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Jewish Service Members Convene for Shabbat Renewal

Chabad’s Aleph Institute Welcomes Jewish Members of the Military for Five Days of Renewal

Marine Corporal Dina Obodyanik is the crew chief of an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. She’s been serving in the military for three years, maintaining the aircraft in flight and on the ground. 

Obodyanik, whose missions now take her across the country, grew up in Chicago and attended Jewish schools, nurturing a strong Jewish identity. Although there is little in the way of Jewish resources on base at Quantico, Virginia, she travels to nearby Baltimore or DC where she can access anything Jewish.

But it wasn’t until February 28 that the Marine Corporal would enjoy a full blown Shabbat experience with military personnel like herself. Upon the urging of several fellow Jewish Marines, Obodyanik attended the Aleph Institute’s 17th annual Shabbaton and military training program at The Shul in Surfside, Florida. Joining her were some 120 service members of all of the United States military’s branches, as well as members of the militaries of several NATO countries and Israel.

Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Obodyanik. “But I made friends easily, and the classes were interesting and relevant. Especially with the uprising in antisemitism around the world, it was a very meaningful experience.”

Now, the Marine Corporal says she’s got a network of people all over the world she can connect with and lots of invites for Shabbos if she’s traveling. And she has decided to become an Aleph lay-leader at Marine Corps Base Quantico—largely a training base—”using what I learned from Aleph to offer the brand-new Marines to incorporate Judaism within their lifestyle.”

The Shabbaton is a project of the Aleph Institute. Founded in 1981 at the direction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Aleph provides crucial financial, emotional and spiritual assistance to thousands of Jews separated from traditional Jewish communities—including Jews serving in the Armed Forces. 

Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum

“This is the only place for them to truly celebrate being a Jew and a proud member of the U.S. military at the exact same time,” said Chaplain Maj. Elie Estrin, USAFR, who serves as Aleph’s Military Personnel Liaison. “Here, they’re surrounded by people who get them; they’re with their own.”

It’s an opportunity for guidance that may be hard to otherwise come by for many observant members of the military. Ensign Rachel Widman, who serves on the United States Coast Guard cutter VALIANT, had questions about how to keep Shabbos while serving as the vessel’s Communications Officer.

Being out at sea presents different halachic queries, and without the technical know-how of what Widman’s job entails, civilian rabbis often can’t answer them properly. But the Aleph Shabbaton, Whidman says, was a breakthrough. “It was a huge turning point for me when I was able to ask halachic questions to an IDF rabbi who was at the conference. It was amazing to have guidance on how I can still be  Torah-observant while serving on this path that Hashem has put me on.”

Former US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James speaks at the Aleph Shabbaton alongside Chaplain Maj. Elie Estrin-Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum

The Shabbaton facilitates training for the 30 chaplains endorsed by Aleph, as well as a number of lay leaders.

One such chaplain is Chaplain Commander Aaron Kleinman, USN, who serves on the pre-commissioning unit assigned to the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. Kleinman flew the E2C Hawkeye aircraft in 87 combat missions and made some 50 carrier arrested landings. 

Kleinman eventually got his rabbinic ordination and rejoined the Navy as a chaplain in 2008—and has been to many Aleph Shabbatons.

Dinah Obodyanik poses with her mother during flight school in front of an MV-22 Osprey aircraft

“It has been amazing to watch the improvement in quality and quantity of participants and the quality of training,” Kleinman told Lubavitch.com. “This year was notable in its focus on resilience. There were speakers and panels on the chaplain’s role and the lay leader’s role in resilience, on personal resilience for each service member—it was outstanding.”

Chaplain Lt. Col. Joseph Friedman, came from Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo, Japan, where he has been on temporary assignment since December 2022. “The conference is an incredible opportunity for my colleagues and I to network, learning from others in areas I wouldn’t otherwise know about,” he said. Friedman brought two airmen from Yokota, who were “blown away” by the experience of proud Jewish life in the military.

The Shabbaton, he says, has become “a charging port for the souls of Jewish service members, where they get a massive shot in the arm as they learn that they’re not alone.To me, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Credit Yisroel Teitelbaum
Chaplain Joey Friedman lecturing at the final event at the conference, a class titled Israel’s Wars Through the Lens of Jewish Law.
Chaplain Joey Friedman with the two airmen he brought from Yokota Air Base to the Aleph Shabbaton
Comment 2
  • Dr. Ronald W. Kaplan, Rabbi

    Thank you for this wonderful article! I, too, was very fortunate to attend the conference as a VA Rabbinic Chaplain, proudly together with my son, Army Captain Rafael J. Kaplan, MD, serving in Vilsek, Bavaria. I felt honored, informed, and inspired to be among these Jewish military leaders, representing our American armed forces throughout the world!! As well, I truly felt a strong kinship connection with Klal Yisrael in the presence of Jewish military from all US branches, Israeli IDF officers, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany, The host congregational Rabbis and members warmly welcomed us among them for Erev Shabbat services and dinner!! Tremendous learning and Chevruta were enjoyed and appreciated by everyone participating!!! I am deeply grateful to the Aleph Institute for their many outstanding contributions of programmatic planning, logistics preparation, and spiritual support for each of us present. I look forward with anticipation and excitement to next year’s conference. Kol HaKavod v’Rav Todot.

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