Friday, April 26, 2013

Professional Development

The Commodore Uriah P. Levy Chapel at the US Naval Academy is gorgeous.

A few fun facts about Commodore Levy, z”l, learned while at the Navy Academy this past week: in addition to saving Monticello and banning flogging, Uriah Levy is known for having been court-martialed six times.

One more fun fact: Uriah Levy once told the King of Brazil, “I would rather serve as a cabin boy in the United States Navy than hold the rank of Admiral in any other service in the world.”  This quote rings especially true having spent my week with US Army and US Air Force Chaplains.

Each year, the Jewish Chaplain’s Council of the Jewish Welfare Board hosts a conference.  Every other year, the program meets at the Jewish Community Centers of America Biennial (the version of Biennial that means “every other year” as opposed to “twice a year”).  Last year, the chaplains hitched on to the JCCA Conference in New Orleans.  In the off-years, the rabbis get together on their own.  This year, we went to Annapolis, MD: home of the United States Naval Academy.

For four days, the rabbis from the Navy/USMC, Army, and Air Force get together.  Reservist, National Guard and Active Duty.  Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative.  We sprinkle in the Veterans Affairs Chaplains for good measure and some decent kvetching (not that the other organizations don’t have their fair share of kvetchers).

We heard presentations by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, an Under-Secretary of the Army, the Chiefs-of-Chaplains of each of the Armed Services, and by our peers.  There were speeches a plenty.

But the moments that mattered came in three forms:

1) My family came to town, and we got to go to a game at Camden Yards.  I think the O’s could have tried harder to win, but Jake Arrietta is just not a very good pitcher.

2) I spent some quality time with my good friend and former roommate Rabbi Joshua Sherwin: the single, available chaplain at the Naval Academy. Please contact me if you are looking for his digits.

3) I got to spend time blowing off steam, telling stories, and having beers with some outstanding Navy chaplains (there are a couple ok ones in the Army, but your best bet is in the Navy). 

As a rabbi and as a chaplain, I often find the social element lacking.  Many of my colleagues in smaller communities know this loneliness well.  The convention and some of the personalities might drive me nuts, and there really should be a time limit on how long people in certain military uniforms should be allowed to talk.  

BUT the special moments keep my spirit alive for another year.  I am incredibly appreciative of the JWB for flying me back to the states for the week, and I can't wait to see my favorite chaplains in sunny San Diego next year.

Friday, April 19, 2013


A few weeks ago, Yoni wrote a blog post about his battalion’s St. Patrick’s Day Field Meet, and promised pictures to come. Well -- that day is here! I'm glad I had the foresight to bring my big zoom lens that day (also affectionately referred to as my paparazzo lens); there was a lot of funny stuff to see, and most of it was way across the field. I wasn't there the whole day, but I did catch the end; I hope these pictures will help you get a better sense of the hilarity of entire event. 

I'm also including a few pictures of Yoni's FMF pinning, which took place immediately following the Field Meet. What a good day! 

For the first event in the relay race, teams had to carry huge hoses across the field and then back.
Next, one member from each team had to hammer about 20 (pre-inserted) nails into a wooden frame.
This kind of speaks for itself; they had to flip that tire all the way across the the huge field.
It's a bit hard to tell, but there are actually two things happening in this picture. The Marine with the sledgehammer over his head is breaking apart a block of concrete to find the nails that were hidden inside. The Marine lying on the stretcher is waiting to be carried across the field - the final event in the relay. 
Each competing battalion had to design a chariot to be hand-pulled around the track. This is the chariot that Yoni's Marines designed; his Commanding Officer is the one catching a ride. 
Almost to the finish line.
At the end of the Field Meet, Yoni was surprised to be asked to offer a few words of prayer. 
Yoni's C.O. pins on his FMF (Fleet Marine Force) pin.
Not sure what they were laughing about, but it was a nice moment of levity in an otherwise serious ceremony. 
Proud (and slightly sunburned) wife.

