Navy has three rabbis stationed in Tidewater

by | Oct 21, 2021 | Other News

Three rabbis walk into a bar.

One Reform, one Conservative, one Orthodox.

The story is significantly less funny than you might imagine. While, in general, rabbis tend to be pretty funny people when you get them together in social settings, this was a business meeting. It just happened to be in the bar of the hotel where the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council was engaged in annual training.

The three rabbis walked into a bar in Miami Beach, Florida to talk explicitly about building connection and community for Jewish military service members and their families in Tidewater. While synagogues and community organizations have long supported Jewish military members in the area, many military Jews (for a variety of reasons) still feel isolated or outside the mainstream community. Now, for the first time (possibly in the history of armed forces chaplaincy), three Navy rabbis would be stationed in the Norfolk area and they committed to working together to enhance Jewish Military connection and experience in Tidewater.

It is unclear which is more rare: three Navy rabbis stationed in Norfolk or the fact that these three rabbis from different backgrounds, experiences, ranks, and denominational affiliations like each other and want to work together to make things happen.

I have been in the area for several years. I grew up in Hampton, matriculated through Hebrew Academy of Tidewater and stayed active in the southside community through USY in high school. Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, I joined the Navy in 2011. In 10-years on Active Duty, my tours include 3d Marine Logistics Group in Okinawa, Japan, the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, and sea duty aboard the USS Oak Hill (LSD-51). I now serve the Navy as a clinical staff chaplain (hospital chaplain) at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.

I have been working for years to make Jewish connections between servicemembers and the community and with each other. But, I have never been more delighted than when I found out I would be able to work with these two exceptional other chaplains in realizing this dream.

The senior rabbi of the group, Rabbi Aaron Kleinman, grew up in Virginia Beach. A graduate of Norfolk Collegiate School, Kleinman studied at the U.S. Naval Academy before commissioning as a Naval Aviator. After tours at VAW 120 and VAW 121 here at NAS Norfolk, as well as DCMA Saint Augustine, FL, he entered the Reserves and began his Judaic studies. Ordained by Yeshivas Pirchei Shoshanim, Rabbi Kleinman has been assigned to Naval Station Great Lakes, IL; USS Harry S. Truman CVN 75 in Norfolk; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Marine Aircraft Group 16 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and is wrapping up a tour as the Chaplain Corps Officer Community Manager at Naval Support Activity Mid-South, Millington, Tenn. Rabbi Kleinman is a Commander (O-5) in the Chaplain Corps and will be serving as the Deputy Command Chaplain for Marine Forces Command (MARFORCOM) at NSA Hampton Roads.

“We’re not just colleagues—we are friends,” says Rabbi Kleinman. “We certainly have our differences, including different approaches to Judaism. But there is far more that binds us together than separates us, and we are certainly united in our desire to elevate the services available to Jewish military personnel and families in Hampton Roads.”

While Rabbi Yoni Greenberg has no youth connections to the area, his story might be the most eclectic. Having grown up in the Greek Jewish community, Rabbi Greenberg served in Greek Army’s Special Forces before emigrating to Israel. He studied at an orthodox yeshiva in Bnei Brak and received an orthodox ordination after four years. After also being ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Rabbi Greenberg’s previous tour was with Marine Corps Installations in Okinawa, Japan. He is currently in the Naval Air Station Oceana area.

Over the coming year, the rabbis will roll out a plan for holidays and education. Working with national projects produced by Aleph and the JWB: Jewish Chaplain’s Council, we hope to provide educational programming at all levels to military families. Coming from different backgrounds but working together, we hope to synergize trans-denominational Jewish education in a way that will enhance the spiritual experience of each service member and each family member.

“Judaism teaches that all Jews are responsible for one another regardless of denomination of level of observance,” says Rabbi Greenberg. “As military rabbis we are eager to help Jewish service members and their dependents in any way we can.”

Rabbi Yonatan Warren, BCC
Lieutenant Commander
U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps