#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.

#blogExodus 3: Cleanse

#blogExodus 5775 topicsI ought to be well on my way to cleansing my house of all traces of chametz, leavened grain products, but I’m almost assuredly not as far along in my religiously mandated crumb search-and-destroy mission as I could be. Better turn in my balabusta credentials before someone notices that I’d rather bake bread than obsess over the fact that enjoying such might leave a bit of floury evidence thereof in odd corners.

These days I’m more concerned about clearing out as much unnecessary stuff from our house as we possibly can before our next move. In over eight years of marriage and four different duty stations, we have managed to accumulate all manner of things we don’t need anymore: paperwork, old school notebooks, outdated clothes, small appliances we received for wedding gifts and never used, and hobby items we haven’t touched in years. I suspect the whole mass puffs up, like bread dough rising to peek over the top of its oiled bowl, when given time and inattention. (“Just throw it in the office for now. we’ll figure out where to put it later.” Surprise! We never figure out a better place for it.)

We have made some progress in clearing out a few things, such as a big pile of electronics that needed recycling, and it does feel good to reclaim the space — both mental and physical — it had ballooned up to fill. We have a ways to go before we’re ready for the mini-exodus that is military move, but given that it’s going to happen sometime between this Passover and the next, it’s not too early to look around with an eye toward cleaning out that which no longer serves.


#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.

#blogExodus 2: Bless

#blogExodus 5775 topicsA couple weekends ago, I was doing rather a lot of the opposite of blessing. My husband’s squadron had decided that it was sending a gaggle of instructors and students out of town in an effort to find better flying weather. The issue is that the decision was made on Friday that the trip would begin on Monday, which meant that there was no time during the workweek for my husband and his colleagues to make the necessary lodging and other logistical arrangements.

Our weekend was interrupted over and over again by the buzzing of my husband’s cell phone as everyone tried to bring the plans together by text message. Each new message took me further along the path from “mildly annoyed” to “irked” to “cursing the OPSO, the squadron, and the Navy with remarkable relish and far-ranging creativity.” By Sunday night, I was irritated with my husband for having the gall not to join me in my excoriation of his superiors and minute, trenchant analysis of their shortcomings both personal and professional.

“You know,” I finally grated at him, “sometimes I just want to hear that you think the situation sucks, too.”

He continued folding laundry for a few beats before speaking. “I’m not thrilled about how this is playing out, either, but there is a limit to how much I can let myself think that it sucks and still be able to do my job.”

In that moment, understanding broke through my annoyance, and I was ashamed. What I had been telling myself was companionable commiseration over a crappy set of circumstances was being received as a shove off balance. I had, in turn, misinterpreted my husband’s need to maintain an even keel as a frustrating lack of acknowledgement of my efforts to vent “with” him, never mind that he never expressed a desire to vent in the first place.

Now I have an understanding that I didn’t have before, thus proving that there is still more to learn even after almost a decade of having a significant other on active duty in the Navy. Next time we run into one of these not-uncommon military inconveniences, I’ll know better, and that insight will feel like a blessing.

Baruch atah, Adonai, chonein hadaat. Blessed are You, Adonai, who graces us with knowledge.


#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.

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.

September Snuck Up

September’s arrival brought with it a refreshing drop in temperature, a breath of autumn that puts me in mind of new school supplies and apple-picking with Hillel.  Alas, I neither have need of new school supplies, nor am I any longer a member of Hillel’s target demographic.  (For the goyim, Hillel is an organization for Jewish college students; I was heavily involved in my college’s chapter back in the day.)  The lifting of summer’s lethargy that comes with the cooler weather is welcome even in my post-academic life, though, and I’m getting excited about the coming fall.

Rosh Hashanah is coming up, with its promises of apples and honey in hopes of a sweet new year.  In fact, friend of mine from college just sent me a link to a delectable-sounding apple and honey challah that might have to find its way into my baking rotation for the holiday.  It would be more fun, of course, if I could look forward to the annual apple-picking trip with a Jewish community of my peers, but we haven’t found a group in our area that evokes the same sort of camaraderie.  Part of it is that we’re stuck between ages or phases of life that have strong support groups.   Having graduated years ago, we’re too old for Hillel.  We’re married, so Jewish singles groups are out.  We don’t have children yet, so we aren’t networking with parents taking their kids to Hebrew school, either.  I know some synagogues have “Young Professionals” groups that cater to those in our situation, but our shul isn’t one of them.

Oh well.  It’s not like we’re stationed someplace with no Jewish community whatsoever, which could easily become the case if we wind up in Japan.  I just get a little sad thinking that for as long as we’re moving at least every three, we will perpetually be “the new couple” at whatever synagogue we attend (let’s face it: there are some shuls where you can be “the new couple” for ten years or more).  It would be nice to meet some local folks our age with whom we could exchange Shabbat dinner invitations from time to time.  It’s tough–some would say impossible–to be a Jew in a vacuum, but we don’t have the luxury of putting down roots in one community and letting relationships develop slowly over many years.  Couple that with the fact that both my husband and I are inclined towards introversion, and we’ve got ourselves a problem for which we haven’t yet found a solution.  But who knows?  Maybe the upcoming year 5770 holds some fresh insights for us.

Ah well, social maunderings can’t detract too much from my overall anticipation of the new season.  My baby (!) brother is turning twenty-one, my college roommate is getting married to my husband’s college roommate (sounds like a sit-com, huh?), and we are lucky enough to be spending this autumn in a part of the country filled with deciduous trees that will soon be turning glorious colors.  Life is good.

