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July 29, 2005

Rabbi a Model Soldier

A July 1 article on the appointment of Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff to serve as an advisor to the Air Force as it responds to problems at the Air Force Academy is written to the point, but doesn’t do full justice to the individual (“Air Force Taps Rabbi To Aid on Academy Religious Flap”).

I met Resnicoff when he was Sixth Fleet Chaplain and I was the Senior Medical Officer on board the aircraft carrier USS Independence when we were off the coast of Lebanon in 1983. This was a little more than a month after the Marine barracks in Beirut had been blown up by terrorists. Resnicoff was participating in the immediate response.

Aboard our ship, three events occurred within a very short period of time that demonstrated how multi-dimensional he is and how suited he is for this new assignment the Air Force has given to him.

First, Resnicoff arranged for Jewish sailors from other ships in the battle group to be flown to our aircraft carrier to celebrate Hanukkah. He made it a very memorable occasion for all of us, a group with a variety of Jewish backgrounds.

Also during that visit he was invited by the ship’s chaplain to offer the evening prayer over the ship’s public address system at 22:00, just before the playing of “Taps.” This is a prayer given by the ship’s chaplains for the 5,000 sailors, the vast majority of whom are Christian, usually asking for Divine intercession to help a group meet a qualification, or to offer thanks for success or a safe mission.

Instead, Resnicoff started off with the words, “Let me tell you a story.” I knew right then that he would give a meaningful dvar Torah. That was proven the next day when sailors came up to the ship’s chaplains throughout the day and asked to have the “Jewish chaplain” give the evening prayer again. And indeed, that night there was an encore performance of “Let me tell you a story.”

And thirdly, he showed that he is more than a chaplain, more than a religious and spiritual leader. The first night he was aboard, he was the guest at the executive officer’s dinner seating, a rather formal event for a ship in a hostile environment, although we all wore our working uniforms. He hadn’t changed from the uniform he traveled in, so he was still wearing his rows of ribbons, many of which indicated Vietnam service, and a gold pin on his left chest, a device indicating a warfare specialty.

The sight of the device caught the attention of all of us at the table, all but two of them having gold wings, or another warfare device. His looked just like the ones worn by Surface Warfare officers. He was asked if the chaplaincy had a warfare pin that they did not know about. He replied that no, they didn’t. His was a Naval Surface Warfare pin that he earned when he was a line officer serving in the waters of Vietnam, before he went to the seminary. All of these senior line officers — many of whom had served offshore, in or over Vietnam — instantly bonded with him.

Resnicoff has an excellent understanding of the backgrounds and needs of the diverse interest groups involved in the problem at the Air Force academy. He will meet the needs of the cadets and of the Air Force leadership.

Dr. Elias Rosenblatt

Captain, Medical Corps (retired)

U.S. Navy

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Mention Group’s Role

A July 22 article reports accurately that the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League filed friend of the court briefs urging that religious groups should not have equal access to public buildings (“Groups Focus on Nominee’s Church-state Views”). Forward readers might be curious why the American Jewish Congress did not file a similar brief.

The case in question, Westside Bd. of Education v. Mergens, involved a challenge to the 1984 Equal Access Act that required public schools to allow student religious clubs to meet after school hours on the same terms as secular clubs. The AJCongress served as co-counsel to the school district challenging the act’s constitutionality, and played a large role in drafting its Supreme Court brief. Only for that reason did it not file a friend of the court brief.

Marc Stern

Assistant Executive Director

American Jewish Congress

New York, N.Y.

Chabad Unified on Gaza

A July 15 article on a recent Chabad event at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn certainly splits from my impressions of the evening, which was one of total solidarity with the embattled Jews of Gaza and the northern West Bank (“Speech Reflects Chabad Split”).

We heard from many Lubavitch rabbis denouncing Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to expel Jews from Gaza and the northern West Bank. We saw a taped C-Span interview with Knesset member Arieh Eldad, who is calling for massive non-violent civil disobedience to protest the plan. We viewed an incredible movie, “Stab in the Heart,” which opened with a young girl resident of Gush Katif pleading to be allowed to stay in her home, followed by clips from Arab TV filled with hate speeches against the Jews.

