I asked a Jewish lay leader (someone in the military who fills in for the role of a Jewish chaplain where there is no Jewish chaplain) to provide recommendations of how Jewish lay leaders could do a better job of supporting Jews in the U.S. military today. (Jewish lay leaders are given official certification by either the Jewish Chaplains Council/Jewish Welfare Board or the Aleph Institute.)
(These Jewish lay leaders perform a very important function for Jews in the military. When my husband and I were stationed in Munich, Germany, starting in September 1970, there was an Orthodox rabbi as the army chaplain there. When he rotated back to the States in the spring of 1971, my husband — with no training in this area — took over as lay leader of the tiny Jewish army community in Munich.)
The lay leader that I asked to write this open letter provided me with several excellent recommendations. But because of the political nature of some of these recommendations, the writer of this open letter must remain anonymous.
Please read the following open letter to see if there is anything in the list of recommendation that you can help with in order to improve the efforts of Jewish lay leaders to provide religious/spiritual support to Jews in the military.
Recommended improvements to the lay leader program: (Some of these things are already in existence but not well used.)
1. The JCC/JWB (Jewish Chaplains Council/Jewish Welfare Board) would consider updating their site, hosted with the JCCA (Jewish Community Council Association), to be a repository/resource for their military programs.
(There is a lay leader packet made available by Major Betty Simmons at www.thejewishsoldier.com. It outlines a good deal of congregation function. She maintains a good amount of information at this site as well.)
2. Upon the appointment of a new Jewish lay leader to a post/base, send a memo requesting that the chaplain activity at that post/base provide support to the new Jewish lay leader as well as providing the names of Jewish personnel to the lay leader.
Additionally, at a major command, such as Fort Bragg, the Division chaplain could then disseminate through his/her subordinate chaplains to individual units the information that a Jewish program is beginning. Right now, most of the legwork of coordination begins and ends with the lay leader.
3. Provide definitive guidance on Jewish movement-related issues. Those lay leaders endorsed by Aleph Institute – a Chabad-sponsored organization – cannot hold egalitarian services on Shabbat or Yontif. As a compromise, traditionally observant lay leaders can hold egalitarian services using prayers or psalms that are fine in mixed company or without a minyan.
The JWB could publish a definitive “what to do when” piece and keep it updated. This would help tremendously.
It would also help to have an established protocol, again published on a single web repository, when the lay leader is brought in to help resolve a problem by a chain of command.
Clear policy guidance on how to handle the convergence we are already having with Messianic Jews and other non-normative sects that desire to be identified as Jewish would also nip what many of us see to be a growing issue.
The JWB brought in Jews for Judaism to speak about counter-missionary activities, but offered no guidance. It feels like responsum from the Rabbinical Assembly, allowing for both majority and minority opinions to be accommodated, which might work (arguable) for Conservative synagogues, but doesn’t work in the military.
4. Recommended starter kits for lay leaders would be helpful, as well as timely reminders, in the form of the JWB periodical (Chaplines), for what and when to place orders for holidays with special item support (Sukkot, Pesach).
5. Require contributing to the Chaplines periodical and/or www.JewsinGreen.com a condition of lay leadership endorsement. Lay leaders complain quite a bit, but they can also help the JCC/JWB help them. I don’t believe there is a mandate to have communication be a two-way street. Or if there is, it is not enforced.
Some of us maintain local databases of names, units, family members. But it would be helpful if we also provided this information to the JWB.
In 2007, it was the JWB’s complaint that the organization didn’t have the bandwidth tosupport that activity, but there are plenty of civilian volunteers and lay leaders who would be most happy to maintain a centralized online database.
6. The appointment of a new lay leader or chaplain to, say, Fort Drum could prompt the JWB to send a letter to those movements of Judaism letting them know that a chaplain/lay leader is now at said post. If there was an awareness cultivated from the top down, we might find more sympathies.
7. Either once or twice a year, a web-based survey (such as free site ww.surveymonkey.com) or print survey should be sent out by the JWB to Jewish lay leaders and chaplains with questions about the state of affairs at their location, as well as their opinion about quality, timeliness, thoroughness, etc. of JCC/JWB support, and, again, make a response to the survey as a condition of endorsement.
8. The JCC/JWB should offer programs that directly involve kids, like Shira Telushkin (see blog post), in the religious affairs of Jewish troops, and the JCC/JWB should work with the movements to bring about these programs.
One of the kids I mentor wants to shadow me on a visit to a wounded soldier at Walter Reed Hospital as part of the kid’s Bar Mitzvah project. This type of activity not only offers to civilians a window into the military world, but also offers host military congregations a sense of pride in being both Jewish and in the service.
In conclusion, I could see your site, given limited time resources, being an excellent conduit by which to channel relationships between military and civilian Jewish communities or for advertising promoting cooperation programs such as Shira Telushkin has suggested.
It’s often a question of awareness. The small synagogue in Alexandria, Louisiana,
was only too happy to host troops “when they knew troops were around.”
If the JCC/JWB committed but a small amount of energy to raising awareness through www.OperationSupportJewsintheMilitary.com, you could really garner the attention of a younger generation of Jews, who are immersed in new media.
Now that you’ve read these very specific lay leader recommendations, are there any that you can help with? Leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to put you in touch with people who can assist you to support Jews in the military.