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. http://washingtonjewishweek.com/m/Articles.aspx?ArticleID=18712. 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.