element of uncertainty and perhaps even some fear. What is it about December? It is typically when Hannukah occurs. Hannukah with latkes, gelt, and of course lighting the Menorah (some use the term Hanukkiah), is a time of anticipation. Along with those happy elements, it also comes with its definition as the Jewish Christmas. Many Jewish people have childhood memories of explaining that it isn’t a Jewish Christmas, many of us don’t eat ham on December 25 (or any other day), and we feel a bit uncomfortable singing songs that have no meaning to us or perhaps are in opposition to our beliefs. Some of these memories are distressing.

As an elementary student I attended a school where there were only a few Jewish families. Most classes had one, two or sometimes three Jewish students. My first memory of Christmas was in kindergarten. A man arrived at the school in a fire truck. He had long white beard and red and white clothes. My classmates were very excited. They called out, “Santa, Santa.” I had no idea what was going on. Within 30 seconds they all lined up, so I followed them. One by one they would sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what toys they wanted for Christmas, and he would reward them with a candy cane. I also wanted a candy cane, so I came up with a fine list of toys. It never occurred to me that I would get any of those toys, but I got a candy cane, and I eagerly told my friends that I liked Santa. At some point during that month, we were ushered into the auditorium, and we were told we needed to learn a song that we would sing at an assembly. The song was called “Silent Night.” The words were strange to me, and I couldn’t understand why there was such attention being directed at a baby. What was the big attraction? There are babies everywhere and they usually cry and need to have diapers changed.

By fourth grade, the Jewish parents had convinced the principal that singing Christmas songs and making tree ornaments wasn’t of interest to us. Two events stand out. The Jewish kids were excused, much to our joy, from singing Christmas songs. The Muslim kids also asked to be excused. The principal turned down the request. At that moment it occurred to me that the principal, who was generally a very nice man, didn’t quite understand that it also did not make sense for the Muslim kids to sing the songs. That same year the teacher came up with a solution to our lack of interest in making tree ornaments. She crafted a flat Menorah out of black construction paper. For the next three weeks, Mark Ehrlich, the other Jewish kid in the class, and I cut up pieces of colored paper and glued them to the paper Menorah. It was boring, but we were avoiding ornaments and singing. As vacation time approached the teacher realized she had a dilemma. There were two boys, but only one (ghastly) art project. Immediately, we both offered to send it home with the other. The teacher was touched by our magnanimity! In her Solomonic wisdom she decided to cut it in half. We looked at each other and realized we were expected to take home our half of the Menorah. Both sets of parents found the entire incident ridiculous and hilarious.

While many of use share similar memories from our childhood, we can now view Hannukah as adults and adults in the military. Over the years I have contemplated how to think of the holiday and as a Jewish chaplain serving all faiths, how to make it relevant. While there are many themes and lessons from the Hannukah story, there is one that can resonate with everyone. Hanukkah is a story of optimism. During this time of year, the days are short and often gray. Some are deployed far from home. Hannukah takes the symbol of increasing light to give us a message of optimism and positivity. The rededication of the Temple reminds us that we can not only endure, but we can thrive.

Volume 76. Number 4. 2022

By Rabbi Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky

United States Marines Corporal Paul Fagundes, Lance Corporal Giovani Cruz, and Lance Corporal James May Jr. They weren’t shot by a Taliban sniper in Marjah, Afghanistan; they weren’t blown up by an IED in Baghdad; nor were they torn apart by an ISIS mortar in Syria. They met their end on July 4, 2010 when they drowned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while serving with Fleet Anti-terrorism Team (FAST), Alpha Company, 6th Platoon.

I was serving in GITMO as a deployed Army National Guard Military Police Platoon Leader the day Fagundes, Cruz, and May died. There hasn’t been a Marine Corps birthday, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or July 4th since, where I haven’t thought of these three young Marines, how their lives were so suddenly and sadly snuffed out, and how the lives of their dear families, friends, and hometowns were forever affected. Despite the deaths of these three young men, these Marines, despite the fact that there were soldiers in my company who worked 17 hour days for 6-7 days straight in extreme heat and humidity, despite the fact that we were tasked with securing one of the most high visibility and strategic detention facilities in the world, and despite the fact that we were separated from our loved ones for a year, when we got home, some fellow service members had the gall to tell us, “You know you weren’t on a real deployment, right?”