Decor in the Theme of Guilt

My husband and I find ourselves, at present, in a curious situation for a military family: that of living relatively near family.  Wonder of wonders, we are actually in a position to play host to family coming into town for my cousin’s wedding this weekend.  My mom, dad, and little brother (who has yet to see our house, having been busy finishing up undergrad for most of the time we’ve lived here) are descending upon us this Friday.  I suppose the courteous thing to do would be to have the guest room cleared of my beading and sewing paraphernalia and the floors free of the cat hair tumbleweeds that spring into existence when we turn our backs.  I swear we could make three more cats out of the fur they bestow upon this family like it’s fairy dust.

Luckily for me, while I am going to make an effort to get the house cleaned up, I don’t have to develop a case of OCD to do so.  My folks are wonderfully easygoing houseguests who don’t mind when a home looks a little more “lived in” than “museum-quality and dust-free,” and my brother lived until recently in a college apartment with five other dudes.  You do the math on that one; I should probably set out a pizza box and an arrangement of empty beer bottles to make him feel at home.  (Maybe not.  Lest you get the wrong impression about my brother, I should tell you that he is fastidious by nature and not inclined towards indulging in the usual 18-to-22-year-old male schlubbiness.  I understand that the six-dude apartment was far from the disaster area one might expect.)  In any case, while we’re going to clean up the place, we’re not living in fear that anyone is going to bust out the white glove treatment on us.

I tell you all that so you know that the domestic guilt I feel tugging at my nerves is of my own neurotic invention, not anything inflicted upon me by my extremely good-natured family.

I regret that I have not put up curtains anywhere in the house.  It didn’t particularly bother me not putting up curtains at our previous duty stations, because those places were temporary and so it was completely understandable that we wouldn’t want to waste time and money decorating that which wasn’t ours, not really.  But this is our house, bought in mortgage payments rather than rent checks, and I feel guilty that I wasn’t overcome by a new homeowner’s zeal to mark her territory with carefully chosen window treatments.  We don’t even have blinds or shades in our bedroom.  (Get your mind out of the gutter — we did have the decency to preserve our neighbors by blocking the windows first with cardboard boxes, then with marginally less trashy tea towels.)

I clearly would like to have curtains.  It does, in fact, bother me that we don’t have any up.  So why in the name of all that’s good and holy don’t I get off my tuchus and put up some curtains?  Good question, and I have a litany of excuses with which to answer it.

  1. Curtains are too expensive for the simple lengths of fabric that most of them are — you’re paying for the convenience of having pre-made panels.  I cannot bring myself to pay that much of a premium for something that isn’t perfect when I know I could spend a fraction of the money on fabric and thread for handmade custom pieces.
  2. I want to make curtains myself, as I know I have the skill to sew straight lines with my sewing machine.  When I go to the fabric store, though, I am overwhelmed by choice and pop mental circuit breakers when I try to divine exactly what this mythical “perfect” is.
  3. I know, I know, perfection doesn’t really exist, and for something as trivial as home decor I should just make something and try again later if it turns out I don’t care for it.  Curtains are not house tattoos.  Changing them does not involve painful and expensive laser treatments during which one wonders why in the hell their younger self thought a unicorn leaping through a heart of flames would represent their “true inner self” forever and ever.  (This is why I will never get a tattoo.)  Knowing perfection doesn’t exist doesn’t make the fruitless pursuit of it any less seductive, though.  It’s great: I can agonize and go back and forth and hem and haw ad infinitum without ever having to make a decision or do any work.  The excuse, “Oh, I’m still looking for the right fabric for my glorious home decor vision.  Boy, it will be fantastic when it’s done, you wait and see!” can be stretched out for years if you like.

The real biggie, though?  The real reason we’ve lived here in our own house for over a year and haven’t put up curtains?  I am scared that the instant we make this place too much our own, the second we get all our rooms set up the way we want them, someone will jump out at us from behind a tree with a set of orders  and a pack-out date of tomorrow.  I like living here.  I would love to find out that we’re staying here for my husband’s first fleet tour, because three years — three whole years compared to the three months we were at the last duty station and the bare year we were at the one before that — sounds like an eternity.  It sounds like time to get really settled in and worry about fussing with window treatments and maybe painting a room and gardening.

Yes, gardening.  I have guilt about that, too: a good-sized front and back yard all our own, and I haven’t planted a single flower.  That might have more to do with being too lazy to get out and water any plants I might choose than weird hang-ups about getting too attached to a house we might be leaving in a matter of months.

There is one home-related task I think we can cross off our to-do list before my folks and little brother get here on Friday, and that is to finish Rustoleum-ing the outdoor furniture my grandparents passed along to us when they got new stuff for their deck.  By Friday evening, I hope to be relaxing outside, gin and tonic in hand, on our shiny new-to-us chaise longue and laughing with my family at a low-key backyard party before the big bash my cousin’s wedding promises to be.  That’s pretty motivating, as is the fact that the grandparents who so sweetly gave us the furniture might drop by to see the house the morning after the wedding, and I don’t want them to see the paint job half-done.

All right, enough rambling.  I’m off to have breakfast so we can get going on what we need to get done in order to enjoy our time with family.  I’m really looking forward to it, because my family’s not going to care whether or not I have the perfectly coordinated curtains of which I feel I ought to dream.

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.