Friday, April 12, 2013

For You Were Strangers In A Strange Land

I had an interesting conversation today with a Jewish woman who is new-ish to Okinawa.  We were talking about what brought us out here, the weirdness that is a first-tour in the Navy, and the experience of being Jewish.

Her husband and I had similar experiences in getting orders to the one place that we did not have on our desired-locations-list.  Neither he nor I were really asked where we wanted to go. 

She was born in Israel and spent her early years there, but she spent the majority of her life in Chicago.  As she put it, “I never really knew what living without Jews around would be like; they were just always there.”  It felt like a conversation that I had with Leora a year and a half ago.

But she told me she couldn’t put her finger on what was missing from her new life in Okinawa -- until she came to services on Friday night.

Was it the liturgy?  No, not so much.
Was it the tunes?  She knows some different tunes.
What was it?

“One of the men introduced himself and started telling me about all his ailments.”  Jewish community at its finest.

I can’t say that the Jewish Community of Okinawa is the strongest Jewish Community in the world (though we are heavily armed).  Nor can I say that we have the best regular attendance, most ruach (spirit), or greatest voices (the Lord did not bequeath tone to the Jewish people of Okinawa on His Sabbath Day).  But between the ailments and the simchas (another Simchat Bat this week!), we’ve got all the makings of a real Jewish community.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Okinawan Mikvah

There was a major article in the Chabad world about the brand new Mikvah that opened this year in Tokyo.  Rumor had it that the Mikvah at the Jewish Community Center (Conservative) in Tokyo had mysteriously been broken, but that is no longer the case.  After a year hiatus, it is back in service.  

There was a rumor that there is a Mikvah in Okinawa, but I’ve investigated that to where I do not believe that has ever been the case. 

Rabbinic Note:  A Mikvah is a physical bathhouse used for ritual immersion.  The requirement being that the water has to be “mayim chayim”, or “living water”.  Rivers, natural springs, and rainwater make up the base water for most Mikvaot.  There is a Responsa out there that one can turn a pool into a Mikvah by adding some ice; as the ice transforms, it is considered “mayim chayim”, and thus a Mikvah.  It is possible that a Mikvah of this style existed in Okinawa before my time.  However, the only area set aside for ritual immersion is the Baptistery in the Kinser Chapel.  A Mikvah it is not.

That said, I live on a tiny island in the middle of the West Pacific Sea Currents; we have a Mikvah.  The coral reefs make it a little complicated to use, but it does the trick.

I tell you this not to give you laws of mikvah, but to share a story from my week.  Having returned mid-week from Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, I was asked (prior to my expected flight out to Guam) to make a baby girl (whose father is Jewish and whose mother is in process of converting) into a Jewish baby girl.

I love simchas and I was more than delighted to put together a little ceremony for them (we are also going to have a simchat bat in synagogue in a few weeks).  Originally, I was going to have us all wade into the East China Sea – as we did for the  adult conversions this past Spring.  But then, Betty Hoffman had a brilliant suggestion.

Just below her house (which is on a beautiful cliff and the beach that we were going to use) is a natural spring.  At one point considered a sacred spring (like most springs in Okinawa), it is set into the cliffs and surrounded by a series of caves.  The water in the spring is beautiful, clear and fresh; it pools at about one foot of depth and then flows down into the ocean 10 yards away.  “Can we use the spring?”  Not only can we use the spring, but it is an ideal Mikvah.  While not quite big enough for an adult, we immersed Chloe Ayumi Beyer (Esther Chanah bat Avraham) in the Ancient Okinawan Mikvah.  
The walk down to the Mikvah.  The New Abba is carrying the New Baby.
The New Grandma is walking the Grand-Puppy.

We gave her some wine - because everybody is entitled to some wine at Jewish rituals.
I sang HaMalakh HaGoel as I explained to Chloe how luck of a girl she was and all that she was about to experience.
There is no reason for me to be the only one getting wet.  Bath time is fun for rabbis, abbas and babies.
We rolled up our pants as we walked into the Spring.

"And now you have a whole new Jewish name!  Esther Hannah - a pretty good name for a girl born on Purim".  Esther's Abba, Ema and Rabbi give her a blessing.