By CDR Aaron Kleinman, CHC USN
It has been 13 years since I joined the Navy chaplaincy. I was never a pulpit rabbi. My previous ministry experience had been serving as Jewish lay leader through an OEF combat
deployment aboard USS JOHN F. KENNEDY CV 67 while serving with Carrier Air Wing 7 and Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121.
While my ministry has always been institutional, as a lay leader it was focused solely on Jews. There was cooperation with other faith groups, especially in the immediate post-September 11th days, but I had no responsibility to them. Chaplaincy has been rather different. As a new baal teshuvah (newly religiously-observant Jew) brimming with zeal, I joined the Navy to be mekarev (bring close) other Jews. I quickly learned while that might be my highest priority, it was not the Navy’s. My first supervisory (and senior supervisory) chaplain was CAPT Stephen Epperson. He made it absolutely clear to me that while I was a rabbi, I was also the chaplain for all personnel, regardless of faith group or lack thereof, aboard Naval Station Great Lakes and its 67 tenant command (or at least the 63 that did not have their own chaplains assigned). Not all chaplains in that area shared the same view. A few ministered to their own flock alone, and even then, only begrudgingly. I have never understood chaplains who do not wish to at least minister to their own. It seems to me they have chosen the wrong vocation.
The one stabilizing force in my chaplaincy has been the understanding that G-d wants me here, doing this job, and that He wants me to succeed (which does not imply that I am destined to succeed). This basic understanding sustained me through some difficult times at the beginning of my career as I, unlike most chaplains, was still forging my ministerial identity. And it sustains me now. I just hope to do His will and merit the good that He has provided me.
This article was originally published in the Pesach 5782 issue of the Jewish-American Warrior.