#blogExodus 10: Join

#blogExodus 5775 topics

My husband was kind enough to allow me to share the story of how he joined together with his Jewish community aboard the USS Enterprise despite the difficulties of deployment in the spring of 2011. I’ll turn it over to him for today’s post. Enjoy!


I knew before the deployment started that celebrating Passover would be a little challenging. But, like most things, it’s just a matter of finding the community and going for it. The Navy is very good about arranging to have rabbis come out to forward deployed areas for Jewish holidays. The only question that remained was whether to enjoy the holiday aboard Naval Support Activity Bahrain or try to stay overnight on the Enterprise.

I made that call once I saw an old friend from Jewish Midshipman Club (JMC) aboard the ship. He was a submariner on a shore tour. But, since he was attached to the destroyer squadron as an undersea warfare specialist, it was one of those deploying kind of shore tours. So, counter to every single bit of COD guy training I had received since officially becoming a COD guy, I asked our officer in charge if I could stay aboard the ship for a night. On purpose. No mission requirement for such. He didn’t see a problem with it.

I rode in the back of the COD out to the ship. As I was walking through the Air Transfer Office shack, I spotted a man with a black kippah on his head. This, evidently, was the rabbi. The ATO shack is where all passengers going onto and coming off the ship via aircraft muster. He had conducted a pre-Pesach Seder the day before, with the intent of celebrating aboard NSA Bahrain on the actual day. But, he assured me there were plans to have a Seder-in-a-box shindig aboard the Big E.

A COD sits aboard the USS Enterprise beneath a star-strewn night sky. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

A COD sits aboard the USS Enterprise beneath a star-strewn night sky. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

I ran into one of the ship’s chaplains who got me the time and place for the Seder. We managed to snag the captain’s in-port cabin. Nice! With this critical question answered, I spent most of the day getting a sunburn out on the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) platform watching recovering aircraft. I even got up there to see a night recovery for the first time. The night was absolutely gorgeous.  A full harvest moon hung lazily on the horizon directly behind the aircraft coming in on the approach, illuminating some distant clouds. Directly over the ship, it was painfully clear, a million stars lighting the night.

Seeing flight operations at night is one hell of an experience. On the cat shot, the afterburner seems to leave a trail of fire behind each jet.  For landing aircraft, even with our exceptionally bright night, at first all you see headed towards the ship are a series of position lights. The LSOs record which wire the aircraft caught for each pass. In the day, it’s a trivial matter to see. At night, you have to catch seeing the sparks next to the capstan for whichever wire plays out. Once we completed the recovery, I went down to the in-port cabin.

A photo of the "Pre-Pesach Seder" conducted the night before Sampson arrived aboard the USS Enterprise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick C. Scott/Released)

A photo of the “Pre-Pesach Seder” conducted the night before Sampson arrived aboard the USS Enterprise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick C. Scott/Released)

The captain’s cabin was set up with a white lace tablecloth and plastic dinnerware. Two huge boxes contained our Seder supplies. For karpas, there was raw onion.  The charoset was this compressed stuff that looked like a PowerBar. The maror was in little single-serving packets. There were the obligatory boxes of matzah, plus round matzah, which I had not seen before. There were a bunch of plastic Seder plates as well. For wine, we had enough boxes of grape juice to supply a third-world country.

If the supplies were a bit, ah, expeditionary in nature, the company was fantastic. My friend from JMC showed up. A department head from HS-11, our helo squadron, was the only other pilot. There was a lieutenant from Supply who was born in Columbia and raised in Venezuela.  The Seder was led by an Intel ensign. On the enlisted side, there was one guy from the ATO with whom my detachment worked all the time, so that was another familiar face. There were four ladies, three of whom were nukes, one of whom was not actually Jewish, but came along to support her friend.

The Seder was conducted a bit quickly. Most of the crew had done a pre-Seder with the rabbi the previous night that was exceedingly lengthy. Just as we reached the Festival Meal, an alarm sounded over the 1MC.

“Man overboard, starboard side. This will be a helicopter recovery.”

When a man overboard happens, it is necessary to account for every individual aboard. The boat exploded into a controlled kind of chaos.  People in shower shoes and bathrobes started moving towards their work centers to muster. With my detachment not aboard, I didn’t actually have anyone with whom I had to muster. I decided to go down to the VAW-123 Screwtops ready room since the ship’s E-2 squadron is who typically takes care of us.

We watched the action on the PLAT camera as the helo spun up. On the water, someone had dropped flares to mark the position of the unfortunate individual. The helicopter lifted, cut back and forth several times, and within thirty minutes, plucked the man from the Arabian Gulf. Later we would find out that this was a suicide attempt.

Actually, many Jewish holidays fall on good nights for a high probability of rescue from the sea. That full moon provided 99% illumination. When the person you’re looking for doesn’t have a float coat, cranial, or any other reflective material, you need all the help you can get.

We returned to our Seder once the action stopped. There was no real Festival Meal to speak of, so after helping the mess cranks clean up, I went down to Wardroom 2 for some midrats. There are two basic foods aboard a ship that are almost always going to be delicious: omelets and soft-serve ice cream. The ice cream is called dog. The machine has an arm you lift that looks like a tail. Lifting the tail of the dog to get some ice cream is an appropriately crude visual metaphor for the environment. I don’t know how exactly, but I definitely want to integrate these foods into my Passover tradition from now on.

