By: Rabbi Levi Margolin
Growing up in a Chabad House, no matter where, undoubtedly introduces you to many, many people you would otherwise not encounter. Many o them come and go. Some stick around for a few years. Still others become furniture at Chabad.
But indeed, only a select few that circle through the revolving doors of Chabad become family.
As an adult, people can easily enter your world as “family by choice.” But you’ve gotta be extra special, really cool and visit a lot to enter the “family by choice” world of a child.
At our Chabad House in Southeastern Virginia, DM2 in the US Navy, Michael Allen Noeth, was one of those select few.
Michael was born to a Jewish mother and Roman Catholic father. At some point, she turned Roman Catholic and his dad chose to convert and live the life of a devoutly religious Jew. Michael was kind of raised with not much of either.
Upon Michael’s enlistment, his father, who was now living as a religious Jew in Israel, desperately wanted his son to develop a connection with his Judaism. But where to begin? Especially as Naval duties would have him traveling and deployed around the world?
Dad called Michael and made one request. “Michael, as a Jew, you have a home wherever you go. It’s called the Chabad House. Please, visit the Chabad House wherever your military duties take you!” Michael readily agreed.
In 1997, those military duties brought Michael to our front door in Virginia Beach. Michael had been assigned to Naval Station Norfolk just up the road and thus began Michael’s connection with our Chabad House.
And with our family. Michael was unique. Michael was funny. Michael was kind. He became a fan favorite amongst the regulars pretty quickly. Michael was also on a mission. A mission to learn as much Judaism as he could in the time he had with us. My siblings and I, all youngsters, became teachers and guides to this man, at least a decade our senior. We learned Torah and told stories. We practiced customs with him and showed him the way.
From chanting the kiddush (I can still hear him loudly exclaim “attention gentleman”—savri maranan in English—before the blessing of Hagafen) to spoonfuls of deadly-hot horseradish at the Passover seder, Michael was igniting his vibrant Jewish sparks, and giving us immense pride in our own.
Michael was making his way in, not just to Judaism, and not just to Chabad of Tidewater, but into our hearts and souls. He was becoming our treasured big brother.
At that point, we couldn’t imagine a family function, or any integral Chabad House event without Michael. With my brother’s bar mitzvah on the horizon, we all eagerly invited him to join. The invitation was formal, but we fully expected him to be there either way. And on Sunday morning, Michael marched proudly into the bar mitzvah hall completely decked out in his Navy Dress Whites. He wasn’t just here for a bar mitzvah. He was here for our family. And he was going to do it right!
As a true Navy man, Michael’s pride in his identity was palpable, often jokingly pitting the Navy of Hashem against the renowned Tzivos Hashem – the Army of Hashem!
On Fridays, whenever he could, Michael would taxi over from NSN to our home and spend Shabbos with us. He always had his little Stetson on his head and was always perfectly dressed. He even composed a song for us—“The Rabbi wore a Stetson on the Chabad Ranch…”
After every deployment and international assignment, Michael always seemed to find his way back home. To our home that is. I remember waiting eagerly each time we knew he had returned. His presence literally never grew old.
In the year 2000, Naval Station Norfolk bid farewell to Michael as he was reassigned to a new home bas —the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, DC. While NSN said farewell to Michael, we did not, as Chassidim don’t say goodbye. We say, “See you later!”
Of course, we’d see Michael later. Firstly, Washington DC was not far at all and, secondly—and more importantly—Michael always found his way home. Always.
Except this time, Michael never found his way back home.
On the nightmare morning of September 11, 2001, Michael Noeth proudly took up his post in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations which, unfortunately, was situated in the western side of the Pentagon.
I have no doubt Michael was standing tall, proudly stroking his paintbrushes across an open canvas probably even humming to the tune of “The Rabbi wore a Stetson on the Chabad Ranch”—as American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the building cutting his, and many other lives short.
Just like that.
Senseless hatred. Cowards. Enemies of the free world had stolen our dear friend and brother from this world. Our tears flowed freely as we mourned the loss of one of the most special honorary members of our family.
When I think of Michael, I smile. I giggle. I take pride. I also cry, I choke up. I think about what could have been. Michael will always hold a special place in my heart, and the hearts of all my family, and all who knew him.
A gifted artist. A one-of-a-kind. A proud Jew, enlisted in the Navy of Hashem.
DM2 Michael Allen – Michoel Aron – Noeth, USN.
Truly etched in my everlasting memory.
Reprinted with permission in the Tishrei 2023 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.