Rabbi Avraham Hecht, a distinguished, educated, refined and revered man, was one of the last speakers. The Forward is correct in quoting Hecht’s disdain for those who are concerned with political correctness rather than speaking the truth about Sharon’s “deportation” plan.

He gave a rousing speech, calling for the millions of Chabad followers from all over the world to go to Israel to prevent the deportation of Jews from the promised land. He received unrestrained applause over and over again for his remarks of solidarity with the threatened Jews of Israel. There was no “split” that evening at the museum. Instead, there was the assertion that Chabad-Lubavitch had the ability to turn around the entire situation in Israel in regard to Sharon’s plans. They just might do it.

Helen Freedman

Executive Director

Americans For a Safe Israel

New York, N.Y.

I was very troubled by the observation of prominent Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Avraham Hecht that the State of Israel’s current plan to withdraw from Gaza “is deportation, not disengagement. Even the Nazis didn’t do it this way.”

First, the statement is patently false, and second, it is very serious because it obviously strengthens the hands of antisemites and anti-Zionists, making the task of Jewish anti-defamation so much harder.

It seems that we need a watchdog organization like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America specifically to monitor false comparisons invoking the Holocaust. It could start by asking when Nazi Germany ever offered Jews liberal monetary compensation for leaving their residences and moving freely to another part of Germany.

Benjamin Ravid

Newton Centre, Mass.

In a Time of War, Army Was Uniformly Tolerant

Having served as a Jewish military chaplain, I take issue with a June 17 letter writer’s broadside against the military as supposedly being antisemitic (“Religious Intolerance Nothing New in Service”).

I did experience a trace of anti-Jewish sentiment — which I will relate only to prove that antisemitism was practically nonexistent in the service.

One evening in the summer of 1945, a group of chaplains-in-training were discussing the war. I brought up the Nazi death camps and the murder of Europe’s Jews. One of the men replied, “Rabbi, the Jews rejected Jesus and they were justly punished.”

I was dumbstruck. Deeply hurt, I turned my back on him to walk alone in the darkened drill field. Suddenly I felt an arm on my shoulder. It was Quigly, a fellow student in the chaplain school. It’s been 60 years since, but I haven’t forgotten his words: “Mike, sometimes we’re ashamed of our own Christian colleagues. Their fanaticism embarrasses us all.”

The second episode was in Berlin, when I came up with the suggestion to build a regular summer camp — with games, campfires, hot dogs, the works — for the 3,000 Jewish children in the displaced persons camps. I was referred to a colonel in the Office of Military Government for Germany. He listened to my plan and agreed with it, but asked whether I would agree to have the German youth invited together with the Jewish kids. When I rejected it, he called me a “racist,” ending with a diatribe about “Jews who think only about themselves.”

I reported this incident to the commanding general of Berlin Command and forgot about the issue. But the army didn’t forget.

Several weeks later, I was called by the inspector general — also a colonel — who questioned me about the incident. I have no idea what transpired after that conversation. But a few days later, my commanding officer congratulated me, saying that the colonel who called me a racist had been transferred out of Berlin. That summer of 1947, about 2,000 Jewish children enjoyed a two-week stay in a summer camp in the Black Forest of Berlin.

Finally, because of my association with the Bricha — the Jewish underground that was helping survivors make their way illegally to Palestine — I was placed under house arrest in Salzburg when a group was caught on the German-Austrian border and my name showed up in the investigation. My case was referred to Maj. General Collins to determine what was to be done with me. When I was called to his office, his warmth and understanding surprised me. He spoke compassionately about the plight of Jews, and of the need to open the gates of Palestine.

The general took out the sheet, listing the accusations against me. He tore it up, assuring me that none of this would appear in my record. He got up and shook my hand. Smiling, he said something like, “Chaplain, you’re wearing the U.S. uniform, so try to stick to its rules.”

Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz

Miami Beach, Fla.

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