Friday, December 27, 2013

i'm dreaming of a weird christmas

For the second year in a row, Yoni and I were lucky enough to be invited to Christmas dinner. Yoni grew up with a Christian grandmother, so he had some experience with Christmas festivities (supposedly, there are a few pictures of little Yoni with the tree – would love to see those!). I, on the other hand, had no Christian friends until I went to college. I did sometimes experience pre- and post-Christmas at one or another of their houses, but I was never involved in the actual celebration of the day until last year.

I am, however, somewhat of an expert in involving non-Jewish friends in Jewish rituals. More friends of other religious persuasions than I can count have sat around our Shabbat dinner table, Passover seder table – even joined us in synagogue. So when I went to my first (and second) Christmas “dinner” (it was really lunch), I think I subconsciously (or consciously) expected a reverse of that experience. What do I mean? Yes, there would be food, and fellowship, but there would also be at least some kind of religious element – rituals, prayers, discussions that go on for hours before we’re allowed to eat. Something.

Much to my surprise, that was not the case. While there was a prayer before the meal, I have NEVER eaten a meal with another chaplain or chaplain spouse where there was NOT a prayer. And this prayer was in no way tailored to Christmas; it was of the garden variety, thank-you-for-the-food and fellowship etc. And that was the sum total of the day’s religious content. We ate “dinner,” relaxed, played board games, sat around the tree, went home. I don’t know if this is typical of Christmas celebrations, or if the more overt religious content was removed to avoid making us uncomfortable, but this experience did reinforce my believe that non-Jews who participate in Jewish rituals must think we’re crazy.

Maybe the difference lies in the liturgical/non-liturgical divide. Whatever the reason, I was grateful both to be included in my friend’s Christmas celebration, and also to be spared too much celebrating of Christmas. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Farewell Engineers. Hello MEU!

Seldom does a week go by without somebody asking why there are two Jewish chaplains in Okinawa. 

Sometimes people ask nicely:  “So what will you be doing now that Yonina is out here?”  Depending on my mood, I can answer either “My actual job: battalion chaplain and caring for the Marines”, “Same thing as you: getting a tan and watching the waves”, or some sort of pleasantries that lets on that we actual have different jobs.
Some people ask me with pity: “Are you ok?  Do you have other work?” As if I was demoted because I didn’t do a good job.  I mentally stick my tongue out at those people, and gently remind them that my official title was never rabbi for the Jewish community of Okinawa, that was just something that got thrown at me as a collateral duty as I am also a rabbi.  I prayed for a rabbi to be assigned to base.

I am an operational chaplain (as opposed to the garrison or base chaplain).  While Yonina has a battalion at base, no slight to her - base jobs are sad jobs.  Chaplains want to be out in the field; its what separates us from working in a congregation.  Yonina is doing a good job with that; I'm glad that I don't have to do it anymore.  It's a hard primary job; It's really rough as a side job.  

Until this past week, my primary job was the 9th Engineer Support Battalion.  I had a battalion that maintains an operational tempo – gets out into the weeds, theoretically shoots at things and gets shot at by other things, and performs engineering work.  I like the engineers.

As of this week, that changes.  I will still like the engineers, but I'm moving to a CLB.  The operational tempo speeds up and the deployments begin.

Utilizing the fact that we can keep rabbis in multiple places out here, I will be deploying with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.  Marines are notorious for being expeditionary.  They don’t wait for a fight to break out somewhere in the world before they deploy; instead, they throw a bunch of Marines on ships and send them out to wait for the fight to begin.  Combat Logistics Battalion – 31 deploys twice a year for a few months each time to provide Combat Service Support.  It’s pretty bad-ass.

I’ll get to be on a ship, and hopefully see some of the finest ports in South East Asia.  We’ll do Theater Security/Community Relations Projects in the Philippines, Thailand, Korea and Mainland Japan; we’ll be the first on scene for Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, Non-Combatant Evacuations, and the like throughout the region.  I’m pretty pumped.

Jewishly: it will be a little lonely, but I already started to find some Jews hidden in the woodwork.  As it goes, these are the true deployed Marines out here and they are never around for the chagim.  I will be sad to be apart from my beautiful loving and always compassionate wife for these days, but I’m glad that I’m going to get to do the rabbi stuff for people who are truly forward deployed – “at the tip of the spear” for the next year.

I will definitely miss the engineers, but I’m excited to do the true operational job.  That’s the work I signed up to do.  Now, we’ll just have to see where the wind takes us.

Friday, December 6, 2013

a rant

I rarely use this space to rant, but today it just seems like the right choice.

Last night, Yoni and I attended a ball celebrating the 238th birthday of the US Navy Chaplain Corps. For the most part, we had a lovely evening.

What was the problem, you ask? Food. Of course.

Yoni and I are well-practiced at fighting food battles here in Okinawa. Most of the time we don’t get worked up about it because we go in expecting problems. But last night we had RSVP’d as vegetarians, and so we weren’t wearing our protective armor.

It was a four-course meal. The first course was a salad next to shrimp. No thank you. The next course was a (delicious looking) pumpkin soup, made with beef broth. Thanks, but no thanks. The (vegetarian) entrĂ©e was some weird bastardization of eggplant parmesan. And then there was dessert. We were frustrated but not particularly surprised that there was no vegetarian option for the first two courses. After all – T.I.O. (this is Okinawa). We agreed that, after the ball, we would figure out who to talk to and address the issue appropriately.

But then the manager of the Officer’s Club (where the ball was being held) came by our table to ask if everything was ok. And…I might have gotten into it with her. It went something like this.

Manager: Hope you’re all enjoying your evenings. Is everything alright?
Leora: Actually, I’m pretty disappointed with the vegetarian offerings tonight.
Manager: How do you mean?
Leora: Well, we’re here for a four-course meal, but there was only a vegetarian alternative offered for one course.
Manager: Well, it was a pumpkin soup.
Leora: Yes, with a beef broth. That kind of goes against the meaning of the word vegetarian.
Manager: The truth is, we have too many special requests to be able to honor them.
Leora: Well, by offering a vegetarian option, you are pretending to honor them. It’s very misleading to arrive at a meal you expect to be able to partake in only to find out that you can’t eat most of it.
Manager: We’re just not able to accommodate everyone. Too many people want to be gluten free or whatever. Maybe next time, if you let us know in advance that you’re coming, we can work something out. It’s just that a lot of our flavorings have meat bases; we can’t be expected to serve people food without flavor.
Leora: (!!!) If I let you know in advance you’ll accommodate us?!? I’m pretty sure that, by registering as vegetarians, we did exactly that. That was your advance notice. Why else would we RSVP?

It went on and on. She refused to cede any ground even though she was being RIDICULOUS. Eventually, she offered to partially refund the tickets, but then she walked away and never came back. And even when she offered the refund, she was not apologetic, nor did she admit that what I was saying was valid in any way, shape or form. She was just trying to placate me. I’m pretty sure I was right, though. Grrr.

Ok. Rant over. Shabbat Shalom!