Fire Department Gets Jewish Chaplain

By Nathaniel Popper

Published August 26, 2005, issue of August 26, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Rockville Volunteer Fire Department is in the center of a heavily Jewish area of Maryland, but it was only last month that the 85-year-old fire department got its first Jewish chaplain.

At their monthly meeting in July, the 225 members voted to accept a young Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, Chesky Tenenbaum, as a chaplain. Tenenbaum recently moved to Maryland from Brooklyn’s Crown Heights to become the assistant rabbi at the Chabad of Upper Montgomery County.

Eric Bernard, the president of the volunteer fire department, is Jewish — as is about 30% of the membership — but until now, they have had only an Irish Catholic priest looking after the spiritual needs of members. Bernard said they have had discussions with Reform and Conservative movement rabbis about the position, but the demands of the volunteer chaplain work always ended up being too great.

Bernard has ordered a badge and uniform for Tenenbaum, and soon he will get a beeper so that he can be on call 24 hours a day. Tenenbaum’s first child was just born, but Bernard said he already has been available for members going through tough times.

The Chabad house in Montgomery County was open to the idea of a Jewish chaplain even before Tenenbaum came on board. Last winter, the department decorated the fire truck with a menorah and dreidels, and drove through town with the senior Chabad rabbi on top, wearing a fire helmet and handing out candy — a slight change from the Santa Claus they usually ferry around.

Lenny Chornock, a 48-year-old physician’s assistant who was raised in a Conservative synagogue but has been attending services at the Chabad house for the past few years, discovered Tenenbaum. Chornock has been a volunteer at the Rockville firehouse for 27 years.

Tenenbaum’s membership was supposed to come up for a vote a month earlier, but on the night of that meeting a massive fire broke out. Tenenbaum rode to the fire in Bernard’s truck. As they began rolling out the hoses and moving into position, Bernard said he looked over at Tenenbaum.

“To see the look on his face and his smile,” Bernard said, “I knew he was hooked and he wasn’t going anywhere.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.