Friday, June 28, 2013


Pretty soon after we arrived on island, Yoni and I visited Shuri Castle. One of the most heralded tourist sites of Okinawa, Shuri Castle was the seat of the Ryuku monarchy and was originally built, it’s thought, in the early 14th century. The most recent iteration of the castle was almost completely destroyed during WWII, and was rebuilt in the early 1990s. Sounds interesting, right? Unfortunately, Yoni and I didn’t think so.

At first, I wasn’t sure why we both had such a distinctly negative reaction to Shuri Castle. Maybe because we had to take our shoes off and carry them around in a plastic bag? No, that was just funny.

miraculously, we were both wearing matching socks that day!

We’ve talked about it a lot since then, and I’ve finally decided that it was a simple case of confused expectations. Yoni and I were expecting castle ruins (that’s how it had been described to us), and instead we were confronted with a completely reconstructed and vaguely theme-park-feeling Japanese castle, complete with roped-in walkways. It also occurred to both of us that most people on Okinawa haven’t spent time exploring ruins in Israel, and therefore don’t have the same expectations that we do when it comes to ancient sites.

All of that is to say – last weekend, we visited some castle ruins that were, actually, ruins! Katsuren Castle was home to many a local noble (Okinawa’s own Downton?), but it’s “golden age” was in the mid-15th century when Lord Amawari lived there. There was an English pamphlet, but honestly, I didn’t absorb much of the history. It was a beautiful (if super hot) day, and the scenery was beautiful, so I wasn’t complaining.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My First Tattoo

Don't worry mom, I don't have a tattoo...  (yet?)

I am a Sailor.  Technically, I’m a Naval Officer, but just as Army officers and enlisted are often called soldiers, I take on my sailor community.  I have uniforms and all sorts of things that say I am a Sailor on them.  The Marine Corps issued me a card that told me that I was a Marine.  But it’s not true.  I’m a sailor.

So where’s my tattoo?

Marines and Sailors love their tattoos.  I draw your attention to Exhibit A.

Exhibit A:
Popeye the Sailor Man, the Lord didn't put those anchors on his arms.  That's ink-work.

Give a Marine a couple hundred bucks and 5 hours, and they will get at least one tattoo and maybe get another tattoo filled in with color.  (First tattoo will typically be the Eagle, Globe and Anchor).

Somehow my father made it through the military (Navy and Marine Corps) without any tattoos (that I know of).  So it has to be doable.  There have to be others in this camp.  But on a day like today, when the whole battalion went to a beach and peeled off layers of uniform, I ponder my military experience with out a tattoo.  Am I reinforcing my outsider status by resisting writing on my skin?  If I were a Marine and not a Chaplain, would I feel comfortable saying no?  As it is, I feel that I almost need to reaffirm my resistance every other day.

I have thought about it.  Sometimes around the battalion, we play the "Chaplain's First Tattoo" Game.  Where some of the Marines (EOD Marines are the most imaginative in this regard) come up with a plan for the Chaplain's First Tattoo.  But it ain't gonna happen.

I’m a day-school kid.  No tattoos because the Torah says so. 

There is a good argument that the tattoo injunction is based on a response to tattooing prevalent in idol-worshipping cults of the Ancient Near East.  Seeking “Taamei HaMitzvot” based on such academics seems dangerous to me, but I like engaging in the debate in my head.

I was never in love with the argument that we shouldn’t harm the bodies that God gave us.   (1) I love cake and fried foods.  By all doctors accounts I will continue to destroy my body with HDL, and it will be delicious.  (2) There are some really beautiful tattoos out there.  And some of them will still be meaningful and neat even after muscles deteriorate.

Further pushing against the tattoo injunction is the holocaust.  While many point to that as a reason not to get a tattoo, for me (and the main character at the beginning of Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic”), it almost seems like a reason to get a tattoo.  To be connected.

But for me, the Torah will suffice.  Pain involved in another significant deterrent.  And when it all comes down to it, I’m pretty sure that my mother would kill me (at the start of a line of others who would do the same).

But, I'm not going to lie.  Sometimes, I think a Navy Officer’s Crest on my chest would be awesome….or a schooner.  A schooner would be awesome.  Very Navy.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I felt my first earthquake last night.

Don’t be confused – this is not the first earthquake I’ve experienced. We actually have earthquakes all the time in Okinawa. Somehow I just never seem to notice them. I even managed to sleep through the quake that hit NY shortly before Yoni and I moved out here.

So, as strange as this sounds, I was almost excited when, at 10:30 last night, the apartment started to shake. I was sitting alone in the living room (Yoni had gone to bed at 9:30 like an old man) when, all of a sudden, something wasn’t right. And then it clicked – oh, I thought, this must be what an earthquake feels like. Our apartment building is made of reinforced something-or-other due to this island’s propensity towards typhoons, so the shaking feeling wasn’t scary in any way. I didn’t even feel the need to lie down on the couch and cover my head with a pillow (as we are instructed to do in earthquake preparedness commercials on military tv). Instead, I sat back, watched the picture frames reverberate against the walls, and reveled in the first-time-iness of the experience. After it was over, I said the appropriate bracha, turned off the lights, and went to bed, happy to have checked another item off of my proverbial Okinawa bucket list.

(By the way, Yoni would never forgive me if I forgot to include the official earthquake specs – so here they are. It measured a 5.6 on the Richter scale, and the epicenter was off the eastern coast of Okinawa, in the Pacific Ocean, about 63 miles from where we live, at a depth of 5.3 miles. For more information, he says, you can go to

Speaking of first time experiences – tomorrow night I’m going out to a line dancing bar for a friend’s birthday. Don’t know what that’s going to be like. I’m too busy bemoaning the fact that I don’t have any cowboy boots to wear to really think about it. I am, however, relatively certain they won’t be playing Yoya or Neshikah Turkit. If only… 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Things are Hectic: So what's important in life?

We had a change of command this week, and things have been a little hectic in the battalion as a result. 

The outgoing CO (commanding officer) loves golf.  While he is a truly committed Catholic, his other church (his Saturday and pretty much any other day he can get away with going church) is the golf course.  As his chaplain, it was my responsibility to support his religious practices; and I was only all too willing to facilitate this need. 

While many books have been written about golf as an almost Zen religious experience with nature, I tried to understand my CO’s practices in Jewish terms.  If the majority of golfers are like the old chassidim who would talk to the trees or otherwise commune with nature, my old CO embraces golf like a yekke approaches prayer - early, in the same location, never deviating from the set path, finished before lunch on Saturday.

I once asked him why he goes to Taiyo Golf Club – a club that is 20 minutes away from his home and a course that is notorious for eating golf balls and destroying the aspirations of young aspiring golfers, instead of the spacious beautiful Kadena Golf Course that is on his base?

Lesson to aspiring chaplains:  When a person finds the right place of worship, don’t pester them about where they like to pray. Just let them be.

“Kadena Sucks”.

I figured that maybe it’s the Marine in the old CO that would not allow him to appreciate beauty that might have emanated from an Air Force installation.  Until earlier today, I had never played golf at Kadena.  CO was right, Kadena sucks.

There’s a old military truism:
When the Marine Corps gets money to build a base,
never mind – Marine Corps never gets money.
When the Navy gets money to build a base,
they build a protected port and ask for more to build ships.
When the Army gets money to build a base,
they build strong protected forts and ask for more to build higher end protections.
When the Air Force gets money to build a base,
they build a golf course and ask for more to build a runway.

I only wish they could build a better golf course. And that’s all I have to say about that.