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