Friday, November 29, 2013

RP2's Last Day in Okinawa

Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Hunger Games coming to Okinawa, Anniversary, and Shabbat all coinciding in the same few days: there are a lot of things that I could write about.  I choose Chanukah – but only in a peripheral way.

I come to celebrate the shamash: the uncelebrated candle that doesn’t count, that stands apart from the other candles.

Fact:  We are not permitted to make use of the light from the chanukiyah, we can only look at them in appreciation of the miracles of Chanukah.  BUT the Shamash can be used to light anything, we can keep warm by its heat, we can use it to heat up leftover Turkey (if its big enough).  Shamash is the term that synagogues in Europe into modernity called the person who kept everything running.  Today, I salute the shamash.

Like the shamash of yore, the job of Religious Program Specialist is not the glamorous job that many think of as a great naval rating.  Some choose it.  Others are chosen by it (and not in the way that many refer to “a calling”, more like a “this is your job, suck it up” kind of thing).  Designed as a track of the Yeoman rating, Religious Program Specialists serve an administrative function.  They ensure that chapels are properly maintained, and they are in charge of making sure the tzedakah box gets put into the right hands.

An RP is a shamash with an M4 and about 200 rounds.  The RP provides physical protection to the chaplain who is not allowed to bear arms.  But more than that: When we went to Afghanistan, RP2 Worth not only protected me but during services ensured the protection of all those who came to pray.

An RP is part of the team.  Not the same job as chaplain, but an imbedded person who Marines and Sailors can vent to and not feel that they are imposing on “the sir”.  A good RP steers people to the chaplain when the time arises.  He’s not a counselor.  But he’s part of the team. 

Today was a little rough for me, because half of my team is leaving the Navy.  I know that John M. Worth is going to succeed in finishing college (because if he doesn’t I will kill him).  I know that he is going to be an amazing aide to his father and mother who certainly miss him.  I know that anybody who commits a crime in Norfolk once he enters the police force there will seriously regret it.  And I know that someday he will be able to answer to his given name and not only “RP”, but for me, he will always be RP.

When things get crazy at the Battalion, I know that we will weather it all together.  When I get the official report of what happened over the weekend, I know that the real and unofficial report will be more awesome when delivered by RP on Monday morning.  When the call came to go to Afghanistan, I never felt a real threat because RP was going to be with me.   He is truly a good soul, and I hope the nice good Christian girls at Chowan read this letter of recommendation from a rabbi and recognize that he’s a good catch.

Good luck, RP.  Both Leora and I will miss you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

the indians in the lobby

First of all, let me start by apologizing for not posting last week. After two full years of writing this blog (our on-island anniversary is next week), it’s honestly hard for me to find things to write about, even on a bi-weekly basis. But I’m trying.

When we arrived two years ago on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, we (understandably) weren’t sure about our Thanksgiving plans. We’d just moved to a new country on the other side of the world where we didn’t know anyone. How were we supposed to make plans for a family-centric holiday? We ended up going to a buffet at one of the Officer’s Clubs, where there WAS an ice sculpture of a turkey, but there was NOT a lot of food for us to eat. By the time our second on-island Thanksgiving rolled around, we had a couple of friends, and were lucky enough to share a meal with them and their daughter. We’ll be with them (and a few others) again this year.

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving, though. I know, as Jews, we often think of holidays as being all about the food, but Thanksgiving really amps that up to the next level. Normally that’s not a problem. Every family has their own traditional foods, and most peoples’ Thanksgiving dinners probably look similar from year to year. I know ours always did. When you’re celebrating in what is essentially a transient community, though, everyone is missing their families/friends/traditions back home, and so whatever plans they have made for themselves, they want their own personal traditions to be honored. And that’s not a problem either – it just means there is inevitably WAY too much food. Yoni and I are going to a meal where there will be 3-5 other adults, and there will be two turkeys. Not to mention a ridiculous list of other foods.

Food mania aside, spending Thanksgiving away from home is always bittersweet. But, seeing as the holiday is actually about giving thanks and not about food, I try to see the sweet instead of the bitter. I’m thankful this year to have friends to have Thanksgiving dinner with; I’m thankful that the temperature in Okinawa has finally dropped below 95 degrees; and I’m thankful for Yoni and Penny, who put a smile on my face and make it okay to call our apartment ‘home.’

