By: LCDR Eve Poteet, USN
Growing up in Orthodox Hebrew School in Miami Beach, Florida, one would think that United States Naval Commander would not be in the “top 10” jobs upon graduation for most Jewish youth. However, that is exactly what I chose to do in 1993 when I enlisted in the Navy. My father was a retired Naval Commander and he often recounted his stories of lighting the Sabbath candles with Kirk Douglas while stationed onboard the USS St Paul. My father was a first generation American, his family having fled the pogroms in Russia in the early 1900s. He entered the Navy during the Korean War as a Surface Warfare Officer. So doing things “out of the ordinary” is somewhat a Nelson tradition.
My first Active Duty Jewish Service was that in Boot Camp in Orlando, Florida. Being able to light the Shabbat candles gave me more peace and hope than ever in the 18 years prior. I now fully understood the meaning of rest, and why God established this Commandment.
In 2003 I celebrated the birth of my first born, Joshua, namesake of my father and the Brit Milah was performed at our home. The Rabbi was in Israel at the time and called a Mohel in Virginia, to ensure that we could satisfy this blessing and covenant of our G-d. For many more years our children attended Hebrew School in Virginia Beach, Virginia until the time came for my son’s Bar Mitzvah. In 2016, the Uriah P Levy Chapel, the Navy’s oldest land-based Jewish Chapel, opened its doors for the first time in years to a packed audience of friends and family celebrating as Josh read from the Torah. Many of those individuals had never met a Jewish person they knew of, or seen our most holy scripture – the Torah.
In 2018 and 2019 both of my parents died. I remember asking Camp Pendleton Rabbi (and also Lieutenant) Joshua Sherwin how I could sit Shivah and still participate in the operational commitments I had coming up. Rabbi explained to me that we would find a way to best honor my parents, and as the book of Job directs us, to mourn our loved ones. I truly “sat” Shivah for my parents. I did not have to put ash on my clothing as I was covered in mud having not been able to wash for weeks in the field. My father was given full Naval honors after his passing, and the Chaplains supported me throughout.
When both my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah events were cancelled due to Covid, in true Jewish and military fashion, we overcame and had a Zoom Bat Mitzvah “zooMitzvah”. My daughter was able to read from the Torah after over a year of study and two Torah Portions of learning! Hollywood would have been mightily impressed with our visual arts… But nothing stops our family from practicing our religious rite that our forefathers died for and the military which I am proud to serve in, affords us to do.
In several months, I will retire from the Navy after over two decades of service. The Navy has helped me to earn two Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree. They’ve helped to raise me from enlisted Seaman Apprentice to that of Lieutenant Commander. Even more so, the Navy serves as a beacon of hope and an example to all that every American has the ability to practice their religion, in freedom, no matter where they’ve come from. With the unconditional support and love of my husband Scott, the Burton and Poteet family and our friends who have lifted us up throughout this journey, my children continue to be raised by their Jewish mother in the spirit of our Torah. That is why I am proud to serve as a wife, a mother and a Jewish Naval Officer.
Originally published in the Purim 2021 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.