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May 29, 2014 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-05-29

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Much-Needed Update

New military prayer book combines traditions from all denominations.

Debra Rubin

"I think its meaningful
[to service members] to
have [a siddur] in their
hands they know is
theirs, that was created
just for them."


he Shabbat of Memorial Day
weekend will mark a first in
American Jewish life: Three New
York City congregations representing the
three major U.S. Jewish movements will
daven from the same prayer book.
Produced by the Jewish Welfare
Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains Council
specifically for the military, the siddur
that the trio of shuls will use for those
services made its debut at the Jewish
Community Centers of North America
(JCC Association) biennial in late
March. Distribution of the books to U.S.
military bases worldwide began in April.
JWB's last military prayer book was
issued after World War II. Although it
was updated in the 1980s, many chap-
lains found the old military prayer book
lacking. To the Orthodox, there were too
many omissions; gender-specific lan-
guage, meanwhile, bothered more liberal
"It was a small pocket edition, but
it really wasn't adequate to hold a full
range of worship services:' said Rabbi
Harold Robinson, director of the JWB
Jewish Chaplains Council and a rear
admiral in the Navy Reserves. "It had a
great utility for the soldiers, but the chap-
lains found it inadequate and brought
their own:'
"A lot of the traditional liturgy just
wasn't there he said.
"You could do a service, but it wasn't
going to be a complete service, which was
fine in the field:' explained Robinson, but
not on established bases that hold ser-
vices regularly for service members and
their families.
The result was a mishmash of prayer
books at military installations. As chap-
lains of varying denominations came and
went, service members found themselves
adjusting to a new siddur.
"You can look in the chaplain closet
at Ramstein [Air Base in Germany] and
find a history of the chaplains who had
served there Robinson said. "An airman
who is serving in Ramstein never gets
too emotionally, spiritually [attached to]
a prayer book. Everywhere he goes, he's
experiencing a new one. If you're in the
military, you're not Reform, Conservative
or Orthodox. You're just Jewish, and a
chaplain comes in and changes your
whole world every two years, or you
change bases every few years:'


May 29 • 2014

- Rabbi Bonnie Koppel

The new Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) siddur for the military next to a Kiddush cup

Bringing Continuity
got together in one room, you realized
For service members, there was no conti-
that everyone had made adaptations:'
nuity. In 2006, JWB set out to fix that.
Robinson said.
A program of the JCC Association, the
The first printing of 11,000 books cost
JWB receives funding from the three
$45,000; JWB is raising funds for a sec-
movements' rabbinical
ond printing.
groups: the Conservative
Rabbi Bonnie Koppel,
Rabbinical Assembly,
a U.S. Army Reserve
the Reform Central
colonel, is thrilled with
Conference of American
the book. "I really love
Rabbis and the Orthodox
it, even the feel of it,
Rabbinical Council of
ii the size, the weight,
America, which all gave
the layout," she said
JWB "copyright of excep-
of the 600-plus-page,
tion" to lift whatever it
4- by 6-inch book,
wanted from the move-
whose cover features
ments' prayer books in
camouflage colors from
rnN -IN NaN
creating the military sid-
the various military
dur, Robinson said.
Working with move-
"I think it's meaning-
ment representatives,
[to service members]
The cover o e new Jew's
Rabbi Barry Baron, then prayer book for the military
to have something in
JWB deputy director,
their hands that they
prepared a draft that was
know is theirs, that was
vetted by the three rabbinic associations. created just for them:' said Koppel, pul-
pit rabbi at Temple Chai in Phoenix.
"Everybody made changes," Robinson
The siddur also includes readings spe-
He concedes that not everyone was
cific to the military, such as the Prayer
happy with the final siddur. "If you read
for Loved Ones at Home.
it alone, you think, 'My movement has
Additionally, it contains a message
from the commander-in-chief.
gotten short shrift: but when everyone






"As members of the United States
Armed Forces, you demonstrate pro-
found selflessness in your service to
our country. And as Jewish Americans
in uniform, you carry forward a long,
proud tradition of patriotism and sacri-
fice in the Jewish American community,"
wrote President Barack Obama.
Koppel distributed copies of the
siddur when she was in Kuwait for
Passover. "The reaction was delight," she
While the copyright permissions
allow the book to be distributed solely
within the military, the Memorial Day
weekend Shabbat is an exception, coin-
ciding with Fleet Week, which brings
thousands of members of the Navy,
Marines and Coast Guard to New York
City. The Reform Central Synagogue will
use the book for Friday evening services,
while the Conservative Park Avenue
Synagogue will use it on Saturday morn-
ing and the Orthodox Kehilath Jeshurun
on Saturday afternoon.
Historians say they don't know of
another instance in which congregations
of three different movements used the
same prayer book for civilian services.
"It is indeed very impressive that
three synagogues are simultaneously
using the siddur in a non-military con-
text:' said Brandeis University professor
Dr. Jonathan Sarna, one of the foremost
experts on American Judaism. "I am
not familiar with any previous occasion
when this was done outside of the mili-
tary itself"
With the three New York City shuls
within walking distance of one another,
Robinson said one can "worship out of
this book three different ways, at three
different times and all on the same
Shabbat. It's tres cool, mucho cool:'

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