On Shabbos Chanukah, Jewish Friends of the American Armed Forces (JFAAF), the Military Chaplain Service arm of Pirchei Shoshanim, sponsored and facilitated several events in Southern California. The JFAAF Organization trains, ordains, and endorses Jewish Chaplains to the Department of Defense for service in the Armed Forces. JFAAF/Pirchei Chaplains serve in all branches of the military and are tasked with building Jewish communities on military bases domestically and abroad. Our Chaplains also serve as the military’s front line counselors. The JFAAF’s mission is to work with endorsed Chaplains to conduct Shabbat, holiday and Jewish Life programming on bases across the world and to defend Jewish right and practice in the service of Ha’Shem in the United States Armed Forces.
The first event was a skiing event with Chaplain Candidate Brian Borenstein. Chaplain Candidate Brian Borenstein is in the process of becoming a Navy Reservist Chaplain. His work involves anti-missionary efforts and crisis counseling. Brian spent the Shabbos Chanukah in Big Bear with marines and airmen, where he arranged for all kosher meals and lodging.
The next event was a Chanukah Party at Naval Base Ventura County. Myself, Rabbi Ben Geiger, and his son Mordechai Geiger put together a Chanukah Party at the Naval Base at Point Mugu, E2 Hawkeye Squadron. Traditional Chanukah foods were served and everyone agreed that the latkes were delectable.
Finally, there was a meaningful Chanukah Shabbaton at Camp Pendleton. One of the largest and most beautiful areas in California, Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton sits on 250 square miles of rolling hills, streams, white sandy beaches, and arguably the most beautiful coastline in Southern California. Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton is also home to I Marine Expeditionary Force, consisting of 19,000 combat-ready Marines and all their gear. These Marines are a first response strike expeditionary force. And it is here the JFAAF came to enjoy Shabbos.
Our Shabbaton was based in beautiful Del Mar Beach Resort, situated on the coastline at Camp Pendleton. The beach resort looks like it should be somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean rather than in Southern California. Lining the beach front are gorgeous villas that are rented out to military personnel and veterans. Our group occupied eight villas for Shabbos, one of which served as a Shul and another as a dining hall. Accompanying us were several Los Angelinos and San Dieagan families, along with marines, their dependents and veterans. Yeshiva students from Mesivtas Birchas Yitchok (MBY) also joined us with their principal, Rabbi Ben Geiger who also is the Director of Los Angeles Hatzolah.
Rabbi Geiger and the MBY bocrim contributed wonderful Torah and tremendous spirit to the weekend. The Marines were represented by JFAAF-endorsed Chaplain Daniel Kamzan, who has served as a spiritual counselor in the Air Force and is now serving with the Navy as Chaplain for Marine Infantry Battalion, MCB Pendleton.
Invariably, whenever a yarmulka and tzitis appear on a military base, stares follow. While checking out some Marine armored vehicles during a Shabbos morning shpitzeer (walkabout), a veteran approached the MBY boys to wish them a Gutte Shabbos, and was dismayed to learn that the boys could not speak Yiddish. This disappointment, however, did not dissuade him from joining the Shabbos lunch where he regaled everyone with stories from his five combat tours and explained what is was like to be Jewish in the Marines. Such interactions are quite common on bases. On multiple occasions, marines stopped to ask us what we were doing on the base and we responded that we were here to show them that the Jewish community supports them.
It was a real trick stuffing thirty people into the living room of a villa for the meals, but in truth the room seemed to stretch, and the food, which was completely home-cooked by Hatzolah of Los Angeles Chairmen Shmulie Haupman and Rabbi Gieger, was amazing. What is a Shabbos without cholent, yapchik, gefilta fish, deli roll, roasted chicken, and salatim? We ate like kings. As good as the food was, the singing, Diveri Torah, and stories that came out of the military members proved the highlight of the event.
One gentleman was an F16 fighter pilot who had flown hundreds of combat missions during the Gulf and Iraqi wars, though his demeanor was so mild and easygoing, you would not have known that he was a combat pilot had he not mentioned so. Another attendee was a Navy sailor who works at the base hospital as a physical therapist. His specialty is mobility therapy. He is the person who teaches marines that have been shot and blown up how to walk again. This gentleman explained that being a marine never leaves a person. Innate to all Marines is the drive and conditioning to succeed, which is apparent even when relearning to walk.
The physical therapist’s wife, Adee, was born in Israel and speaks perfect Hebrew. She asked me if I could use her assistance in teaching Hebrew to marines or their children on base. I thanked her. Not five minutes later, Jacky, the spouse of a Special Forces marine on deployment, asked if I knew anyone who could teach her two small children Hebrew because she herself did not feel equipped to teach them about their heritage. Adee was thrilled to have her first customers. This type of grassroots Jewish outreach comes easily on military bases. Truly, it is not hard to make a Kiddush Hashem in the military because the opportunities are there for the taking.
After Shabbos, it was time to party. The Moshav Band, led by Yehudah Solomon, held the concert in the Officers Club overlooking the Pacific Ocean; a truly picturesque spot. The band literally lit up the room with ruach. A colonel in attendance remarked that he had never heard such deeply moving and uplifting music. At the start of the concert, the National Anthem was played, followed by the marine hymn, The Halls of Montezuma.
By evening it was time to light the menorah, and the menorah that we lit was indeed something to behold! A couple of weeks back, I had been talking to Jennifer Schulman about my work with the military. Jennifer had asked if we needed a Menorah for the program. “Sure”, I had replied. What Jennifer delivered was truly remarkable. Jennifer’s family is in the steel scrap business and they love tinkering with metal and welding so Jennifer arranged for her family to make a six-foot, sand-blasted golden menorah. The dedication and love that went into this gift was clear to everyone. The Schulman’s have dedicated the Menorah to the Marines at Camp Pendleton, and their gift will remain there to light up the base with spiritual energy for years to come. The Menorah will serve as reminder to both Jewish and non-Jewish Marines that the light of G-D is ever advancing and is there to be enjoyed by all. Yasher Koach, Jennifer, Grande Vista Steel, and all the Schulman’s.
I want to thank all our friends who have partnered with JFAAF in conducting Jewish outreach in the United States Armed Forces. To Mr. Alan Alevy, thank you for your trust and confidence. Your support is as deep as your heart. May Hashem bless you and all your family with goodness. Mr. and Mrs. Lunzer, thank you for all you do for the Jewish community here in Los Angeles and everywhere you go. May Hashem bless you to go from “Strength to Strength”. To all contributors, both large and small, your gifts have allowed JFAAF to do that which no one else is doing. Thank you. Kol Ha’kavod.
Most importantly, thank you to all the members of the Armed Forces. Your service is appreciated, and the Jewish community supports your efforts in defending our freedoms and liberty. Stay safe, and G-D bless you all.