Long before I was a rabbi, during the Musaf services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I wondered how it came to pass that the Aleinu prayer became such a liturgical centerpiece of what are arguably the most important prayer services of the entire Jewish calendar year.
As I write, I am about as far from my home and synagogue in Forest Hills as I can be, or at least as I am likely to get. I am sitting in the living room of my daughter Leora’s apartment on Marine Camp Foster, one of some fifteen American military bases on the tiny but strategically important island of Okinawa, Japan. She is married, as many of you know, to Rabbi/Lieutenant Yonatan (Yoni) Warren, a Navy chaplain who is currently posted to a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) here in the Far East. A MEU is basically a Rapid Deployment Force that can move quickly to where the trouble is. There are a few of them stationed around the world in potentially volatile areas; this one covers the Far East. We are very, very proud of his service, and hers.
Since being posted to a United States Marine battalion in Okinawa almost two years ago, my son-in-law, Rabbi Yonatan Warren, a lieutenant in the United States Navy Chaplaincy Corp, has worked hard–- along with my daughter Leora -– to build a community of meaning for the Jewish personnel in Okinawa and its surroundings, as well as for all those men and women who might need his counseling and services.
I would imagine that rest and relaxation are the two most important criteria of a really good summer vacation, especially when one’s job is stressful. But if it is also true that expanding one’s horizons and learning about parts of the world that were completely unfamiliar are also important components, then my wife and I are enjoying one of our most successful summer vacations ever, here in Okinawa, Japan, and soon in Kyoto and Tokyo.
In previous columns, I have mentioned the fact that my son-in-law, Lt. (jg) Yonatan Warren, is a Navy chaplain posted to Okinawa, Japan. Actually, he is a Navy chaplain posted to a Marine battalion in Okinawa, and he and my daughter Leora have been there since the fall.
My son-in-law Yoni Warren, a Navy chaplain in Okinawa, Japan posted to a Marine battalion, has spent the better part of the past week discovering just how difficult and painful a rabbi’s life can be, in uniform or out. A note to help understand this story… In the military, regardless of what corps you’re in as a chaplain, you minister to all military personnel regardless of faith, corps, or any other determinant.
When I finished last year’s Seder with the words L’Shanah Haba’ah Bi’Yrushalayim Habnuyah- Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem- I never allowed myself to imagine that I might actually be spending Passover, 5772 in anywhere other than Forest Hills. Of course, were the Messiah to arrive, I would be ready to relocate, but absent that miraculous intervention in history, I didn’t see myself going anywhere for the holiday.
Some years ago -- when my son-in-law, then in Rabbinical School, was graduating in Newport, Rhode Island from Officer Development School in the United States Navy as a newly minted Ensign -- I wrote a piece for this paper titled “The Sin of My Generation.” While watching him parade proudly with his fellow graduates in his dress whites, sharply saluting his commanding officer, I was overwhelmed by a sense that I had failed the sailors and soldiers who had served during the Vietnam years by denying them the right to take pride in their service.