How hurtful, how belittling, how shameful, how flatly untrue.

I have been deployed overseas twice, to both Guantanamo and Afghanistan, and I am equally proud of both deployments – the people I served with, the missions I was on, the units whose patch I have the privilege of wearing – all of it.

During World War II, the 150th Infantry Regiment of the West Virginia Army National Guard was deployed overseas. They didn’t fight at Salerno, Normandy, or Bastogne, and they didn’t storm Guam, Leyte, or Okinawa. Their role was protecting the Panama Canal. Imagine how much more drawn out, how much bloodier an Allied victory would have been without the canal and the vital link it provided between two theaters of war. Being such a linchpin, a prized jewel in the American defense enterprise, someone had to defend it from would-be saboteurs, Nazi spy rings, prowling U-boats, and even possible German and Japanese air raids, and these proud Mountaineers did just that. These West Virginians were part of the peak strength of 119,000 American service men and women defending the Canal and the Caribbean in December 1942. I wonder though, if when these soldiers came home after the war, they too received the same reception that my fellow Guardsmen and I received when we returned in 2010.

In the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), specifically 25:17, we are commanded to abide by the following decree: “Do not wrong one another.” Traditional sources and commentators such as Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah have said this means not harming one another through speech. Additionally, Leviticus 19:16 instructs us, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” Maimonides again tells us that this means that we are not to speak ill of others. Finally, Leviticus 19:17, proclaims “thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” Maimonides comments here too that this means we are not to embarrass others.

We as veterans have a solemn duty and a moral responsibility to uplift all our fellow veterans and service men and women, regardless of branch, service component, length of service, rank, MOS, or rating, and to honor them for their service, sacrifice, and commitment. Anything less would be hillul HaShem (a desecration of G-d’s holy name). Likewise, no one should ever feel the need to hide or be ashamed of their service because it wasn’t well-known or didn’t have a movie or film made about it. Why? Because the defense of our great nation takes all of us. Protecting our country is a team effort and each of us is an essential member of that team.

Perhaps there is no more fitting conclusion than this. At the memorial service for Fagundes, Cruz, and May, Major Winston Tierny, commander of the Marine Security Force Company Guantanamo Bay said, “Our hearts were broken this past Sunday by a horrible tragedy as we lost three young American fighting men. While not lost in combat, they were lost in the defense of our nation.” These words should serve as a poignant reminder to us all in honoring the service of our fellow veterans.

Bizrat HaShem we may always remember to celebrate and venerate all veterans and service men and women, no matter the time or place where they served!

Rabbi Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky has been in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve for over 16 years as both a Military Police Officer and Chaplain. He was deployed to Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He currently serves as the Deputy Command Chaplain for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and holds the rank of Major. In his civilian career, he is the Rabbi of Beth El Congregation in Winchester, Virginia. He and his wife Eliza have three cats.

Volume 76. Number 3. 2022

We live in a time of increasing polarization, where people don’t talk to friends and family who see the world differently. We seem to be moving farther away from each other, responding with anger, hate, and hurt, when we are hurt ourselves. But even in these times, I have hope, for I see a way, based on our sacred texts, to build bridges of understanding and help heal our communities, one person at a time.

When I see the hatred and intolerance all around, I go back to the beginning, to the creation of humans. Genesis 1:26 states, “Then G-d said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.’” We are all created in G-d’s image, b’tzelem Elokim, even those we disagree with, even those whose beliefs seem opposite to our values.

But wouldn’t it be easier if we surrounded ourselves with those like us? Isn’t that what we’re doing? Or trying to make others in our own image? This is not what G-d desires or planned.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches,

And [Adam was created singly] to proclaim the greatness of the Blessed Holy One, for a human being stamps many coins with one die and they are all alike one with the other, but the King of the kings of kings, the Blessed Holy One, has stamped all of humanity with the die of the first person, and yet not one of them is like her fellow.

How is a human being’s uniqueness a manifestation of the greatness of G-d? It is not simply because of G-d’s ability to create different people from a single model. There is a deeper meaning. We are different from each other—in the way we look, think, and believe—through the design of the Infinite. G-d could have stamped out people who all were the same. But that wasn’t what G-d chose to do. G-d chose to create unique individuals. We come from the same stamp, from the first human being, to teach us that despite our differences, we all come from the Divine. When we remember this in our interactions with those we disagree with, then there is the possibility of connecting and building bridges.

