Note: I touched on this topic in a previous post, but feel compelled to underscore this source for the kind of ethical leaders sorely needed today
A few years ago I read an article in the New York Times, which spoke to the military as future leaders for our country. Having helped to build and sustain the volunteer chaplaincy program at the Great Lakes Recruit Training Command in Illinois for over a decade, I continue to feel blessed by this unique and inspiring chaplaincy. Where else do 18-30 year-olds come together for Shabbat eve and participate whole-heartedly?
Who are these men and women? They represent every race, faith, and demographic from around our great nation. Some have immigrated, others are first and even seventh generation American-born. Some are in the process of converting, others messianic Jews, Jews from all of the mainstream movements, seekers, Christians looking to learn more about the “Judeo” part of their Judeo-Christian heritage. Others have a sibling, parent or grandparent who is Jewish. On any given Shabbat, it is impossible to know who will attend. But all are welcome. Following services a few weeks ago, one recruit told me the service “felt like home.” Others fall in love with Shabbat. They sing, pray and participate fully in discussions. A rabbi’s dream!
I recently learned that recruits who have participated in the Jewish program (which also includes a “Jews in Blues Sunday morning program) and who have graduated and moved on to continue their training in “A” school, are telling other sailors about their experience. Yes, Jews and non-Jews are talking about the impact this Jewish program had on them! This is music to our ears in a world fraught with hateful acts motivated by prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance. This underscores the urgent need for local, national and global leadership that will bring healing, hope and peace to a world increasingly living in physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish. And, requires we understand some of the disconnects between civilians and the military.
At West Point, the Army’s class of 2011 was warned by its highest ranking officer that “the armed forces risk being misunderstood by a civilian population that is isolated from military service and cannot grasp the rigors, and horrors, of combat.” Another officer told the Class that “it was not only their obligation to lead Army units but also to help narrow a widening and worrisome divide between the American public and its military…I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle” (NYT National, 5/22/11, p.18).
it is still true that most civilians remain distant from the horrors of the battles and work in which our military is engaged. In the past few years, however, more recognition has been given to our troops. Hopefully we will come to see them as a significant resource for leadership. There are young men and women who, if given the chance and mentored, could emerge as leaders who already possess a deep-rooted sense of honor, morality, equality and inclusivity. Even as they are disciplined and loyal, they are intelligent and inquisitive. And, perhaps most importantly, they value human life and peace.
The Book of Exodus describes how at Mt. Sinai God revealed to Israel its basic laws. The Book of Leviticus further instructs Israel on the laws, rituals and ethics the Israelites are expected to follow in order to remain on the Land, as the fulfillment of the covenant. Numbers, which we begin this week, chronicles Israel’s journey from Sinai to the edge of the Promised Land, where the people will live as they have been instructed. The parasha begins with taking a census in order to organize the people into a military camp. This would provide protection from any hostility, natural and human, which they might meet along their journey. Jacob Milgrom (Eitz Hayim p. 768)
On Saturday night, we will begin the Festival of Shavuot, where we celebrate the giving of Torah. This ancient text continues to guide us concerning the sacred acts and obligations needed to create a moral society. As each generation receives this directive, we are compelled to consider the nature of these sacred obligations in the context of our own generation.
The United States constitution levies a span of responsibilities upon all Americans, those serving in the military and those who are civilians. And “Torah,” however we define Revelation/revelation, represents our sacred obligation to learn from our heritage how to shape our experience of time and the foundation of our ethics. In politics as in religion, it is not that we all have to share the same beliefs and practices, rather that we work together toward fulfilling the vision of creating a world at peace.
May all who fight for every kind of freedom be kept safe in these “battles” and be honored as the heroes, role models and leaders of our people.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
10 June 2016/ 4 Sivan 5776