Israel Drazin

This book is better than Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer

Although virtually all readers of Tom Sawyer did not live or think as Tom, they enjoyed and still enjoy his adventures, Mark Twain’s sterling writing, his humor, and insights. The same applies to Levi Welton’s magnificent memoir, “Be Like the Moon.” Welton’s book does this and more.

In 1989, the US Army called me, a lawyer and rabbi, to serve on active duty at the Pentagon to help win the legal challenge that the military chaplaincy violates the first amendment to the US constitution. It allegedly defies the requirement that the government cannot be involved with religion. We won the case by defining a military chaplain as a clergy who provides for the religious free exercise of all members in the command. This does not mean they provide the services themselves – for example, a protestant chaplain does not have to render Catholic services – but they make sure that the religious needs of every military person are secure. Civilian clergy do not do this. I was awarded by being promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General. I retired from the Army after 31 years in 1988. However, I was recalled several times during my retirement to handle sensitive issues. One concerned the military’s attempt to forbid service personnel to practice all aspects of their religion.

A Jewish soldier wanted to wear a yarmulke but was forbidden to do so by his commander. The case went to the US Supreme Court. The military argued that “military necessity” required service personnel to conform to what it considered correct. The military won the case despite the obvious fact that “military necessity” means “whatever I say is needed is needed.” A New York congressman proposed a law allowing Jewish service personnel to wear yarmulkes. The military requested that he wait until a committee of military officers investigated the matter. I was recalled to duty to serve on the committee with others.

One of the issues the committee faced was beards. Those who supported the military demand that disallows beards argued that a beard would prevent the protection of a face mask in the event of a gas attack. I argued that the State of Israel allowed its soldiers to have beards and gave bearded men a mask that could protect them. Without going into other details, I can summarize the results as winning some fights and laying the ground for further allowances.

After this experience, I advised the Chabad organization of bearded rabbis, a group known as Lubavitch, Hasidic Jews, that they could organize a system to bring bearded Chabad rabbis into the military as chaplains. I suggested that they hire retired chaplain Colonel Sandy Dresin, no relation to me, as its leader. Chabad accepted my suggestion. Today, the various military bodies have many bearded Chabad chaplains. They care for Jewish and non-Jewish personnel providing for their first amendment to the US Constitution, its Free Exercise of religion clause, and do so brilliantly. Levi Welton is one of them. He serves in the US Airforce.

Chaplain Levi Welton’s book shows how he is a perfect clergyman who will help all people practice their religion and live a full and satisfying life. As I said previously, his book is a joy to read. I will not summarize it. But I will give some of the many ideas the rabbi mentions in his book. These ideas show that wearing a beard does not hurt the military. In the case of Chabad chaplains, it helps. The US is better for having chaplains such as him.

· My father taught me that davening (praying) is not a time to ask for what you need but to discover what you’re needed for.
· My tatty {dad) taught me that what is greater than being a Superman is being a mench (a decent human being).
· As the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic movement) advised a father who complained that his son had forsaken G-d: “Rabbi, What shall I do? The Baal Shem Tov replies, “Love him more than ever.”
· As my father taught me, G-d did not create us to be creatures, but to be glorious creatures.”
· Many people want to win for G-d, but how many are willing to lose for G-d.
· Perhaps this is my spiritual favor to you to show you that even a rabbi struggles with darkness like you and that underneath it lies our light which has been there all along.
· Love starts with acceptance. For your neighbor. For yourself.
· My prayer for those who need it is that we create a space where someone who thinks they have nothing can give someone else something.
· How can you work with Muslims and Christians if their people have a long history of persecuting yours? Find the common thread.
· The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked by an elderly woman (younger than him) how he could stand and greet people for hours on end without tiring. The Rebbe replied with a smile, “Every soul is a diamond. Can one grow tired of counting diamonds?”
· Life is short. I can either spend my life pontificating G-d’s existence or spend my time doing G-d’s work.
· We don’t aim for a culture of tolerance. We create a culture of mutual respect.
· I believe that seeing good is seeing G-d in our fellow human beings.
· My parents taught me that unity is not conformity but a celebration of diversity.
· Small acts of goodness and kindness can be just as heroic as running faster than a speeding bullet.
· My heroes taught me that I must be like the moon, deriving my strength by mirroring the light I receive from another.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.