More than 100 Jewish service members and their families participated in the 15th Annual Military Symposium for five days of professional development, inspiration and camaraderie at the Aleph Institute in Bal Harbor, Florida.
This year’s symposium centered around the theme of how the role of military chaplains is changing in response to recent global and nationwide events.
Participants were warmly welcomed by Aleph’s founder, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, Executive Director Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, Chaplain Endorser Rabbi Sanford Dresin (CH COL, USA Ret), and Chaplain, Major Elie Estrin, Aleph’s Military Personnel Liaison.
“Aleph’s goal is to provide everything a Jew needs in his military service,” said Rabbi Estrin. “The purpose of the Symposium is to give our Jewish chaplains and lay leaders the most effective professional tools alongside spiritual support to accomplish this very special and important mission.”
“The annual Aleph military training event and Shabbaton allows for the opportunity to personally engage with so many brave, selfless and dedicated men and women,” said Rabbi Aaron Lipskar. “It inspires, uplifts and reaffirms our deep commitment and support of the US military chaplaincy in caring for the needs of Jewish military personnel and their families across the US and around the globe, ‘bringing the light of Torah to those that serve.’”
Everyone snapped to attention when Chaplain, Major General Randall Kitchens, Chief of Chaplains of the US Air Force, entered. He laid out his vision of the future of the Air Force chaplaincy, took questions, and expressed great interest and appreciation for the Jewish military community.
Participants also had the opportunity to hear from the Navy Chief of Chaplains, Rear Admiral Brent Scott, and Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Brigadier General Andrew Harewood.
Another highlight of the Symposium was a presentation given by Captain Guy, IDF Naval Attache to the United States, followed by a heartfelt talk by the previous Deputy Chief of Staff, two-star Major General Eyal Zamir. The Attache spoke about Israel’s recent defense challenges and the strategies being taken to address them, and General Zamir praised the US for acting as an ally to Israel.
The Aleph Institute committed to providing religious support for IDF soldiers training in the US, an offer gratefully accepted by General Zamir and Captain Guy.
Twelve cadets from the US Military Academy at West Point joined the Symposium on Friday, in a trip that was generously sponsored by the West Point Jewish Chapel Fund. The group enjoyed fascinating discussions on societal issues from a Jewish perspective and an introduction to Jewish belief and observance. Several came away from the weekend with a gift of their very own pair of tefillin from Aleph.
This year’s program also featured break-out sessions for military spouses. Mrs. Bassy Pekar, whose husband Chaplain, Captain Levy Pekar is serving at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, said she was grateful that the conference provided “unique opportunity to connect with fellow Jewish military spouses and share the camaraderie, joys, and challenges of living the military life.”
Following Friday night services, Chaplain, Maj Gen Kitchens served as the keynote speaker, while Shabbat services the next day included a thought-provoking talk given by Senator Joe Lieberman. Community members who joined the Shabbat services were thrilled to meet all the service members and warmly welcomed them.
As the weekend drew to a close, participants were already discussing next year’s conference. As Navy Commander Chaplain Aaron Kleinman put it, “Great conference. Having been there for 13 of its 15 years, I can say it truly gets better every year.”
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This article was originally published on COLLIVE in February 2022.