Children of the Mighty

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Please note: The Blogmaster of this Blog is retired from B’nai Elim and was their former International Chairman and Chief of Intelligence and Security. Prior to forming B’nai Elim, he was a long time member and became the International Chairman of the Jewish Defense League, succeeding Irv Rubin (OBM) to that post. The items posted in this Blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of B’nai Elim or its members and are the sole responsibility of the Blogmaster, Velvel ben Moshe, aka: Bill Maniaci who is currently the Director of "The Maccabee Group" doing Independent Intelligence Consulting & Analysis.

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26 May 2009

For our American Jewish Service Men and Women and all who serve to protect the United States and Israel

Blogmaster's comment: I received the message copied below from a friend who is now living in Israel. Although the original article was dated last January, I think that it is significant and appropriate to publish on this American Memorial Day in which we remember and honor Military...the fallen who gave their all for freedom, and those who serve today to make this world a safer place for us all.

On the 14th of January 2008 the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) dropped anchor in the tranquil waters of Santa Barbara, California and was warmly welcomed by the citizens of town with the help of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the US Navy League.

The thousands of sailors were treated to wine tasting, jeep tours, a free concert, dinners out and several banquets. These events and the ship visits were organized, coordinated and ran by the board of the Navy League, the members and dozens of volunteers. One of the smaller events was a traditional Shabbat dinner catered for a small group of Jewish sailors aboard the ship.

The genesis for this event occurred at one of the Navy League Tuesday night mixers. I learned that the USS Reagan was returning to Santa Barbara. I suddenly felt compelled to reach out to any Jewish crew members on aboard. As a Merchant Marine member of the Santa Barbara Navy League and proud Hebrew, I know first hand the uniqueness of being on the ocean while Jewish Holy Days are being celebrated on land by those you love.

This compulsion to act comes from my own experience. After one Passover, when I was in transit from the Caribbean to Canada, 100 miles off the Jersey shore I wish I had a just one box of Matzo. Now with the USS Reagan coming to town I felt I had the opportunity to make sure no other Jewish sailor felt left out. Since I was privy to information about the arrival of this ship, I had to keep in mind the old axiom “loose lips sink ships.” Since US warships can not announce their arrival till 24 hours before docking, this turned the planning of this simple event into a clandestine operation.
First some background: The USS Ronald Reagan is a 1092 foot, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that sails with over 5,000 crew members and can stay at sea potentially for years at time. She is essentially a four and a half acre floating American city that can go anywhere in the world. The Santa Barbara Navy League has adopted the ship and her crew and when she arrives in port helps to create truly a unique experience for both the sailors and townspeople.

In the US armed forces military members are free to practice their faith and uniformed chaplains are serving alongside these men and women to help and guide them with their religious needs. In the Navy there are rabbis, clergy and imams working amongst the sailors. With help from the Santa Barbara Navy League Officers and Directors they provided me with the resources to help me orchestrate this small event. My goal was to bring a small group of sailors to the local UCSB Hillel and to the Chabad of UCSB for a delicious Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat for the Jewish people is the day that G-d rested after creating the Universe and commanded us to do the same. In our tradition each new day starts at night and Friday night is the beginning of this weekly Holiday. Friday night Shabbat dinners are a corner stone of the Jewish experience and several occur each week at Rabbis homes and at Jewish temples in the Santa Barbara area each week.

All the feedback I got from SBNL President Karen Crawford was very positive and with her approval Vice President Doug Crawford, SBNL Chaplain Director Sister Christine Bowman, and Legislative Affairs Director Michael Roberts were able to help me coordinate and run the event.

What was needed though was getting through the proper Navy channels in order to get permission and to advertise the Shabbat dinner on shore. Surprisingly there are many resources such as Harold Robinson of the Jewish Chaplains Council, the Jews in Green website, the nine commissioned Navy rabbis and the numerous and interspersed Jewish lay-leaders. These organizations helped me find Navy Rabbi Captain Irving Elson and Chaplain Axtell.

On the ground I was coordinating with the Hillel and Chabad Rabbis of the University of Santa Barbara and the students who would make this interaction of sailors and civilians so moving. At the Hillel, Program Director Amber Shields was getting me in touch with students who would shuttle the Sailors. Rabbi Mendel and his wife from the Chabad of UCSB provided a colorful flyer that was to be posted aboard the ship inviting the sailors to their home.

Down at the docks the sailors were being shuttled to shore. One of the USCB students Jarrod Goldberg, who is also a member of the ASI (American Students for Israel) and a junior member of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) provided transportation. We greeted the six sailors around 500 and after some introductions headed over to Hillel to blend in with the student population.

Sailors CSSA Melissa Gumm, SK2 Bella Yusupova and their curious non-Jewish galley mates quickly made themselves at home with the College students, some who were stunned to see women and men in uniform at their weekly Friday night services. At the Hillel three simultaneous Shabbat services are available, a Reform one led by Rabbi Allison Conyer, a Conservative service lead by students and an Orthodox minyan lead by Rabbi Loschak.

The sailors and the students had a great interaction with each other and planned on getting together later that weekend. In one amazing game of Jewish Geography played that evening was that one sailor shared a parallel life story to one of the community members. Many of the students had never met their uniformed counterparts and for the sailors it was a great atmosphere to decompress. One community member and friend of mine, Larisa Traga, MSW and SK2 Bella Yusupova both had a common history. They had escaped the oppression of communism in their home country of Uzbekistan with their parents as children and made their home in Brooklyn. Now they would be here over this special Shabbat dinner. As the evening came to an end and the sailors and students said their good-byes I realized how great our constitutional democracy is and how fortunate are our fighting men and women are to have enthusiastic civilian organizations comforting to their spiritual needs. Surely the significance of this event would not be lost to either President Ronald Reagan or the Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (z”l), who both worked in their lifetime’s for democracy, religious freedom and to bring down the oppressive regime of the USSR.

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