Friday, November 8, 2013

It's in the Details...and the Board Game.

I hate Halloween.  I’ve had fun doing things with my Marines over the past two years, but at this point I think its time to turn in the old Panda suit and bowtie and end the holiday once and for all.

It’s not the holiday itself that makes me upset.  I could care less if they want to get dressed up like crazy people and masquerade around.  Its the aftermath.

Once the scary movies are watched.  Once the drinks are imbibed.  Once the Ouija boards come out… 

Half these kids already believe that Okinawa is haunted by the ghosts of 1945.  The rest of them believe it's outright demons reaching through a portal in space.  What exactly do you tell a Marine who has had a pretty terrifying experience with demonology that he should do with his Ouija board at the end of the week?

I combed through the Table of Contents in all of my Pastoral Care Books, and I found absolutely nothing.  Good stuff on “Use of Psalms” and “Caring for the Dying and the Families”.  That’s all well and good, and I use some of this stuff regularly in my chaplaincy.  But where does one find: “Help! I Believe that My Barracks is Possessed With An Evil Demon that I Summoned with a Ouija Board Who I Have Already Self-Exorcised from My Body But Is Definitely Still in the Room.” 

I know what you're thinking:  I checked the index.  Nothing; no “Exorcisms: Performance Thereof” or “Usage of Catholic Holy Water in Jewish Ritual”. No “Demons”, “Devils” or even “Dyubbuks” (I double checked the dyubbuk thing).

While it is every young Rabbi’s responsibility to blame their seminary for sending them out to the field unprepared for “real life”, I accept that this might be beyond the pale of the regular rabbinate.

Many might scoff at this, but it's what the Marine actually believes.  Not because he’s drunk or because he’s crazy, but because there is religious underpinning to it (which also told him to never touch a Ouija board).  He agreed to work through the issues that led him to the board in the first place, but he still wanted me to exorcise the room and destroy the board.

So I got on to my research.  I went to my religious leader, Rabbi Google.  You’d be amazed at the sights he gave me.  First off, as it turns out – destruction of a Ouija board is a big deal and if you do it wrong – things get worse (like crossing the streams, worse)(that's a Ghostbusters reference, in case you missed it. Leora did.).

Theoretically, you can burn it or do a ritual with holy water and bury it.  He doesn’t trust the burning thing, and I can’t really do the other ritual.  So I went to the subject matter expert in this: a priest (they’re so good with exorcisms!).

Referral: A Chaplain’s Best Friend.  That was my only real course of action, and I felt pretty good about it. 

I’m going to follow up with the corporal next week, but worse comes to worst, I’ve got EOD on standby with two bricks of C-4 ready to blast those demons and that Ouija board into Kingdom Come.

Friday, November 1, 2013


A few weeks ago, Yoni and I attended the world’s largest tug-of-war. I can’t say I ever knew that was a thing – who keeps track of something like that? – but turns out it is, and the world’s largest takes place every year on Okinawa's main road, 58. Think of it as our Queens Blvd equivalent. Oh, Okinawa…

I don’t have too much to say about it; mostly what I’ll remember was almost being trampled several times and not being able to see anything except for occasional views of a huge rope (no joke, it weighs 40 tons). But it was, as we say in Hebrew, a chavayah – an experience.  And after almost two years here on Okinawa, Yoni and I are all about finding new experiences.

Actually, the truth is that this tug-of-war was one of the first things that Yoni read about after we found out we were moving here. He was super excited about it, but because of scheduling and logistics and Jewish holidays, we weren’t able to attend until this year. Unfortunately, the actual event didn’t really live up to the hype.  It did produce some funny pictures, though – almost all of which were taken randomly with my camera over my head. I really couldn’t see anything.

I took out my camera to snap a picture of Yoni and this guy (a member of the tug-of-war staff, maybe?) jumped in. Talk about photo bombing!
A glimpse of the rope, as well as some of the participants.
The flags had something to do with an epic battle between neighborhoods. I think. Maybe.
Smaller "tributary ropes" being passed into the crowd in preparation for the main event.

This is the "we are trying to have fun but is it time to go home yet?" face.

All of a sudden, the large golden ball that had been raised in the air earlier in the day exploded! Talk about a surprise.

At least it was pretty.