In our polarization, we often voluntarily separate ourselves from those we disagree with, and it is difficult to build bridges with those we don’t interact with. We need to expose ourselves to people who are different than we are and approach our differences with curiosity, always remembering that they, too, are created b’tzelem Elokim.

In our service in the military, we have a unique chance to live this on a daily basis. No matter when or where you served, you interacted and worked with people very different from you. Think of a time when in these interactions you remembered that they were created from the same stamp and strive to understand them and help them understand you. Take that experience and bring it to your civilian life. Seek out those who are different from you, approach them with dignity and curiosity deserving of one created by G-d. Join me in this holy endeavor.

Volume 76. Number 2. 2022

By Rabbi Levi Welton

Long before I had the honor of serving in the United States Air Force, I was just a boy in Troop 613, the local Jewish Boy Scouts of America chapter in Berkeley, California. It was founded by George Brummer, Lenny Berman, and my childhood Rabbi Ferris. We met regularly on the second floor of the Berkeley Chabad House. This was how I came to know Berman, or Scoutmaster Lenny. Although he hadn’t been a scout as a boy, Scoutmaster Lenny taught our troop to cherish outdoorsmanship and do a good turn daily. He also made all of us get the Ner Tamid Jewish merit badge, telling us we had to be proud Jewish Boy Scouts.

Berman was a disciplined, bristly-bearded software developer who walked over four miles every Shabbos to attend services at the Chabad House (Orthodox Jews don’t use cars on Shabbos because driving is considered a violation of the 39 categories of prohibited melachos or work). Nor did he do it alone. He was accompanied by his wife, daughter, and three sons.

At the crack of dawn on school days, Berman would wake up his children and teach them Torah and Talmud. Then they’d head off to public school. In 2012, when President Obama’s ambassador to Israel toured the largest Yeshiva in the world, the prestigious Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he was photographed studying Torah with Eitan Berman, my former scout-mate.

I never made it to the rank of Eagle Scout. I spent way too much time having fun at the Scout Camp rifle range. I got a couple of merit badges, like the woodworking one and the leatherwork one, but I did it because I thought it was fun, not because I was competitive about achieving Eagle status. Nevertheless, Berman gave me a solid Boy Scout education. He taught me how to use a compass, which comes in handy as Jews must face Jerusalem when praying three times a day. He also instructed our Troop in the art of pitching a tent, packing a sleeping bag, and safely kindling a fire from scratch. Most of all, he constantly lectured us on what it means to have Scout Honor and do my best to do “my duty to G-d and my country.”
Unfortunately, my best wasn’t always good enough. For example, I failed to get the swimming merit badge. I badly wanted it because that badge allowed a scout to use the kayaks at the camp lake. I might have succeeded had it not been for my lanky chicken legs, pencil-thin arms, and the sharks. Well, not real sharks as I was swimming hundreds of miles inland. But my overactive imagination kept interpreting every oblong shadow underwater as a Great White gleefully zooming towards me to the ominous soundtrack of “Jaws.”

So, after a lot of frenzied splashing, I was told to get out and dry myself off with a towel. Apparently, in my zeal to escape the sharks, I swam in the completely wrong direction and had a second chance to jump back in and try again. I shook my head with a definitive no and made a silent pact with the sharks that I would never again step into their turf as long as they wouldn’t step on mine. To this day, both parties have honored this arrangement.
But I’m getting lost in the brush of my understory and must return to the trailhead of the narrative, Scoutmaster Lenny. I want to tell you how he imprinted upon me the meaning of honor. It happened when our troop was deep in the forest, camping with hundreds of other troops.
One morning, it was our troop’s turn to raise the flag in front of the entire assembly. We had practiced with Berman for an hour the night before. But I was still nervous. A sea of eyes stared at us with laser focus. Eitan and I marched in tandem next to each other, gripping the sides of the flag, and trying to remember all the instructions our scoutmaster had drilled into our brains. My hands trembled as we hoisted the flag.

Suddenly, the bugler, who was also our assigned guide, sputtered. He rushed over to us.

“The flag is upside down,” he whispered in horror. He snatched the halyard from me. I frantically looked up. The great grizzly bear of the California flag lying flat on her back with four paws fluttering awkwardly upside down in the wind for all to see.

