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February 22, 2011 3:23 pm

Military Brass Gather in Miami for Aleph Institute Faith Conference

avatar by Rachel Soussan

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Chaplain Danzinger, Canadian Army, (second from left) together with Chaplain Goldstein, US National Guard (far right) were granted permission to keep their beard on religious grounds. Stern (center) hopes to win his impending court case and become the first US Army chaplain to have a beard. Photo: Rachel Soussan.

Last weekend the fourth annual Aleph-Military faith conference took place at the Aleph Institute in Miami Beach, Florida. Guest speakers included the Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Carver, Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich of the Navy as well as Colonel Dr. Fruchter, head of the mental health department of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).

Next to the Jewish Welfare Board, Aleph is the only other Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agency to recruit, vet and endorse orthodox Rabbis for the Army, Navy and Air Force, Active, Reserve and National Guard. The Aleph-Military faith conference aims to bring Jewish military chaplains together and provide a forum for discussion of relevant topics in relation to spirituality and pastoral work within the military. This year the main theme was “Resilience” and lectures were held on how chaplains can convey the idea of being resilient to their soldiers, particularly in times of distress. “The Army describes Resilience as ‘the ability to bounce back'” one chaplain explained. “In practice, this means teaching soldiers to maintain mental stability by increasing self awareness as well as helping soldiers to recognize and enhance personal strengths.” The new Master Resilience Training program is a cognitive behavior model based on the work of Dr. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of Psychology.  While the MRT course is currently only available at three locations it is the ultimate goal of the Army that all soldiers, from  privates to generals, receive this training.

Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, who founded the Aleph institute in 1981 under the direction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, stressed the importance of helping soldiers find meaning in each and every event in their lives. “Ascribing personal meaning and purpose to one’s life can be extremely therapeutic and can expedite the healing process. It is a natural and powerful ingredient for resilience”, he said.

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The longest war that America has been involved in to date, Operation Enduring Freedom has lasted almost ten years and for the first time in history, the proportion of suicides in the Army, is higher than in the general population. The US Military has responded with an increased focus on spiritual fitness, a concept previously absent from the training of being a soldier. “The New Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program of the US Army consists of five pillars. These are emotional, social, physical, family and spiritual fitness. It is the goal of the Army chaplaincy to strengthen spiritual fitness in all of our soldiers.” Chaplain Carver stated.

Dr. Colonel Fruchter, head of the mental health department of the IDF commends chaplains on their cooperative work in strengthening mental fitness of soldiers. Photo:Maxine Dovere.

Also present at the conference was Rabbi Menachem Stern. Backed by Aleph, Stern is currently suing the Unites States Government for the right to join the Army as a Jewish chaplain. His request was denied when he refused to shave his beard, which he keeps for religious reasons. Former lawyer to John Lennon, Nathan Lewin, who won the right for Jewish military personnel to wear a ‘yarmulka’ in the 1980’s, said “Forcing Jewish military personnel to shave violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Similar exemptions have been granted to Sikh soldiers. It is the right of Americans to express their religious affiliation.”

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