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Naval Academy Dedicates Its First Jewish Chapel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October

The dedication of a Jewish chapel on September 18 at the U.S. Naval Academy was hailed as symbolic of the acceptance of all religions in America.  

“At the Naval Academy, we embrace freedom of religion in all that we do,” said Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, academy superintendent.  

“Whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, Latter-Day Saints, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or one of the many other religious faiths, we owe our midshipmen the opportunity to practice their beliefs as well as to understand how religion enters into their roles as combat leaders,” he said.  

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, said: “The strength of our diversity is the greatest strength of our nation.”  

On hand for the dedication was Senator John Warner (R-VA), who was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II. “As always, our Marines and sailors will draw comfort and inspiration from their religious faith, nurtured by our Chaplain Corps in magnificent chapels like this one or from the back of a Humvee on a sandy desert eight times zones away,” he said.  

The Washington Times (Sept. 19, 2005) reports: “The new chapel is part of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center, named after one of the first Jewish U.S. Navy officers, who was a hero and prisoner for 16 months during the War of 1812. He served for 50 years, bought and restored Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, arranged for the Jefferson statue to be placed in the U.S. Capitol and was fervently patriotic. ...”  

Construction of the 35,000-square-foot center began Nov. 2, 2003. It includes a 410-seat synagogue, a Character Learning Center, Fellowship hall, classrooms and offices. The interior includes a 12-foot-wide prism, constructed in the shape of the Star of David, illuminating a mosaic tile floor of the atrium. The chapel side of the center includes a 245-foot-tall replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The entrance is an adaptation from Monticello.  

Washington Jewish Week (Sept. 15, 2005) notes that, “Harvey Stein had a dream: Provide Jews at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis with their own worship space. Nine years and almost $9 million later, his dream will become a reality.”  

Stein, an Annapolis businessman, says: “This will become one of the most important Jewish buildings in the country. Lives will he touched in ways that we will probably never fully know.”  

Rabbi Irving Elson, the academy’s Jewish chaplain, says: “This is not just a building for Jews. It’s the next step for the academy in demonstrating how important faith is, any faith. It’s a symbol of tolerance and inclusion and for understanding how important faith is in the toolbox of our future Navy and Marine officers. I want our officers to recognize that even if they don’t have a faith themselves, that faith is important to the men and women they command."

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.