A Tale of Two Chaplains

Lieutenant Commander Rabbi Seth Phillips of the U.S. Navy recently returned from Iraq, where he administered to and represented Jewish sailors and Marines fighting hard over there. This April he led a Pesach seder for about 50 Jewish Marines, soldiers and civilian contractors, as well as another for Christians – requested by a chaplain who “wanted his soldiers to experience a Jewish seder.”

As most of us know, the military stores kosher food rations, and Iraq is not an exception. However, this past Pesach no one seemed to realize that “kosher” did not necessarily mean “kosher for pesach.” No one that is, except Chaplain Phillips. By correcting the SNAFU in time he saved the military some embarrassment and he saved some Marines their dinners.

He’ll tell you that in his 13 years in the military, he’s never experienced anti-Semitism. Most problems that arise come from the military not knowing or understanding the Jewish servicemen’s needs. This is where Chaplain Phillips steps in – to be a voice of reasoning and explanation. That way, this Pesach, some Marines could go on eating so the military could go on fighting.

Chaplain Phillips is 53 years old, and one of only 8 Jewish chaplains in the entire Navy. He’s also 1 of only 29 Jewish chaplains in all 3 of the military branches. He was drawn to the chaplaincy a long time ago, when in college in the early 1970s, he took a career aptitude test that conveniently told him he’d be good at 2 things: the ministry, and the military. In light of the military atmosphere at the time, he opted to become a pulpit Rabbi first, and after being ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1979, he spent 13 years ministering to a congregation. He joined up after Desert Storm and has spent the last 13 years serving our Jewish servicemen – in Japan, Virginia and Connecticut. In about a year, he’ll be reassigned again to help more Jews in more places keep up their faith as they keep up the fight.

The ribbon he wears on his chest that says that he was in Iraq is the one he’s most proud of.

I mentioned there being a mere 8 Jewish chaplains in the Navy. 25% of them are represented in this article, and here’s #2: Daniella Kolodny. She grew up in Columbia, MD, a community where minorities were well represented. Her family did not raise her as a practicing Jew, but did give he a strong Jewish identity. After college, she realized that religion was her passion, and she went to rabbinical school for 6 years. Kolodny, 39, said she decided to become active duty last year after her brother-in-law told her that he had gone through an entire career in the Navy without ever meeting a Jewish chaplain. In May 2000, Kolodny entered the Chaplain Candidate Program and was assigned to the National Naval Medical Center in October 2004.

She calls chaplains “spiritual force-multipliers.” Chaplains tend to sailors’ spiritual needs and health, which is every bit as important, if not more important, then their physical well-being. 4-5 times a month, she’s on call 24 hours/day to respond immediately to spiritual crises. “…we have to be ready no matter what,” Chaplain Kolodny says.

This pesach, she felt she would be more needed on ships, where sailors have no access to Rabbis, than in Maryland. For two weeks, Kolodny took part as one of the chaplains on the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. The other chaplains and the Jewish sailors were happy to have her.

Trying to explain the plight of the Jewish sailors, she told the Forward Newspaper, “Military, unlike civilian society, is a pretty religious place,” she says, “Most of my chaplain colleagues are quite respectful and try to pray in pluralistic way, but the language of the ship is in a Christian tone, and so the Jews can feel a little isolated in trying to maintain a faith that is a minority faith.” Chaplain Kolody lets them know that they are not alone.


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“Rabbi Brings Spiritual Healing, Meaning to the Jewish”


“Military Services Hit Hard by Chaplain Shortage”