LCDR Yosef Perfido, USN
I am not a Rabbi; I am not a Chaplain; I am a Surface Warfare Officer; I am a proud Jew! This is a story of my first experience at the annual Aleph Symposium bringing U.S. Military Jews from all walks of life together for a week of learning, connecting, building relationships, and creating a movement of outreach. I had known about the symposium for many years but was under the impression that it was only for Jewish Chaplains. When I found Rabbi Elie Estrin on Facebook I reached out for more information and he convinced me very quickly that I should attend. It would be an opportunity to connect with other Jews in the military. That is not an easy task in my field, and I felt that in order to progress in the military, I needed this more than anything. Still, I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up.
The symposium changed everything. I was blessed that my Commanding Officer was very supportive of me attending and approved my leave. When I arrived I instantly felt many emotions before even meeting anyone. I felt prouder than ever walking to shul in my military uniform and kippah. I felt like I was representing something bigger, something unimaginable; I represented all the Jewish Military Members who did not get the opportunity to join. I never felt more welcomed by a community so appreciative of the military, and I never felt so welcomed by other Jewish Military members who were in attendance as well. It was a brotherhood and sisterhood that was instantly formed. The essence of family was present the minute we gathered. I felt at home.
We got to participate in different classes that were offered and learn about what the services are doing in their respective communities to support the progression of religious needs. We had guest speakers speak to us via Zoom and in person. We were enlightened by the Head Chaplains of primary services who came to talk to us and encouraged us to ask questions. The week was full of great topics and learning from each other’s experiences.
The week ended with the most special Shabbat I have ever experienced. I felt as if I was in a different world. This was my calling. At the end I had the opportunity and privilege to tell my story to the community when I was asked to speak. It was a difficult task for me, but I felt that there were people around me that could relate somehow. I never felt more satisfied after speaking, like a void that has been filled after being empty for so many years. I was blessed to be around such beautiful people and the leaders of Aleph that supported me through many deployments during my career.
I look forward to experiencing many more symposiums and networking with more Jewish Military Members!