Thursday, December 30, 2010

Literature and Movies

I have had extra time on my hands while here. While the Navy and Marine Corps do their share to keep me busy, my evenings are largely free. To that end, I have been taking time to read and watch movies. In both of those, there has been a fair amount of fluff. I am reading a legal novel by Steve Martini right now. Sitting on the bed is the movie "The American President," with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. I have also reread some of the books we all had to read in high school. My reaction to such books as "To Kill a Mockingbird" is very different than it was 25 years ago. Take note: my high school in Norfolk, Virginia closed for a year (1968-9) due to desegregation. There is a history of racism where I grew up. Reading it now, I can see the power in Harper Lee's writing that I missed as a kid. The image of everyone standing up for Atticus Finch at the end of the trial is quite stunning in the few words Harper Lee used. I thought the scene in the movie was gripping.

I also read "Lady Chatterley's Lover." It was quite a radical book for its time, for reasons you all know. It was fascinating though in the concept D. H. Lawrence was trying to convey, that true intimacy cannot exist only in words. On a Jewish level, it is not so radical. Words are not sufficient. We take words and bind them on our arms. We take words and hang them on our doorposts. With so many of those actions, there is a kabbalistic phrase that most of us do not say - for the sake of union with the Holy One. That word 'union' is the same word that we use for a newlywed couple in their first time alone. So to say that words are sufficient to create intimacy is really farcical to me.

I had forgotten how compelling an author John Steinbeck is. Growing up on the folk music of the 1960's, I knew about migrant workers (Woody Guthrie, "Pastures of Plenty"). My mother still has pangs of discomfort when buying grapes, something she did not do for many years. To read "Grapes of Wrath" knowing the lyrics to 'Pastures' by heart was heart-wrenching. It was heart-wrenching seeing the inhumanity of people. It remains heart-wrenching knowing that it could exist for so long.

On the movie side, I just watched "Bridge on the River Kwai" last night. I wonder if it was important to Alec Guiness to be known for something other than the "Star Wars" series. He was brilliant in "Bridge." I have known officers like he one he played in the movie. To some degree, he is right. Unit discipline and morale suffers when the lines between officer and enlisted break down. Morale will improve when people have clear-cut tasks to accomplish.

Other movies have included "A Gentleman's Agreement," "In Harm's Way," a number of James Bond movies, a number of "Star Trek" movies, "Dr. Zhivago," and "The Big Chill."

Having the library in sight of my living room window is a nice thing.

Musings and Amusings

Hi Everyone. I have not written in a while. It has been slow around here. The US Government goes into holiday routine for the two weeks around some holiday other than Hannukah. That means we work half days. It also means that as I type this blog, it is Thursday evening, and we are about to go into what is called a Marine Corps 96. We do not have to be in our offices for 96 hours - really Tuesday morning. I love the Marine Corps 96. I have no clue why the Army and the Navy have not adopted it.

I must thank Jennifer for giving me the credit on purchasing the ring. I guess that I did so, in a roundabout way. I am the only one with an income right now. She ordered it. It lends a certain irony very appropriate to that ring. I must tell you further that it is hilarious that she does not react to the alarm clock quickly. A few years back, we agreed that I would take my day off and sleep in. She would get the little people out the door. Great! The radio alarm goes off...and nothing happens. The morning went downhill from there. It was really quite funny to watch.

I have to move tomorrow. They have been renovating the bottom floor of the lodge where I am staying. They have finished, and now wish to do the top floor. I have to move downstairs. This is not all bad. It gives me a chance to pack up all of my stuff. I need the practice. I am blessed with a bride who is capable of packing the contents of an 18-wheeler into a volkswagen. I, on the other hand, have difficulty packing the contents of the volkswagen into the 18-wheeler. As such, this evening, I am commencing 'Operation Rolling Suitcase.' Naturally, I must start this process by blogging. I thought ahead on this. My orders permit me extra baggage. I have to write that into the orders request, but it always gets approved. I should write in a request for a new car. I wonder what would happen.

Anyway, December 25th has past. This is really good news. Do you know why it is good news? It means that the exceedingly large Hershey bars with the winter imagery (snow-women and frosty trees), you know, the ones people like to hang in their socks while they dry over the fire, and melt the chocolate, are marked down to $0.40. The same holds for the Hershey kisses. I have stocked up. I need vegetables tomorrow. As such, I will likely purchase a few more. Did I mention I miss Jennifer? Oddly, some of the chocolate has specific Christmas imagery on the front. I did not buy that. I wonder though what I would have done if that had been the only option. I must confess that I like chocolate enough that the price and the hekhsher probably would have been sufficient.

