Jewish World Review /May 6, 1998 / 10 Iyar, 5758

‘AHOY!' in Hebrew

By Adam Katz-Stone

THEY STUDY, THEY JOG, THEY SAIL. They'll call ya "ma'am," they'll march in step --- and now they teach the basics of Judaism, too.

Jewish "middies" (midshipmen) at the U.S. Naval Academy have embarked on an innovative volunteer project this year. For the first time, they are lending a hand to the Daniel Rothman Consolidated School, a Talmud Torah operated jointly by the Orthodox Kneseth Israel Congregation and the Conservative Kol Ami synagogue.

Two or three midshipmen, dressed in full uniform, visit the school each Sunday to tutor students and prepare special projects.

It's an especially important project, given Annapolis' location. Caught between the major Jewish populations of suburban Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Annapolis Jews suffer sometimes from an acute sense of isolation. Besides the services that are held weekly at the Naval Academy, the city only has three synagogues and few of the "Jewish" amenities available in larger towns: a kosher butcher, a mikvah or Jewish community center, for instance.

"This is a very sparse area when it comes to Jewish children their age. Some can't relate to being Jewish or what that means. The midshipmen that come in can show them it's OK to identify with being Jewish and be successful in your secular life," observes junior Michael Doniger of West Caldwell, N.J.

The midshipmen volunteers say they appreciate the opportunity to share some of their Jewish learning, returning to a new generation what was imparted to them. "Some of the best feelings that I can have are those resulting from seeing the children smile about something they learned either about their religion or their own identities. It is then that I know I have done my job as a mentor," explains Misty Steinberger, a senior from Ft. Washington, Texas, who taught Sunday school at her home congregation, and who hopes to take part in the Navy's surface nuclear warfare program after graduation.

The Naval Academy experience strives to give midshipmen a strong sense of their own abilities as individuals, and it is apparent that the lesson has reached Mathew B. Krauz, a "plebe," or freshman, from Long Island.

"Each child is special and sometimes people forget to encourage the feeling of uniqueness as a positive quality," he says. "As a Jewish midshipman, I can show them uniqueness is a strength, and all of the children should flourish in their strengths."

Dawn Poley Schulman, education director of the 60-student school, describes the midshipmen as "wonderful role models." The students view them with "a great deal of respect: they come in with their uniforms on and the kids are in awe, and when they find out that they are Jewish, it just shocks them."

Unlike the stereotyped military officer, Schulman describes her "middies" as "warm."

"They understand the role that they have. ... I really see this program as a benefit to everyone involved."

JWR contributor Adam Katz-Stone is an Annapolis-based writer.


©1998, Adam Katz-Stone