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Somehow, almost without me knowing it, my family has turned into a military family, and that has brought me into a very meaningful position with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).

My father served in the military, but his experience was a difficult one. After graduating college with a chemical engineering degree, he was going through one security clearance and project after another. Then without warning he was suddenly demoted and sent to operate an elevator in an army hospital. When my father left the military, he was dishonorably discharged. Dad received no explanation. He took it to court only to discover that FBI records declared that as a 10-year-old he had worked as a delivery boy and handed out socialist pamphlets. Shockingly, Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt even extended to children… Although my father eventually won his case against the Army, it left a lingering distaste. I would later learn that my uncle also served in the Air Force.

My wife and I live in Chicago, where we raised nine children; three boys and six girls. All three of our sons are currently in service: Our oldest, Yonah, is the Chabad Rabbi of North Dakota, Yankee is in the Marines, and Laivi is in the Air Force. Laivi was the one who set me up in my current military iteration of life, after discovering CAP at the annual air show in Chicago. He met some recruiters there, checked out the program, and liked what he saw. I decided to join CAP with him, as a father-son bonding experience, never expecting it to turn into what it has.

I currently serve in the Civil Air Patrol Illinois Wing, where my specialty is character development instruction explanation and aerial photography for emergency services. Due to my age and health restrictions, I’m unable to do reserve or active duty. The auxiliary enables me to still serve our country, as we are a non-combatant, all-volunteer service.

Initially, when I joined CAP, I got involved in emergency services, but my command at Civil Air Patrol kept telling me that they needed a chaplain, so now I do both: I’m part of an air crew, and I also serve as the Wing Chaplain. Air crew service members have wings on their uniform. As a chaplain, having wings on your uniform tells other air crew members on a mission base that you understand their environment, and identifies you as one of them, which opens doors of fruitful ministry. When you’re embedded with the volunteers, you work together and they get to know you. So when stuff comes up for them, it feels natural to reach out to the chaplain.

My primary responsibility for CAP is teaching character development every month to our young cadets, ranging from 12 to 21 years old. We cultivate integrity, honesty, and respect. As part of the air crew, I also take aerial photographs of emergency situations that help response teams.

CAP has made vital contributions since its inception. During World War II, CAP squadrons flew up and down the Eastern seaboard looking for Nazi submarines and notified the Navy whenever they found one. CAP currently has 60,000 members across the country, all volunteers and the largest fleet of Cessnas in the world. We officially serve under the Air Force umbrella, so CAP may be tasked with an Air Force mission, or we often work directly with FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers.

What I love about CAP is having the opportunity to help others and be there for people, especially those who are serving. Service members are amazing. These are the folks who give up the prime of their lives and leave the comforts of home for a greater cause than self. It’s a huge service, and the fact that I get to support them is an absolute honor.

The bottom line is that my work enables me to show my respect for those who serve and gives me opportunities to support them. A big part of my service is performing search and rescue on CAP missions, but our training also allows us to be a chaplaincy resource to the Air Force and other branches of the DOD when necessary, which includes handling funerals for veterans and conducting services on bases.

My work with veterans is incredibly rewarding. We’ve created a supportive community for Jewish veterans that is intellectually and emotionally stimulating. I’ve captured many of their stories in interviews, which can be found on our website and Youtube channel, Institute of Jewish Chaplaincy. This year, I’m reaching out to more veterans through expanding our “Celebration of Service” events around the country. We are collaborating with Jewish War Veterans (JWV) and Chabad Houses to help build a national community for our Jewish veterans and honor their service.

I may be too old to join the military officially, yet here I am serving in a civilian capacity. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve my country.

Originally published in the Purim 2023 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.