By: Chaplain (Captain) Noteh Glogauer, Canadian Armed Forces, RCN
In the Canadian Armed Forces, specifically the Royal Canadian Navy, there had never been a Jewish chaplain, much less an Orthodox one with an untrimmed beard, before I was given that distinct honor. After a few years attached to the Canadian Air Force, I was fortunate to have been selected for a deployment aboard the HMCS Winnipeg for four months in the Indo-Pacific. I felt a great amount of pressure to prove to my colleagues and superiors that they had made the right decision to post a Jewish chaplain into the Navy and on a deployment no less. More importantly though, I wanted to make a kiddush Hashem at every opportunity. To my great surprise, and enhancing the feeling that it was bashert, two other Jews were also with me on the deployment.
An effective chaplain, especially on deployment, has the best opportunity to positively influence unit morale when being proactive, “beginning with the end in mind,” as well-known author Steven Covey would say. I set out to forge as many good relationships as I could with the ship’s crew. By the time any thoughts of Chanukah came around, I was most fortunate to have had the privilege of many positive meetings and animated discussions with the Captain of our ship about spirituality, resilience, and the Jewish faith.
In the Navy, one of the greatest threats, besides the enemy, is fire. So how exactly would the CoC respond to my lighting a Chanukiah aboard a Canadian frigate in the middle of the South China Sea? This was a question I had in my mind from the moment I stepped aboard. Hence advanced preparation.
There were priceless looks on people’s faces when we went to every Judaica store on Bathurst Street in Toronto to find Chanukah candles… in July! When we set sail in August, I brought aboard the stereotypical Chabad-distributed disposable menorah, colorful handcrafted candles from Tzfat, dreidels for 250 crew members, 500 chocolate Chanukah coin, and tons of decorations. I carefully crafted a briefing note, including a PowerPoint presentation with photos of previous lightings on military installations in Canada and around the world. Building upon the relationships I had nurtured since the summer, perhaps the most important strategic consideration was a discussion with the machinery control room (MCR) on how and when to isolate the alarms in the canteen flats to facilitate open flames. I explained that the candles would need to be lit for 30 minutes and that I would act as the sentry. All being in order, it was time to approach the COXN (the senior non-commissioned officer on board, the link between officers and enlisted members). The COXN, if supportive, would bring my request to the Captain.
Sure enough, the Captain was fully on board—pun intended! He then requested a meeting to understand the true significance of Chanukah. The focus was on the historical significance and its practical application as a symbol of resilience. Quoting Mishlei, Proverbs, “The soul of man is the candle of God,” the explanations focused on how each of us has the power to illuminate this world, to transform darkness into light. Just as a candle requires lighting before it can perform its function, so too our souls must be kindled before they can brighten up our lives. In turn, we are charged with the mission of illuminating the lives of others. How much more so, on a deployment, and our mission, must we all become “lamplighters,” igniting the sparks that lie in each other’s hearts. I explained that we were inviting the Captain to light the shamash, the “assistant” candle.
On the first night of Chanukah, in 90 degree heat, over 100 sailors gathered together in the canteen flats to hear the blessings and witness Canadian history as the Chanukiah was lit on a warship in the South China Sea. At the conclusion of the lighting, the Captain remarked, “So this is day one—I expect the menorah to be lit all eight days.” The Captain says, and the crew was happy to follow the order. In fact, the Chanukah festivities continued for nine days… due to crossing the International Date line! (Although it must be noted that we did not light the Chanukiah on the additional day.)
It was quite an incredible and uplifting Chanukah. And dreidel became the game of choice in all messes through it all.
Originally published in the Chanukah 2022 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.