Snickers echoed around the grassy meadow. Shame burned on my cheeks and for the next three days, we were the laughingstock of the Boy Scouts. I remember spending most of the time studying the tips of my sneakers and avoiding eye contact with anyone outside my troop.

Then, on the dawn of the third day, Yossi Ferris, the rabbi’s son, was called up in front of the entire assembly for an honor. He had achieved the highest score at the rifle range and was given the marksmanship award. He marched up – proudly wearing his yarmulke for all to see— and received his accolades and his trophy, a box of chocolate M&M’s. But Yossi wasn’t the only one who held his head high. Our entire troop did. From then on, no one laughed at us. Our dignity was restored.

But what I remember now was how, during those three days after our epic flag-failure, Scoutmaster Lenny made us march to reveille as if we were his children marching to Shul on Shabbos. He didn’t utter a word about our failure and walked among the other Scout Leaders with confidence, as if nothing had occurred. I’m sure he noticed the sneers and smirks of the other kids. But he made us march and made us endure it, one step at a time. In this way, he taught me that honor means you keep marching forward, even when your flag is upside down.

In comic books, heroes are clean-shaven and wear red capes. In real life, heroes need neither a costume nor a cape. They can have a bristly beard and simply show a child it’s ok to make a mistake. On that fateful flag day, Berman showed me that I didn’t need to be an Eagle to fly.

Levi Welton holds degrees in science, education, and film. Currently, he works as a rabbi, physician assistant, and a reserve chaplain in the United States Air Force, attached to the 436th Airlift Wing of Dover Air Force base.

Volume 76. Number 1. 2022

By Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff
Two recent statements by former and current military leaders made news when they revealed vastly different visions for our nation.

We should take pride in the fact that the United States is unusual precisely because we are a nation that was not founded based on a shared faith, race, or ethnicity, but rather on shared support of ideas: self-evident truths such as equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Asserting that diversity is one of our strengths, current Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger announced a plan called Talent Management 2030, to make the Marine Corps more diverse “to reflect America, to reflect the society we come from.”

Berger has shared his view that America’s strength lies in its diversity, and the same is true for our military. He understands that “we don’t all think alike” but we are stronger because of that truth, not weaker. We have learned different lessons because as he said, “we didn’t come from the same backgrounds.”
Jewish teaching affirms this idea. We’re taught that G-d’s word is like a hammer striking an anvil, creating many sparks. Depending on our backgrounds and experiences, we understand the light and the brilliance of sparks that others will miss. The challenge is to share the insights we glean as individuals, so that we all might benefit as a community, a people, and a world.

Religious diversity is a particularly strong value for me because my life has been touched and enriched by the values and visions of so many separate religious traditions. Judaism has much wisdom to share with others, often based on our past experience as slaves and tied to that, our eternal belief in freedom, but also lessons from our history in the wilderness and search for a promised land.

Many of my non-Jewish friends have been struck by Jewish insights, including those gleaned from the way Jewish tradition finds wisdom in the connections between words and events. The time of the Omer, for example, linking Passover and the exodus from Egypt to Shavuot and receiving the commandments at Sinai, can help us understand the tension between rights and responsibilities.

From Passover we learn we are not slaves, but from Shavuot we learn we are not gods; from Passover we learn what to stand against, but from Shavuot, what to stand for; from Passover we learn about our rights, but from Shavuot we learn about our responsibilities.

I started my Navy career in Vietnam, on a ship that became the first commissioned vessel to enter the waters of Cambodia. As I faced fear and wrestled with issues of life and death, I often struggled with the war within that would define me as a human being – the battle between the better and lesser angels within me. During that time, a Christian chaplain, Father Les Westling, ultimately inspired me to make the decision to become a rabbi.

When I reentered the Navy as a chaplain, his footsteps were the ones I tried to follow.

From him and other non-Jewish chaplains, I learned lessons that have guided me ever since. I learned the lesson of Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel everywhere. Use words when absolutely necessary.” That teaching, that we share our lessons of hope and faith primarily through our presence and through our kindness, more than through our words alone, has been a guiding principle of my life.

When serving as a chaplain for the 6th Fleet, I was stationed onboard the USS Puget Sound, with the responsibility to visit all ships in the Mediterranean, as well as U.S. military personnel assigned to the peace-keeping force in Beirut. During my many visits to Beirut I saw a landscape filled with foxholes and bunkers representing the multi-national force personnel, along with those of Israelis and Lebanese.

