The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, is not a particularly Jewish place. Currently, only 120 of the four-year college's 4,000+ students (called midshipmen or "middies") are Jewish. In previous decades the total rarely topped 40.
The U.S. Navy has a history of anti-Semitism, too. Commodore Uriah P. Levy, the first American Jew to reach such a position, and a hero of the War of 1812, was court-martialed on trumped up charges six times in the early 1800s. That he kept fighting to get back in was a testament to his pluck, but also a statement about anti-Jewish bias in the Navy of that era
That's why it's so nice to see the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy. The chapel, a combination synagogue, conference center and home for the academy's disciplinary court, was dedicated last September. It's an impressive piece of work. The USD 15 million project is nicely integrated into the academy's architecture but brings a significant piece (literally - you'll see why in a moment) of Jewish life and even Israel into the academy's neatly mowed lawns and massive 19th century granite buildings.
It may have been inter-service rivalry that got the privately financed project going. The U.S. Military Academy built a remarkable Jewish chapel for its 100+ cadets on its historic West Point campus on the cliffs overlooking New York's Hudson River in the 1990s.
Showing pride in his service, Annapolis Chaplain Rabbi Irving Elson, a career navy man who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, told me on a recent visit that the Army chapel is on a hill outside the main part of the West Point campus, while the Levy chapel is adjacent to the Naval Academy's main dormitory.
The chapel's architecture is notable for its liberal use of Jerusalem stone - flown in from the Holy Land - both in a mock "Western Wall" and on the floor of the building's elevator (they had some left over). Mosaic floors echo historic mosaics found throughout Israel. One of the chapel's Torah scrolls was a gift from the Israeli Navy.
Jewish contributions to U.S. military substantial
Jewish contributions to the U.S. military have been substantial in the last 200 years. They went a long way after World War Two to dissolve institutionalized anti-Semitism in U.S. life, the same way African American servicemen and women working in defense plants ("Rosie the Riveter") laid down a marker for social change in those communities, as well.
One of the most arresting images of the impact of that change came in the last few weeks with a photo of a hannukia, a Hannuka menorah, being lit in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Iraq alongside a Christmas tree as scores of U.S. servicement and women stood at attention. If you haven't received the picture in your email, write me, and I'll send it to you.
The West Point and Annapolis chapels won't on their own eliminate the last vestiges of anti-Semitism in the U.S. military. Ongoing problems with Christian evangelizing at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, show that. One could also say that the buildings are further examples of American Jews' edifice complex, that is, building monuments instead of communities.
But the 100+ middies, plus the "unshuled" in Annapolis, a community without a large Jewish presence, now have a center, a home, and a place to call their own. It's a nice thing.
Alan D. Abbey is Founding Editor of Ynetnews. His website is www.abbeycontent.com,
and his email is email@example.com