You will all be glad to know that I did not get arrested for breaking and entering. I locked my key in my room yesterday. The front desk here is not staffed all night. If we need to get in, they bill us $20, and call someone back in. I discovered months ago that I could just lift the metal sliding gate from the counter, climb in, and get one of the keys. Yesterday, that sliding gate was locked. I went outside and on a whim tried the sliding window into the office. The lady who normally works there had forgotten to lock it. I got a key. You can fill in the details. I also locked the window.

The first step in 'Operation Rolling Suitcase' is in progress. I have to put the laundry in the dryer.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's About Time!!

Congress repealed 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' Good! I had hoped that we had put those discriminatory days behind us. I would like to take a moment to clarify my reasons that anyone should be allowed to serve.

1. Jennifer does not care the religion, gender, sexual preference, or even the species of the person who has to pull me out of the way of incoming ordnance. Neither do I. We will both readily say though that no matter those details, the one who does so is guaranteed dinner at our home whenever he/she so desires.

2. Peter Stuyvesant wrote back to Holland to seek advice on whether the Jews in his community could stand guard duty. The answer came back in the affirmative. Perhaps Mr. Stuyvesant should have realized that many of the stockholders of the Dutch West India Company were Jewish. Jews could not serve as chaplains until the US Civil War. We did not have our own corps insignia until World War I. We know as a people what it means to be on the receiving end of discrimination.

3. Good order and discipline has been a constant issue. Well people...if a commanding officer cannot maintain good order and discipline in the ranks, then the powers that be have the obligation to relieve that commanding officer of his duties.

4. So many people have raised the issues of not wanting to share close quarters with people who might consider them as targets of sexual desire. I wonder if those people realize the irony of that worry. It is in my conscious lifetime that women in the US Armed Forces went from being auxiliary forces to full integration. It is my sincere hope that those who have raised this concern realize that the worries of being looked at in such a manner are still a factor, even without 'don't ask don't tell.'

5. The religious implications. It is true that the Torah forbids homosexuality, calling it a to'evah - an abomination (Lev 18). It says the same thing about pork chops (Deut 14). In fact, the Torah uses the word over 30 times in reference to any number of transgressions. My point? Do not cherry-pick. Leviticus 18 exists in a much greater context than our abilities to cite chapter and verse.

6. My oath of office is to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States..." I take that oath seriously. Nowhere does it say to support and defend the Bible. It is an unreasonable beatification of the Constitution to make it withstand the scrutiny of Biblical Correctness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keeping the Faith with My Friends in Toronto

I understand your travails. It was cold and windy today. I went out this morning in uniform. Thank God sleeves are rolled down for the winter. I almost shivered on the way into work. This afternoon, I had to change to leave base. I put on jeans, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. It was rough out there.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Importance of Learning a Foreign Language

Shalom to all.

I changed some US dollars into yen a few weeks back. I wanted to go to the supermarket out in town. The locals here do not speak English. My Japanese is limited, to say the least. Here, the labels on the packaging are in Japanese. There is no English, or any other language. One of two things happened. Hopefully, I purchased tea. The other possibility is that Japanese society is way more liberal than I imagined and I am going to have an awful time at the airport.

Some weeks back, I wrote an entry to this blog about my first long bicycle ride. I took that ride again this past weekend. I would like to state that I am in better shape now. The weather was much cooler. I have some feel for the streets now. The headwind on the way out was not awful. Any tailwind is welcome. The entire ride was a delight.

I took another ride last night just up and down the main drag right off the base. I have to tell you - it was fascinating to see. It was a Sunday evening, between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. The streets were mobbed. The stores and restaurants were mobbed. It was precisely the time I would have imagined the opposite.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Good Chaplain Week

Top of the evening everyone.

First of all, let me tell you what happened with the officer whose money I defaced. He did drink during the long weekend. Over the four days, he consumed a total of seven beverages. Putting my corps insignia on his money had an effect. He could feel it in his pocket all the time, and he at least had to think about it before spending. The corps insignia had the desired effect. Still, seven beverages is about seven beverages above the result I wanted. It could have been worse. I think it kept him from going higher. I claim here partial success.