What struck me about this experience was that in midst of foxholes filled with people representing one group or another, from the warring Lebanese Christians and Muslims to the predominantly Jewish forces of Israel’s IDF, we Americans had what I called interfaith foxholes. Thinking back on that time, amid religious wars around the world, I have said that if the world had more interfaith foxholes, perhaps we’d have less need for foxholes and have more room for faith.

On October 23, 1983 at 6:22 a.m., a suicide bomber in a van full of explosives attacked the American component of the multi-national force. The blast demolished a building 75 yards from where I was staying. Father George Pucciarelli, the Catholic chaplain assigned to the Marine Amphibious Unit, grabbed his purple uniform stole, and put it around his neck, preparing for the certainty that he would be administering last rights in the face of so many wounded and dying.

We lost 241 Americans that day. I remember how desperately we needed the medical assistance that would eventually arrive, a need made worse because many of the sailors who died were corpsmen.

We all did what we could until more help arrived. I tore my t-shirt apart to use pieces to wipe dirt and blood from the faces and bodies of the wounded and then I used my kippa, until I lost it in the rubble.

When we had a moment to breathe, Pucciarelli saw my head was uncovered, and he came over to me, ripping a piece of his camouflage uniform off so that I could use it as a temporary, makeshift kippa. I remember what he said to me – that in Lebanon, where every religion was fighting every other religion, he wanted our personnel to remember not only that American chaplains reached out to everyone, regardless of religion, regardless of whether anyone wounded even had a religion, but through the symbolism of the stole around his neck and the kippa on my head, he wanted our men to remember that we represented different faiths but worked together, side-by-side.

At that point in America, a debate had been raging about whether Jewish personnel could wear kippot with their uniforms. Normally Jewish chaplains were allowed to wear them, but it was unclear when it came to others, and often the default assumption was that they could not. For two years, the religious apparel amendment that would officially allow head-coverings for religious reasons had failed to pass Congress. After the story of Pucciarelli’s creation of the “camouflage kippa” was told in both the House and the Senate, and printed in the Congressional Record for both chambers, the amendment passed.
What I think happened was that many civilian and military leaders had been opposed to the idea because it conflicted with military uniformity. The story changed their minds. They saw uniformity as only a means to an end, and the end was unity, a unified effort to defend our freedoms, including freedom of religion. Cherishing our diversity could protect us from becoming one more nation torn apart by differences.

The religious apparel amendment laid the foundation for a series of instructions and directives outlining policies for religious accommodation within the military services. Some branches of the military still use that title, but as of September 1, 2020, the latest Department of Defense instruction chose a new title, religious liberty in the military services. For me, that instruction recognized our policies were not simply accommodating needs.

Instead, we were strengthening our freedoms, our rights, and ultimately, protecting the liberty we in the military defend.

Religions often have different ultimate visions, and those visions are mutually exclusive from those of other faiths. Therefore, our lesson must be that when it comes to interfaith cooperation, the more we focus on the end of days, the more we’ll disagree. But the more we focus on the end of today, to make today a better day for the sick, the hungry, for those suffering from pain or fear, the more we’ll agree. Then, we can all roll up our sleeves and work together. For me, that’s the secret behind the success of the military chaplaincy. We take strength from our diversity, then unite to help others, and do some good for our world.

At a time when religious tension, hostility, and even conflict are far too evident throughout our world, we must share the vision of interfaith foxholes, and the knowledge that our differing backgrounds, experiences, teachings, and faiths can strengthen and enrich us all.

I am inspired by the wisdom of Berger’s new vision. Perhaps the story of the camouflage kippa will become a part of that vision. In the meantime, I pray that the men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps grow stronger through their renewed respect for diversity as a strength. May they be ever faithful to that vision. May that vision and that strength be a blessing for our military, our nation, and our world.

Rabbi Resnicoff is a life member of JWV who began his Naval career as a line officer in Vietnam and with Naval Intelligence in Europe before rabbinical school and ordination. As a rabbi he served in chaplain assignments around the world, culminating in the position of Command Chaplain, U.S. European Command. Following retirement, he served as National Director of Interreligious Affairs 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.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021