A New and Wonderful Experience

It is most unusual for me to be away from my synagogue for two consecutive weekends, but this is one of those times. Last week I was in Jerusalem, attending the Zionist Congress. This week, far away from Jerusalem, I am writing from Newport, Rhode Island, where my son-in-law Yoni, entering his final year in the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is receiving his commission from the United States Navy as a Navy Chaplain.

My wife and I spent this afternoon on the base where our son-in-law Yoni has been in Officer Training School for the past month. To be sure, there are worse places to be stationed than Newport, which is a charming city. But the military is the military, and no matter where you are stationed, it is challenging. Though it seems strange to say, I don’t recall ever being on an active military base of any of the services here in the United States. I’ve been on many in Israel, but none in America. As the ancient rabbis might have said, that, in and of itself, merits further exploration. Perhaps another time…

What I thought was particularly sweet- not a word one usually associates with the military in any country- was that on this afternoon before the actual commissioning ceremony, we were invited, along with my daughter and Yoni’s parents, to an informal barbecue with all of the clergy, physicians and such and their families who are also receiving their commissions.

A barbecue… doesn’t sound too promising for us kosher types, right? Particularly in the military!

But I am, as an American, proud to tell you that the Navy took good care of us (and so did our son-in-law). While they were grilling franks and burgers by the hundreds for everyone else, they went to the trouble to get a separate grill and a large quantity of veggie burgers, to accommodate our Kashrut concerns and those of their new Jewish chaplain. We were all treated with the greatest of respect. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Yoni is hardly the first to serve in this capacity, and he has broken no new ground- not by a long shot. But I guess my long-standing image of the military as a place where parochial Jewish concerns would not be taken all that seriously needs some serious updating. Very nice to know…

As for the ceremony itself, which is in a few hours, I imagine that it will be quite a moving experience. Just looking at Yoni’s dress white uniform was, in its own way, moving and impressive. But again- so many members of my family in Israel have served with distinction in the IDF, and I’ve seen them all while they were in active service. I cannot help but be amazed by how new an experience this is for me, and how it makes me feel. It seems completely appropriate to serve this country that has been so good to us, and I couldn’t be more proud. But still, it’s so unusual, relatively speaking.

It’s a wonderful way to give something back to America.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.