Attention on Deck!

February 1, 2013
BY Paul Foer
New rabbi, chaplain is a ‘Sher win’ for Naval Academy
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(Photos Provided)

Let’s pretend this is JDate for a minute. Now, meet Josh Sherwin.

Josh is a 31-year-old lieutenant stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. You’d be safe with this nice Jewish officer and gentleman even if he had not earned a black belt from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

He served three tours in Afghan-istan, enjoys football, reading, swing dancing, swimming and movies. He has sparkly eyes, an infectious smile and a friendly, positive attitude.

Ladies, perhaps your dreamboat has come to port.

Sherwin also happens to be a rabbi descended from a long line of rabbis going back 13 generations. Only one of those 13 generations strayed from the rabbinical path.

“That was the one who was busy immigrating to America,” he said.

Thankfully he did come to America, and now that man’s descendant has settled into his new post as the Academy’s Jewish chaplain. In that position, in which he is referred to as “Rabbi Sherwin,” he thinks of himself as R-10, the 10th rabbi at the Annapolis campus.

“I also like to think of myself as RX, because that way I can also be your spiritual prescription,” he said with a smile.

Sherwin is on call seven days a week, busily attending to the spiritual needs of a battalion of midshipmen of all faiths, as well as agnostics and non-believers. That’s about 750 to 800 young men and women, almost all of whom will become officers of the Navy or Marine Corps following their four years at the academy.

Sherwin also takes a special interest in the dozens of Jewish men and women enrolled at the academy.

Rabbi Josh Sherwin  is fondly known as  “R-10” or “RX.”

Rabbi Josh Sherwin is fondly known as “R-10” or “RX.”

Religious affiliation statistics are not collected, but 17 incoming midshipmen or plebes self-identified as being Jewish in the class of 2015. He assists with the Jewish Midshipmen’s Club and leads Friday evening and holiday services in the strikingly beautiful Miller Chapel at the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center, opened in 2005.

Raised mostly in Orlando, Fla., he graduated from the University of Central Florida and was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary with a concentration in Jewish education in 2009, when he also entered active duty. He spent two years in the Chaplain Candidacy Program during seminary. Soon after he received his commission, Sherwin was assigned to the sprawling Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“It was hot and humid with lots of mosquitoes, 100,000 Marines and one rabbi,” he told the JT.

While on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, Sherwin hosted a Passover Seder and was accorded the honor of dedicating the aron kodesh and the sefer Torah aboard the USS George W. Bush, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. It’s also the first ship of its kind to have a permanent home for a Torah instead of just a portable ark.

Last August, he came to the academy as its most junior chaplain to replace the retiring Lt. Cmdr. Seth D. Phillips. For his indoctrination, he worked with the incoming midshipmen, who were also getting indoctrinated as he helped them get through those grueling “plebe summer” days.

Navy chaplains such as Sherwin minister to and interact with members of diverse faith groups, enabling the free practice of religion for those they serve and nurturing their spiritual well-being by living, working, eating and praying with them.

They offer faith leadership, personal advice and solace by providing religious ministry and support, facilitating the religious requirements of those from all faiths, caring for service members and their families and by advising the command to ensure the free exercise of religion.

Sherwin said his duties in Annapolis are a “little more low key and less pressured” than being in Afghan-istan, but “it’s every bit as busy.”

Sherwin related how one of the midshipman’s mothers sends a fresh-baked challah by special delivery each week. “We’re more than happy to let other families send food, but no chicken soup please, and no meat. It would make the kosher supervision in the parve kitchen too challenging,” Sherwin said.

It’s Sherwin’s hope that he can build positive relations with the aspiring officers, as his colleagues and predecessors have done. He envisions the day when they become officers and will run into him and say, “That’s my rabbi!”

“The midshipmen impress me every single day. They’re motivated, intelligent, driven, yet know how to have fun,” he said.

Having fun is important to Sherwin, too. He said he is undecided about his long-term career plans, but “I’m going to stay until it’s not fun anymore.”

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