Israel, the US Sixth Fleet, and USEUCOM

Rabbi Resnicoff has visited Israel countless times, both as a civilian and with the US military. Here are some highlights:

His first personal connection was forged in 1966-67, when he spent a year there between his sophomore and junior years of college. Rabbi Resnicoff spent the first nine months living and working at Kfar Glikson, a kibbutz in northern Israel, on the Jewish Agency’s Sherut La’am program for young American Jews. Translated as “Service for the Nation,” the program was referred to as a “Jewish Peace Corps for Israel.” He then spent three months working at the Youth Center in Bet Shemesh, at that point a “development town” — a village where new immigrants were settled in order to develop areas that could be significant in the country’s future.

Rabbi Resnicoff in the back row, third from the left.

As part of his final steps toward ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Resnicoff participated in a study program in Israel.

Later as a chaplain, Resnicoff led many visits to and ceremonies in Israel.

In 1983, as the Assistant Sixth Fleet Chaplain, Rabbi Resnicoff led a specially approved interfaith religious service, with men and women sitting together, at Israel’s Western Wall (Kotel) — in the newly-excavated area to the left of the outside portion of the Wall known as Wilson’s Arch. The Jerusalem Post covered the unprecedented event. (Ilan Chaim, U.S. Navy Chaplain Conducts Western Wall Interfaith Litany (September 5, 1983)) The Times of Israel remembered the event more recently. (Amanda Borschel-Dan, The day Israel gave its blessing to egalitarian prayer at Western Wall (June 30, 2017)) At the time, the Jerusalem Post asked the Ministry of Religious Affairs “to comment on the mixed-sex, mixed-religion service.” According to the article, the Ministry’s representative, Yonatan Yuval:

said the ministry was glad to organize such a service for such distinguished visitors.  Asked whether such an event would serve as a precedent for a visit by a civilian group also led by a Conservative rabbi from the U.S., Yuval said this would be impossible.

Yuval confirmed that this was the first time the ministry had  allowed such a mixed service. He added that the ministry would be happy to repeat the courtesy for future visits by the U.S. Navy.

In 1984, invited by Aura Herzog, President Chaim Herzog’s wife, Rabbi Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King Day, held at the president’s residence in Jerusalem. (Saul Jay Singer, The Jewish Press, Martin Luther King and the Jews (January 14, 2015); Emily Burack, Dartmouth Vietnam Project, Oral History Interview with Arnold Resnicoff (February 10, 2016); Wikipedia) Resnicoff quoted the famous verses from Genesis 37:19-20 spoken by Joseph’s brothers as they saw him approach in Dothan: “Behold, here comes the Master of Dreams. Let us kill him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.” He noted that in every age throughout the course of human history there have been individuals who believed they could kill the dream by eliminating the dreamer but, as King’s life demonstrates, such people are invariably proven wrong.

As the Assistant Sixth Fleet Chaplain, Rabbi Resnicoff led several visits to Israel. He often timed the ship’s approach to the port with a Jewish service onboard, in order to fly the Jewish worship pennant above the US flag (the one time any flag is permitted to take that position). In Israel, he became friends and collaborator with Gilla Gerzon — the “mother of the Sixth Fleet.” Rabbi Resnicoff and Sixth Fleet Public Affairs Officer Peter Litrenta recommended that a USO be established in Haifa, and that Gerzon be appointed its director. The country’s first USO was established in Haifa in December 1984, with Gerzon at its helm, and she remained in that position — establishing the Haifa USO as one of the most popular in the Mediterranean — until safety concerns forced it to close in September 2002. They also opened a US Navy lounge in Jerusalem’s beautiful Laromme Hotel.

The Jewish Worship Pennant flies above the American Flag aboard a U.S. Navy Ship, symbolizing “One Nation, Under God”
Dedication of U.S. Sixth Fleet lounge at Jerusalem Laromme Hotel (September 1983). Chaplain Resnicoff carries the Sefer Torah; Rabbi Benjamin Pery, the hotel’s rabbi, is at left; and holding the talit over Resnicoff is Haifa Navy Base Chaplain Menashe Schwartz.

On March 19, 1993, Rabbi Resnicoff delivered the commissioning prayer for the Israeli ship INS Eilat in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Eilat was the first in a new class of combatant “corvette” ships, built as a joint US-Israeli project. Speakers at the commissioning included Rear Admiral Ami Ayalon, Commander in Chief, Israeli Navy, and the Honorable Ismar Rabinovich, Israeli Ambassador to the United States.

As Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), in 1998-99 Chaplain Resnicoff hosted and coordinated the first official visits for the Army, Navy, and Air Force Chiefs of Chaplains to Israel, one of the nations within the USEUCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR).

US Navy Rear Admiral Byron Holderby (USN Chief of Chaplains, second from right, next to Chaplain Resnicoff) plants a tree at Israel’s John F. Kennedy Memorial (August 1998)
Major General William Dendinger (USAF Chief of Chaplains, seated far left) and Major General Donald Shea (US Army Chief of Chaplains, seated second from right, next to Chaplain Resnicoff) at a dinner with Israeli religious leaders of different faiths (May 1999). Gilla Gerzon is in the red jacket.