I claim full success in a different area. This is one of the joys of the internet. In short, I saved the life of a Soldier in Korea this week. How did I do that? I am glad you asked. The soldier in Korea apparently was suicidal. He told a friend in the US. The friend told one of my Marines. The Marine called me. I spent Monday afternoon tracking down a chaplain in Korea. I told him that I only had a name and a region. Apparently, the peninsula is pretty long. The Soldier in question was over 200 miles away. They found him. The fuse on this one was lit. We stopped a suicide. The Soldier is in the hospital for psychological screening and help. There is no injury to report. I like it when it works.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Alcohol Drove Me to Deface Government Property

No...really. Last week was a strange week. I had two officers come to see me about alcohol concerns. You really do not see this in the officer ranks. Anyway, one of them was sent. Another one decided that there was a problem when he did not know the name of the person next to him one morning. Please note - he is not married. He referred himself to me. I will figure out how to push him towards a formal evaluation next week. In the meantime, he promises me at the end of every work day that he will not drink that evening. I check in with him the next morning. The challenge is that we are starting a four-day weekend now. I made him promise that he would not drink tonight. I made him promise that he would have a two drink maximum for the rest of the weekend (he has been able to stop himself when he has fallen off the wagon - that bodes well).

I asked him to give me his cash. This is where I defaced government property. I took my chaplain insignia (two tablets and a little Magen David) and attached it to his money. He was thus not able to spend without physically dealing with my tablets staring him in the face. Then I made him promise that he would pay for his drinks over the weekend, and made clear that I wanted my insignia back on Monday morning. I will check in with him every day over the weekend. I will let you all know how it went.

Next week - formal evaluation for him.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the United States readers out there. To all of the Canadians, most Jews in the US celebrate Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Desperate Times Yield Desperate Measures

Today, I went on the tunnel rats tour. We went to see some of the tunnels that the Japanese used during the US invasion of the island. We saw three different tunnels.

One of the tunnels was there strictly as a military tunnel. It was cleared out. There was a network of carved tunnels within, yielding more than one way to get out of every room.

The third tunnel was combined for military and civilian. There was nothing elaborate here. We all commented on this one that the tour advertisement should have included clear advice on wearing hiking boots. It was steep, rocky, and wet getting down to it. Once inside, it did not flatten out. It remained steep, rocky, and wet. The stalagmites and stalactites were beautiful. I got a picture of one that looks like an apple.

One of things that happened during the war was that the Japanese army told the civilians hiding in the tunnels about all of the atrocities that the United States would visit on them if they were captured. In one tunnel (not one we saw today), 850 Okinawans committed suicide rather than risk those atrocities.

We did not come across any unexploded ordnance. 5000 pounds of it are removed from the island monthly, to the point that we had a brief on the importance of not touching anything we could not identify.

Shabbat Shalom

Hi all....

This was a strange Shabbat. The forces of evil just wanted to hinder my observance. I left my lights on when I left for services. On my way back after tefillot, the police are gathered in the street. We have a habu viper headed down the street. They captured him. I understand that they will milk him to make antivenin, and then release him up north where there is a habu reserve. Anyway, while gone, housekeeping went in. They turned off all of my lights, with the exception of the bedroom and the bathrom. So I made my Shabbat dinner (peanut butter and jelly - I keep it light). I took it and ate in the lobby of where I am staying. The next morning, I stepped out of my room. When I came back, housekeeping had gotten the bedroom light also. It also rained all day.

On the positive side, I had a lovely day. I knocked off about 275 pages of "Grapes of Wrath." It has been a long time. I had forgotten how good a writer John Steinbeck is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Treif Treif Treif

Good afternoon all....

Every once in a while, I enjoy a shot of tequila. Sometimes, people will ask me about the little worm. I tell them it goes very well in spaghetti sauce (kidding). With the little worm, it is no longer tequila. It is mezcal. It is most certainly not kosher. The worm renders all sorts of kashrut problems, even if it is less than a sixtieth.

In my life, I never thought I would see something like that. I have never seen a bottle of mezcal. Today, I have seen way beyond that. It starts with sake, to which the distiller adds a habu viper. That image will stay with me for a long time. Next time I am there, I will have the camera with me. The picture is just too much to resist. In the meantime, I am copying a link so you can read about that on your own.

Anyway, one of my loyal followers asked me about the Jewish congregation here on island. They are an eclectic group, as most military congregations are. They are from everywhere. Most of us are what I call geographical orphans. Our families are elsewhere. I usually have about 17-20 on a Friday evening. There are no Shabbat morning services, much to my chagrin. I may start one, depending on how many are interested. Keren would be especially thrilled. It seems that the children are all young ladies, aged 8-10. Come to think of it, Gavi would probably like that too. They are thirsty for rabbinic leadership. With the shortage of Navy Rabbis, they sometimes go for long periods without a rabbinic presence.