It was a wonderful experience to celebrate the holiday underway, about as close as one could get to celebrating with family while thousands of miles from home. It can be a strange thing to be a Jew in the service. You are a minority among your fellow sailors and the Jewish population at large. But, I just can’t see doing it any other way.


#blogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

Advertisements

2014 in a Dozen Photos: January-April

Now that we’re a week into 2015, I feel a belated urge to offer up a neatly-wrapped version of my 2014 — you know, the kind of bloggish year-in-review that those writers on top of their game presented in the dwindling days of December. If you’re looking for evidence of grand, probing contemplation of the past year and its moments of deep significance, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed in my quick-and-dirty version of a year-end wrap-up.

I have selected one photo from each month of 2014 for a collection of twelve vignettes. These dozen snapshots will not present anything resembling a comprehensive look back, not least because there were a number of months in which lots of things were going on and I [arbitrarily decided that I] may only choose one picture. These pictures aren’t necessarily the most important or best artistically or any other superlative from each month. Still, each jumped out at me for some reason, so we’ll go with that and try to keep the analysis to a minimum.

January

January 2014: Pensacola Blizzard

This dusting of snow completely shut down our area for three full days.

The first month of 2014 brought something rarely seen in the steamy, Southern city of Pensacola, Florida: frozen precipitation. Although we grew up rolling our eyes at the way the DC area flails when it snows, even that looks like steely-eyed competence when compared to the Florida panhandle response. Of course, snow happens so rarely here that one can hardly blame the locality for investing in hurricane prep rather than plows, salt, and gravel. It was fun having my husband home for three unanticipated “snow days” from this single dusting, and we indulged in wax log fires and obsessive jigsaw puzzling.

February

February 2014: Peacock up a tree

A denizen of the Gulf Breeze Zoo surveys his domain from above.

Any semblance of a Floridian winter evaporated quickly, so we were soon enjoying “spring” with outdoor activities and strolls through the Gulf Breeze Zoo. I had no idea that peacocks were even capable of getting up into trees; I’d always thought of them as ground-dwelling birds, akin to fancy chickens.

March

March 2014: Chag Purim Sameach!

Chemistry geek alert: “Queen Ester,” at your service. (Not pictured: the whiskey flask in my back pocket.)

March brought the Jewish month of Adar II, which brings Purim! Purim is one of the most fun, carnivalesque holidays on our calendar, and its celebration involves reading the Book of Esther, dressing in costume, and imbibing spirits. I let my geek flag fly with a punny “Queen Ester” costume: each molecule on my shirt is a different ester, which are often responsible for a particular fragrance.

April

April 2014: Backyard Blue Angels Practice

We have an excellent view of the Blue Angels’ twice-a-week practices from our backyard.

In order to minimize my husband’s commute to the flight line, we chose to live very close to NAS Pensacola. One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how one is disposed toward the “sound of freedom”) is that we essentially get a free air show from the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron twice a week throughout much of year. I like the Blue Angels, despite the fact that working around their practices is a pain for my husband and his fellow instructor pilots on base. It gives me a warm fuzzy that Pensacola natives, by and large, take a great deal of pride in “their Blues” even if they have no official military affiliation.

#BlogExodus 3: Enslave

#BlogExodus promptsI am having trouble with this prompt. Although the holiday of Passover requires us to see ourselves as having personally been freed from slavery in Egypt, I am loath to use “enslaved” to describe any aspect of my life in the United States, a country where I enjoy personal, political, and religious freedom largely unprecedented in history. In a world where actual human trafficking and slavery still poison the lives of real people, anything I could say about enslavement in my own life feels like hyperbole to the point of absurdity.

With that in mind, it’s a good thing I have teachers who can help me to see that the concept of metaphorical or spiritual enslavement can provide a useful lens through which to view parts of our lives that have become tangled. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s post on today’s #blogExodus prompt acknowledges her own difficulty with using such a strong word as “enslaved” (“And usually it’s not a term I would use,” she writes) to describe a potentially unhealthy relationship with the Internet, email, and our myriad digital distractions. When they control us, we are — metaphorically — enslaved.

Reading Rabbi Barenblat’s take has helped me get past my initial strong hesitation about how today’s prompt could possibly apply to my own life. I can see where the way I think about my relationships with some things in my life have me entangled, or feeling other than free.

Take my husband’s daily flight schedule, for instance. It is a fact of military aviation life that we do not find out what Sampson is doing on a given day until about five o’clock the evening before. Depending on how the “sked” is written, we might find out this evening that he has a brief just twelve hours later at 5:00 AM, or we might see that they switched him to nights and he won’t be home until 10:00 PM. It is what it is, and mostly we roll with the uncertainty, despite the difficulty it presents for making dinner plans with anyone in advance.

Lately, however, I have noticed myself getting a little too caught up in it, allowing my own mood to be dictated by whether my husband has what I see as a favorable schedule. That ought to be a signal to me to loosen my grip, take a deep breath, and disentangle my emotional state from this thing over which I have no control. If I can shift my focus away from my frustration at the constant flexibility required of us, I think I’ll find that I feel less like a slave to the exigencies of squadron scheduling.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

Primary

In honor of my husband actually being scheduled to fly today for the first time in millennia*, here is a video of fresh-faced young SNAs flying the aircraft he flew three years ago.

Makes the mighty T-34 look pretty cool, huh?  Of course, all my flight experience to date is in wee Cessnas, so take the fact that I would jump at the chance for a T-34 ride with a grain of salt.


* Slight exaggeration. Slight.