British recruits joining Her Majesty's armed forces training camp these next few days are in for a surprise. Next to them, doing push-ups on the floor, they might find a bearded older man wearing a skullcap.
No, he is not a Jewish soldier, but Rabbi Arnold Saunders, who was appointed Tuesday as the UK's first Jewish Civilian Chaplain to the Military.
Saunders will serve as the spiritual leader of some 200 Jewish soldiers serving in the British army. This is the first time a rabbi is appointed for a full time position in the military, which already employs Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh clergy members.
Rabbi Arnold Saunders. Proud to be of service (Photo: Mike Poloway)
Saunders, 50, who enlisted last week as a civilian employee of the military, will have to go through the regular enlistment process along with all the rookies.
In an interview with Ynet, Saunders said he is still getting accustomed to his new uniform. He described the feeling as strange, however said he was extremely proud to be of service.
Saunders, who currently lives in Manchester with his wife Mira'le, served as a rabbi in several communities in London and Manchester. He is a father of five, one of which recently finished his yeshiva studies in Jerusalem.
Saunders defines himself as a friend of Israel, saying one of his goals in his new post will be to strengthen the ties between the British Jewish soldiers and the Holy Land. He plans on getting to know each and every Jewish soldier personally, and perhaps even arrange a trip to Israel for them in the future.
Besides blessing the buiscuits during tea time, Saunders secribes his job as being a spiritual supervisor entrusted with the well-being of all Jewish soldiers in the army, navy and air force.
He hopes to be their address for every religious problem that might arise, enriching them with courses, workshops, Shabbat services and informational materials.
Saunders is fully aware that his job might also bring about less pleasant tasks. If a Jewish soldier gets injured or killed, he will be the one in charge of identifying the body, making burial arrangments and notifying the families. Saunders says he hopes never to have to deal with this part of the job.
Another goal Saunders hopes to achieve is to bring non-Jewish and Jewish servicemen closer together. Saunders explains that he feels it is his duty to educate non-Jewish soldiers about the Jewish culture and background, and to explain the special needs kosher and Shabbat observing soldiers might have.
Saunders hopes his appointment will raise awareness for the Jewish minority in the military, saying he thinks it is important that the world sees Jewish soldiers serve in other armies, not just the IDF.
Saunders feels this is particularly important in helping quell anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiments among some British people.