The Jewish Chapel is small. I have seats in there for about 22, but room for a dozen more. It has a fairly complete library, to which I will add a few things while I am here. As well, I hope to have the Seabees build a nice reading table for it. Right now, there is no table suitable for Torah reading.

Finally, today is 10 November 2010. 235 years ago at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress authorized two battalions of Marines to be established. The Corps has a storied history, taking place throughout the world. We wish a happy birthday and Semper Fidelis to the Marines.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mom always told me...

...not to go shopping when I am hungry. Let's expand on that just a bit. I also could not go shopping on Sunday morning. I go on bicycle, and it was raining. Last, being hungry with a backpack means multiple shopping trips. Let us then expand on Mom's rule. Never go shopping when you are hungry, when you missed your last shopping day, and when your only means of conveyance has you with your groceries on your back. I was able to do it in two trips today. Luckily, the commissary is not that far. I was going to buy peanuts, but they were not nut-free.

Anyway, I sent up a recommendation this week to name the Jewish Congregation on Base for Corporal Samuel Gross, the only Jewish Marine to earn (not win!!) the Medal of Honor (I will switch back to Canadian spelling when I am back in that country). Hopefully, it will be approved. The congregation voted unanimously on that name.

I now have my sixth e-mail account. One more, and I should be able to rest. This one is Feel free to ignore it. I can check all of my others with no difficulty.

I hope all is well out there in Blog-follower-ville.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stormy Weather

So, since no one voted on my name for the typhoon report, I am going to go with “Stormy Weather.” The reason is that next week, we switch to our winter uniforms. As such, the dress uniform will be…..blues.

Anyway, Choba was most certainly a typhoon. The wind blew. The rain fell. It was quite an event to watch. I heard of some house damage, but the only evidence I saw was branches everywhere. Past that, it seems to have been a mouse that roared. We all got a day off of work for it. I only wish that they had gotten us that message the night before. I would not have set my alarm.

Since then, I took a long bicycle ride to see the ruins of Katsuren Castle. Clearly there was something there. What struck me about it was the location. It was perched quite high. The castle lies high up on a peninsula, with a clear view of Kinbu Bay and of the Philippine Sea. As well, you can see some of the outlying islands from there.

Life is otherwise calm. I am going to take the tunnel rats tour in a couple of weeks to see where the Japanese fortified themselves for the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. We have a 96-hour weekend coming next week for Veteran's Day. I will most certainly do something, though I have yet to figure out what.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lena Horne or Billy Joel

I will let you all make the call. Would you like to name this blog entry "Stormy Weather" or "Storm Front"?

We are under a typhoon warning (again). This one will likely at least strike a glancing blow to the island. Interestingly, the package stores on base will not sell alcohol when we get to a certain point in the warning scale. They do not want Marines going out on the roof during these storms. I am used to the east coast. There, when a hurricane comes ashore, it comes, and by that point it goes its merry way fairly quickly. This typhoon is just taking its time.

It is raining, again, as a result. We had four days of sunshine and lollipops, and now....

I checked out three movies from the library. There are books here. All is set.

GS: Note position of quotation marks yet again. This time, the question mark logically should be outside the quotation mark, as it is part of the full question as opposed to part of the song title.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rav Sean Bites More than He Can Chew

I went for a bike ride today. Powered by peanut butter and jelly, plus the omelette I had for breakfast, I took a ride out along a bridge to a neighbouring island. It was a beautiful ride, even though I got lost on the way back. People here do not really speak that much English. My Japanese is non-existent. Anyway, I cannot seem to figure out how to upload the pictures I took to this blog. Such is life.

One of the things I noticed though was the constant presence of little makeshift shrines. I also saw a cemetery. I regret to inform you that I took no pictures, as I did not wish to risk offending local custom.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take a Left at Typhoon Alley

For those of you who do not know, Okinawa is in an area of the Pacific known as "Typhoon Alley." We have no typhoon warning in effect at this time. There is nothing forming in the Pacific. We have not battened down the hatches and stocked up on bottled water. There was one over the week though that romped through the Philippines. We have gotten all of the rain that did not fall there. When one is either on foot or on bicycle, all of that rain really crimps one's style.

Near here, there is a bridge, about a mile long, that goes out to a nearby island. I am going to ride out there on Sunday.

