US Navy’s Chief Rabbi’s has some advice…

…for American Jews, upon his retirement. 

My father was a captain in the US Navy, a physician; and his father was a World War I veteran, Herman Scher, having enlisted in 1917 and serving in the trenches in Belgium as an engineer (digging trenches), where this affable man learned the phrase, “Voulez-vouz promenader avec moi, ce-soir.”  Perhaps he employed this phrase on some young Belgian ladies when he was 21 and “over there,” though he had already met my grandmother by that time.  Far cry from that risque song, popular years ago, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”

Read about the Navy’s rabbi…

U.S. Navy’s ex-chief rabbi urges U.S. Jews to help Jewish troops

By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent
tags: Navy, Chief Rabbi 
The American Jewish community must regard as a top priority its responsibility to meet the religious and spiritual needs of Jewish soldiers serving in the United States military, Rear Admiral Harold Robinson maintains. Last week, Robinson completed 36 years of service as the chief military rabbi of the U.S. Marines. In a recent conversation he said “though public interest in the U.S. military increased since September 11, it has become increasingly challenging for Jewish soldiers to maintain a close connection with their heritage.”

Robinson estimates that of the upwards of one million soldiers currently serving in the army, approximately 1 percent are Jewish. This estimate, according to Robinson, includes those soldiers who do not divulge their ethnic background and do not utilize religious services offered to Jews in the military.

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Robinson shies away from the title “military rabbi.” He prefers the title “chaplain,” a term that refers to those responsible for providing religious services to soldiers of all faiths. “Chief Rabbi is a term with a divisive connotation, as it serves to the spiritual needs of Jewish soldiers only. The job of the chaplain has a connective connotation because a chaplain is responsible for soldiers of all religions serving in the unit,” he said. “For a long time I searched for a Hebrew word that could convey the meaning of the English word ‘chaplain.’ Finally I chose the term ‘mesharet dati’ (religious servant) as the most suitable. That is exactly the job of the chaplain in the U.S. army,” Robinson added.

Robinson was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal upon his departure from the force, the highest honor granted to non-combat servicemen in the Navy. A ceremony was held in his honor at the Navy headquarters in Washington.

Robinson is proud to display his fluent Hebrew, which he acquired during his studies at Jerusalem‘s Hebrew University in the 1960’s. When NASA needed a senior Navy officer to host the memorial service for fallen Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, Robinson was summoned. He surprised the audience when he conducted his part of the ceremony entirely in Hebrew. He read excerpts from the book of Psalms and read a poem by Haim Nahman Bialik, Israel‘s national poet. “The ceremony was broadcast in Israel,” Robinson said, “my voice was heard in Israel but no one knew who I was.”

Over the last two years, Robinson has made a special effort to visit Navy ships and Marines stationed in the Middle East. He celebrated Rosh Hashana this year on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Some 40 Jewish men and women, from other ships in the Persian Gulf as well as the Eterprise, came to the service he led.

“Thanks to the Jewish soldiers, thousands of sailors received sweet challah, and the ship’s cook baked a huge cake and decorated it with a greeting for Rosh Hashana,” he said.

Robinson reminisces about the last Shavuot holiday, which he celebrated in Afghanistan with U.S. Marines.

The 60-year-old Rear Admiral proudly states that the U.S. Army does not differentiate between the three main movements within Judaism (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox). “When you conduct a service in some god forsaken base and you have 16 Jewish soldiers, you can’t differentiate between them,” Robinson said. “A religious servant who is Reform is responsible for Orthodox and Conservative soldiers as well. Everyone has to relinquish something. A Reform military rabbi prays wearing a kippah, and a male Orthodox soldier prays while sitting next to a female.”

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