I am in Miami Beach with Polly this week (August 23, 2022) at the Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplain’s Conference. Sometimes people still assume that a rabbi’s wife’s role is to support the rabbi in his service to their community. This may have been true at one time, but times have changed. Thankfully this is old news to most of you. Women now are the majority of those becoming rabbis in the Reform movement. Most married rabbis I know have a spouse who has their own career. And I don’t refer to Polly as my wife but as my partner because she is an equal partner in everything.
Polly and I are both rabbis, and we both serve communities. I serve Temple Emanu-El, and she serves the veteran’s community through the VA in West Haven, Newington, and New London. We are very supportive of one another, but our dedication to our communities often makes it challenging to be involved in the other’s community. But this week, I have a rare opportunity to join Polly’s community. I am more grateful for the opportunity than I anticipated.
This morning Rear Admiral Geoffrey Todd, USN, addressed the JWB conference. Jewish Chaplains of all denominations, active duty, reserve, and VA attend this conference. Although RADM Todd spoke to us about issues that directly affect active duty service personnel and the readiness of each service to perform its functions, he made clear that the chaplain’s role is to serve human beings. A soldier, sailor, or airman has a particular function, but that function is not equivalent to the person. Each service person has a soul. We must remember that they may be called upon to sacrifice part or all of themselves for our country. They can only do that if they have a strong sense of connection to the Divine and their community and feel part of a tradition of service to high ideals. RADM Todd pointed out the obvious and pervasive problem that our society has come to value the acquisition of material goods above all else. The current generation entering the service branches is the product of this society that has devalued religion and spirituality. Among the many challenges for our armed forces, they must now teach new recruits that they have a soul, that they can connect to the Divine, and the importance of serving a greater good. As RADM Todd spoke, it was apparent to me that our challenges, his as a military spiritual leader and mine as a spiritual leader of a congregation, are the same. My vacation in Miami Beach as Polly’s “+1” just turned into a working vacation. Don’t feel at all sorry for me. On the contrary, I’m truly grateful to be here, especially with Polly and this fine group of people who give up a lot to serve the people who serve our country.
As I am sitting here by the ocean in Miami Beach, the upcoming High Holy Days and the beginning of our religious school year are at the forefront of my mind. So many people are working hard to welcome 5783 with all its challenges. The times we live in have presented extraordinary challenges. We have all witnessed events in our own country that we would have thought unbelievable years ago, events that only happened in other countries. Now more than ever, we need to engage the values of our Jewish tradition, bolster our education programs, redouble our efforts to create community, rededicate ourselves to serving the community around us, and embrace our responsibility to engage and bring our values to bear in the important debates of our time.
I look forward to praying and speaking with you about these issues and our vital role during the High Holy Days.