I am thoroughly impressed with the amount of humidity here. When I woke up this morning, the walls of my room were quite wet. The floor had a visible puddle, about six inches in diameter (15 centimetres for you metric folks). Now I know why the room has a dehumidifier. For the sake of the tefillin and the computer, it will get plenty of use.

It is 7:15 PM here. I am going to make a reasonable attempt to be in bed before 9:30.

Note to GS: On "Typhoon Alley," I placed the period outside the quotation marks. I seem to recall that this is consistent with the American system of grammar. It does not seem logical in certain cases though. Old habits die hard.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Out and About

I have met most of the relevant people as of now. Even better, the chaplain whose office I will cover has not used his bicycle in a long time. That saves me the trouble of having to buy one.

It is quiet, and I do not have much to write. I found a recipe though, and I thought you might like it. If you cannot find Japanese pumpkin, try the obvious substitute - radishes. I have not tasted it, but I am looking forward to it.

One half kabocha (small Japanese pumpkin, usually green)
3.5 tbsp sugar
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1.5 cup dashi soup (made from dry bonito flakes - recipes available on line)

Scoop and peel the pumpkin.
Cut pumpkin into slices 2 inches thick.
Place pieces in deep pan, former skin side down. Add dashi soup, and cook at high heat. The recipe does not say for how long.
Lower heat, add sugar and let it dissolve. Cook at low for 7-8 minutes.
Add soy sauce, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Lower heat, cover pan, and simmer until pumpkin is tender.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Note to Self

Note to self: if one opens up the digital camera and lets the battery charge over Shabbat, one will have the digital camera with him when one takes walk around town.

Oh well. There was not too much to see in any event.

Shabbat went well. I got to meet the Jewish congregation here. They are very nice people. I look forward to working with them. Besides being responsible for the Jewish program here, I will fill in for a Chaplain who will spend time out in the field while I am around. As such, I will be assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion during the week. They will move me up to Camp Courtney for this tomorrow.

It is humid here, but with a lovely breeze throughout the day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Transit to Okinawa

13 October and 14 October 2010:

I said goodbye to Jennifer and to the kids this morning. I am not usually given to tears, but Keren got them out of me. Things we will all miss during the family deployment:

Long conversations about submarine operations on which I know nothing.
The inbound monkey
The seltzer club
Morning wrestling matches to get Gavi out of bed

We have crossed the dateline today. As well, the plane has gone above the Arctic Circle. If the GPS is correct, we have gone even north of Alaska. Presently, we are above Russian airspace, west of the Sea of Okhotsk. It is a shame that we have flown above a constant cloud cover. The clouds look the same everywhere.

I landed in Okinawa. It is nighttime, so I did not see that much. Tomorrow, I have to get a haircut.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I have had to change this blog title to Navy Chaplain, as I am no longer with the Seabees. I wish NMCB 26 the best, and regret that I will not be on this deployment with them.

The Rabbi Goes to War...We Think

Shalom all. So here is the story. On 06 January 2010, my commanding officer informed the battalion that we were headed to Afghanistan. I made arrangements to extend my orders so that I would not leave the battalion mid-deployment, and then faced a more challenging task - telling Jennifer. After that was the most challenging task - not telling anyone else until after the Bar Mitzvah. Jennifer and I did not want the deployment to overshadow what we knew would be Jesse's magnificent reading of the Megillah.


Jennifer: Ok. This is what I have to do as the Chaplain's spouse (starts making mental lists).
Jesse: visibly upset.
Keren: visibly upset, but largely because she saw Jesse upset.
Gavi: the kid who pilfers my screwdrivers knows I work with builders. He wants to come along for the trip.

In the meantime, the unit prepared to go to California for our 17 days Active Training. This was to take place during both Pesach and Holy Week.

Note: Communion wafers are hametz and must be turned over to a non-Jew.
Note 2: I saved grape juice from the seder in case the Priest needed it for communion.

I made arrangements with Canadian Forces to send mail via their offices, so that Jennifer would not have to pay customs duties on anything she shipped.

Anyway, in May, the detailer called me. He asked if the Navy could relieve me of duty with the Seabees and send me to work with the Marine Corps in the Pacific. I would be gone the same amount of time, and the Rabbi who had been in Okinawa had retired (the nerve).

I like my unit. I like my Seabees. The deployment would be fun. On the other hand, I am going now specifically as a Rabbi. That will be fun in its own way, and speaks very clearly to my ordination.