Approximately 100 Jewish service-members from the United States Armed Forces and Allied Forces attended Aleph’s 9th annual Military Chaplain/Lay Leader Training Course and Shabbaton in Florida this past February. 

Attendees included active, reserve and National Guard members of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Veteran’s Administration and Civil Air Patrol services. Military spouses and their children were invited as well. 

As a recognized US Department of Defense Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agency, Aleph is one of only three Jewish agencies nationwide that has the authority to endorse military rabbis. To obtain and maintain endorsement, Jewish military chaplains as well as those wishing to serve as Jewish lay leaders, are required to participate in Aleph’s yearly conference.

This year’s event highlighted the theme of Back to Basics and focused on teaching, preaching and counseling. It was held at the Shul and Torah Study Center and promoted spiritual growth and renewal.

As Aleph’s Director of Personnel-Endorser, Rabbi Sanford L. Dresin, Chaplain and Colonel, US Army Retired, noted, the event is an important opportunity for “spiritual reinforcement” as many military rabbis do not live in large Jewish communities. 

This year’s keynote speakers included Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben, Chief of Navy Chaplains, and Rabbi Irving Elson, Deputy Chief of Marine Corps Chaplains.  Several other senior government officials participated as well, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, Governor Rick Scott of Florida, and General Robert Magnus, among others.

Also this year, a Jewish chaplain from West Point attended with eight Jewish cadets. Upon graduation, the cadets will become combat officers for five years, and, if approved by Aleph, may become Jewish lay leaders during their deployments and beyond.

To become approved, military service members must attend annual training and commit to overseeing the administration, publicity, and organization of their Jewish communities—whether at installations throughout the world during active duty or as reservists in civilian life.

In addition to overseeing the event, Rabbi Dresin also engages with Jewish military chaplains and lay leaders throughout the year.

 “I’m a rabbi to the rabbis,” he noted, explaining that he responds to numerous calls daily related to military chaplaincy and the Armed Forces in general.

With military commitments constantly evolving, Aleph continually welcomes past and new Jewish military personnel to attend and looks forward to next year’s conference.