United States Naval Cmdr. Elaine Goodman Luria appears at ease when there’s a new adventure, opportunity, or challenge to be seized. Whether it is operating ships for the U.S. Navy, imagining, starting, and expanding a new business, or raising a family, Luria calmly and efficiently takes it all in stride.
While she doesn’t appear to make a big deal about it, this Jewish woman from Birmingham, Alabama was, until last month, responsible for approximately 400 personnel as a Surface Warfare Officer. On April 27, Luria was relieved as Commanding Officer of Assault Craft Unit Two in a ceremony held at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. The ceremony marked the completion of a successful tour for Luria who served as the unit’s executive officer and commander from July 2014 through April 2017. The Change of Command also marked Luria’s retirement from the U.S. Navy after 20 years of service (24 years, when including her education at the U.S. Naval Academy).
Luria and her husband, Cmdr. (Ret.) Robert Blondin, who retired after 27 years of naval service, have lived in Norfolk since 2000. With three children: Chloe and Claiborne (who are adults) and Violette (who is in elementary school), the couple plans to remain here.
“This will be home,” says Luria. “We will stay here permanently. The community has so much to offer and we’ve developed lots of friendships over the years.”
Settling in Norfolk seems natural for Luria, because, as she notes, “my family has passed in and out of Norfolk since World War II when my grandmother’s sister was married to a Navy doctor stationed here.”
Although both of her grandfathers served in the Navy, that wasn’t her life plan until she attended U.S. Naval Academy Summer Science and Engineering Seminar, a high school program on the historic campus in Annapolis, Maryland. Luria decided right then and there that a career in the Navy was for her. She applied—and naturally, she was accepted.
“I am proud to have taken the oath to serve our country when I was 17,” Luria says. In 1997, she graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in physics and history.
Since then, her assignments have included five deployments to the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Western Pacific areas of operation and two assignments forward-deployed to Japan in USS O’Brien, USS Harry S. Truman, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet embarked in USS Blue Ridge, USS Mason, USS Enterprise, and as executive officer of the guided missile cruiser, USS Anzio.
Under Luria’s leadership, Assault Craft Unit Two supplied combat-ready landing craft in support of all amphibious forces on the East Coast, including five Amphibious Ready Group deployments to the Mediterranean and Middle East areas of operations, humanitarian assistance to Haiti during Hurricane Matthew relief, multi-national exercise Cold Response in Norway, and support for United States Marine Corps assets in Honduras and Panama.
Jewish and female in the U.S. Navy
While there is a large Jewish community at the Naval Academy, Luria says that was not the case on the six ships on which she served. Not one to allow obstacles such as no nearby rabbi or no convenient source of Passover foods to interfere with plans, Luria managed several times to help coordinate Passover Seders and volunteered to serve as a lay leader.
“On the ships, we used a military version of the Jewish prayer book for services,” recalls Luria. “On Passover, we had Haggadahs and received care packages of matzo and gefilte fish and had the meal prepared as close as possible to what would be served at a Seder.”
When asked if it was difficult being female and Jewish in the U.S. Navy, Luria’s response is without hesitation.
“I believe that over the decades, that the Navy has been a step ahead of society in terms of integration and acceptance,” she says. “The Navy embraces diversity. I never felt that I was treated differently.”
Retirement and mermaids
As Luria enters retirement, she’s moving full throttle into another sort of seabased adventure. This one, however, is not made of steel or based on foreign affairs, but rather on fantasy, city spirit, and creativity.
In 2013, she and her husband opened Mermaid Factory in Ghent. “A place to paint your own mermaid,” the couple had the idea for the shop, approached the city of Norfolk and obtained a license agreement. One stipulation of the agreement was that a portion of the cost of each mermaid be donated to organizations that support youth and the arts. ForKids, Norfolk Public library, and Chrysler Museum are among the many recipients of the funds. Now, with an additional location at the Oceanfront, 10 employees, and more than 43,000 mermaids already painted, Luria says her focus will be to help grow the company, alongside her husband and Chloe and Clairborne.
But, for Luria, there’s more than the Mermaid Factory on the horizon. For example, she’s one of 25 enrolled in the University of Virginia Sorensen Institute Political Leader’s Program.
And, she says she plans to get involved in the Jewish community.
The first step on that journey was to join a temple. “We joined Ohef Sholom Temple and enrolled Violette in Religious School,” she says.
“We are very happy to have joined the OST community and have felt welcomed,” Luria says.
“My mother was the president of the local chapter of National Council of Jewish Women in Birmingham. Both my mom and grandmother were active in NCJW, Hadassah, and Sisterhood at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, as well as with the Birmingham Jewish Federation,” she says.
Now, she says it’s her turn to get active.
– Terri Denison