Military Religious Freedom in the Arctic

A fascinating story at the Boston Globe recalls the steps taken to ensure the religious freedom of deployed US Sailors — in 1956:

Elihu Schimmel…was responsible for the medical care of men on dozens of ships. Often he had to be transported — by helicopter, by launch, by seaplane — from the Lindenwald to another vessel to see a patient.

But with Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) just around the corner, Schimmel was wondering whether a few men could be moved in the other direction. Specifically, a few Jewish men: enough to assemble a minyan, a quorum of 10, so that services could be held on the most sacred days of the Jewish year.

Schimmel figured he had nothing to lose by asking — and both the Navy and the Army offered their full support, including dedicated helicopter lift between vessels. They even published information for the rest of the ship’s company:

That day’s shipboard “newspaper” — a mimeographed handout called “DEW Line Daily” — matter-of-factly listed “the schedule of Jewish Services for the High Holidays,” to be held in the Crew’s Lounge that evening. For the benefit of curious readers, it went on to explain the significance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in Jewish culture (“days of repentance and of rededication…called collectively the Days of Awe…according to tradition, everyone is judged…ends with a final sounding of the ram’s horn”).

and they even hushed the ship for the service:

At 1900 hours (7 p.m.), an announcement was broadcast over the public-address system: “Attention all hands: Jewish divine services are beginning in the crew’s lounge. The smoking lamp is now out in all parts of the ship.” In Navy jargon, it was a directive banning anyone from smoking anywhere on the Lindenwald: a gesture of reverence for the tiny group of High Holiday worshipers.

It’s interesting for its age, but also for its demonstration of the effort the military extended to support religious freedom, both from the expenditure of official resources to the “enforced respect” it emplaced on others during their observance.  At least in part, some of that continues today with the “holy helos” that transport chaplains and US troops around the AOR for religious services.

Interestingly, Schimmel’s picture includes another reach back to a bygone era: Sailors with beards.


One comment

  • Anonymous Imperial Patriot

    Interesting article.

    Unfortunately, it is depressing to see how far the AFUS has changed.