For Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanski, director of the Assessment Division of the U.S. Navy staff, sharing his Judaism with both those in uniform and civilians is a part of his service to his country and to God. On Nov. 9, the Shabbat before Veterans Day, he will be able to do both.
Throughout the year, many congregations pray for the United States government, the State of Israel and the soldiers serving in the Israeli
Defense Forces. On this Shabbat, Jewish American veterans will be blessed and honored at the 5th annual Veterans Day Shabbat hosted by Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation. It will also feature as a guest speaker, Rear Adm. Shilanski.
“I think it’s good for Jews in general to know that there are sailors in the Navy who are Jewish,” said Shilanski. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them a sense of what is going on in today’s world, in current events and maybe a little history.”
The Shabbat program usually tributes 30 to 40 veterans who are synagogue members, as well as any other veteran of the U.S. military who wishes to attend, throughout the service with aliyot to the Torah. The event culminates with a special Kiddush in honor of the veterans for their service. The community is invited.
“Honoring our congregational veterans was not just a duty, but a privilege,” said Rabbi Emeritus Elan Adler. “So many of our members either knew someone who fought for America and came home or someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we cherish.”
Shilanski has been in the service since 1980 and is descended of Lithuanian Jews. According to JCC.org, he is also a supporter of Torah for Our Troops and the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council initiative to commission special lightweight Torahs for chaplains to use in the field, as they move from ship to ship. But his career highlights only tell a part of the story.
“The great thing is that throughout my career there were many people who I met who had never met a Jew,” Shilanski said. “They were just ignorant. It was great for me to show them celebrations. … When you’re in the middle of a Stage 3 hurricane and you’re lighting Chanukah candles on an aircraft carrier or asking the chef to save a piece of chicken because they were serving pork that night …”
Shilanski said he enjoyed sharing his Judaism and religious practice with his crew and officers. During his career, he also presided over a Passover Seder with 120 guests on an aircraft carrier and was able to procure two Holocaust sefer Torah’s for the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Harry Truman.
For Shelanski, military service and Judaism are inextricably linked.
“I always thought about serving my country, and that really goes back to my Jewish education,” he said. “Knowing about the Holocaust, knowing that the U.S. is a place unique in the world that allows for freedom and religious freedom for Jews in the world — it was part of being Jewish that led to joining the Navy in the first place.”
For Shilanski, one of his defining moments as a Jew and a soldier was when a drill sergeant in the Marines called out for any Jews in the line of soldiers in training for a special assignment. Shilanksi was not sure whether or not to reveal his Judaism in this instance.
“There are moments in your life, do you step forward or do you not step forward? I stepped forward, and I was the only one in line,” he said.
He got the special assignment, and it was his first step toward a career of stepping forward.
According to Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of MMAE, the Shabbat tribute is about gratitude.
“It’s important that we should be in awe of people who’ve risked their lives for our country,” Rabbi Shapiro said. “It’s basic gratitude to the members of our own congregational family who have served on our behalf to a country that benefits all of us.”
5th Annual Veteran’s Day
Shabbat Honoring U.S. Veterans
All are welcome
Saturday, Nov. 9
Morning prayers at 8:45 a.m.
Featuring an address by Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanksi, director of the Assessment Division, United States Navy
Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation
7000 Rockland Hills Drive
Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.