That Time I Blessed Burger King
CH (COL) Sanford Dresin, USA Ret.
It has been said that a healthy sense of humor is an important indicator of an individual’s sound mental health and stability. Rabbis who serve in the Armed Forces often encounter unique and challenging situations which may be overcome with a bit of good humor.
I experienced such a situation while serving as the Division Chaplain for the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) in Korea. At that time, the 2ID was the Army’s largest division with over 17,000 troops. The saga began when I was summoned to meet with the division’s commanding general (CG). At the meeting I was given what the CG considered to be a critical mission. The mission was to enhance an important ceremony with my benediction. The ceremony, interestingly enough, was celebrating the opening of the first Burger King fast food restaurant in Korea. The Burger King was opening at Camp Casey, the headquarters of the 2ID. The CG viewed this event as a very big deal. He believed that it would play an important role in improving troop morale. Among those who would attend the ceremony was the division band, many government officials from the host country, and a number of senior military officers. My benediction would top off the ceremony.
The following night I was unable to sleep. Here I was an Orthodox Jew, a rabbi tasked with praying over a non-kosher restaurant! Nevertheless, I realized the importance of the situation, despite what some might perceive as a somewhat inane ceremony. I felt I had been put on the spot because I had been handpicked by the Army Chief of Chaplains for my assignment as Division Chaplain. My assignment had been met with a good measure of resistance and what felt like heartburn, given the fact that in my capacity I would be supervising the 30 Christian Chaplains assigned to the division. When I awoke that morning in a stream of consciousness, I was able to compose the following prayer, which to some degree was influenced by what was then a recurring Burger King commercial theme.
The prayer went like this:
“Heavenly Father who provides food for all mankind; May we have it Your way as well as ours. May the object of our appetites be flame broiled, but not us. For as the Bible teaches, ‘Man lives not by bread alone.’ Amen.”
It was over. The band struck up a tune and I was surrounded by hysterical laughter and applause not to mention a few “hooah, rabbi!” cheers.
A Biker’s Prayer
Ch, Maj Elie Estrin, USAFR
It was a slow day in the Maxwell Air Force Base chapel. I was a bit restless, looking for something to do, when our NCOIC came over to me. “Hey,” he said, “Can you deliver an invocation for Motorcycle Safety Day?” “I’m on it,” I said, and got to work.
Mind you, I’ve never been a biker. Personally, I’d rather my innards stay where they are, as opposed to painting the centerline of some highway. But if I’m going to write a prayer for bikers, then I’m going to have to enter that mindframe. I looked out the window of my office, and thought, “What makes motorcyclists tick, besides for the rev of a Harley?”
Inspiration hit, and I jotted words down on a paper. “Looks great,” I thought, and brought it back to the NCOIC, himself an avid biker, for his approval. He gave an approving nod. “It’s really good, but you’re missing one last line before the Amen.” I gasped at his insertion, and gave him an appreciative hug. “You just perfected this prayer!” And then I ran off to give the invocation.
In a parking lot surrounded by leather-clad participants standing next to their Hondas, Harleys, and hot-shot Indians, I sheepishly admitted to one of the organizers that I’d never ridden a motorcycle. He kindly pooh-poohed it, and then introduced me to the crowd. Taking a deep breath, I began:
“Almighty G-d, As we embark on this day of companionship and true American free spirit represented by riding, we ask You: Keep us safe from spills, slips, wipe outs, burnouts, and blow outs. Distance us from terrible drivers, bored cops, and the asphalt of doom. Grant us the peace that comes from breathing in Your fresh air on an open road; The tranquility that comes from new vistas of this glorious world You created. And may our fellowship today bring us happiness and togetherness so we may continue to live lives of goodness and meaning together, Rubber side down, Amen.”
After I finished to an appreciative chorus of Amens, the event organizer turned back to me. “Rabbi,” he said, “with a prayer like that, are you sure you’re not a biker?!”
The Knowns and the Unknowns
Ch, Lt Col Michael Bram, USAF
While stationed at Ramstein Air Base, then-USAF Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain, Major General Cecil Richardson came to speak. He’s an absolutely phenomenal speaker, and he really wowed the crowd. At the end of his talk, he started to recite Psalm 23. Without any prompting, all 500 people in the room stood up and began to say Psalm 23 word for word with him… Well, everyone besides me, and the Imam: The Imam didn’t know Psalm 23 at all, and I don’t know it in the English, only the Hebrew! We just looked at each other and shrugged.
And then there was the time I was asked to do an invocation for a batch of Airmen who were transferring into the Space Force. As a big science fiction fan, this was an invocation I was born to write:
“Almighty God, I thank You for this day and for the opportunity to mark this occasion as these Airmen transition into Guardians and join the United States Space Force. As these new Guardians make their transition to this new, perhaps final, frontier, Give them the strength to boldly go where few Airmen have gone before, The energy to jump into their new roles at warp speed, The initiative and creativity to engage with policy and procedure to set long-lasting precedents for Space Force success, The wisdom to see all points of view and not just cling to our own version of the truth, The discernment to always follow the path of the light rather than fall to the dark, And the teamwork to open the doors of their workspace or “pod bay” to collaborate for mission success. Bless their families, friends, and loved ones who support our new Guardians in their trek into the Space Force. May they use the gifts and talents You have given them to effectively deliver space combat power, And ensure America always remains Semper Supra, Above All, Amen.”
You might even say the Force was with me on this one, as the group responded to each Sci Fi-inspired line with much laughter and enthusiasm.