Jewish Chaplain grateful for Belvoir experience
July 12, 2013
Chaplain (Capt.) Rabbi Heather Borshof, Installation Troop Support Chaplain, arrived at Fort Belvoir in April of 2011 open minded about her first assignment as an installation chaplain.
Borshof had the knowledge she acquired during her training course at Fort Jackson, S.C., but had no practical experience.
"It's very exciting and nerve wracking," said Borshof of coming to her first assignment. "The Jewish community was well established here despite not having an active duty Jewish rabbi for quite a while. So, I needed to find out what the congregation was used to and how that worked with what I wanted to do."
Fortunately for Borshof, the rabbi who conducted services at that time still had time left on his contract. So, Borshof was able to observe several services he conducted and figure out how to best apply her knowledge to what the Jewish congregation at Belvoir was accustomed to.
"I was interested to see how services were conducted and what I could do with the services because we all have different styles," said Borshof. "There were things I observed that were different from what I learned in training, but there were also things I saw that I could bring in that would be beneficial to the congregation."
One change Borshof made was how several of the prayers were chanted. Most Jewish prayers can be chanted or sung in a variety of ways, so Borshof knew the way she wanted to chant several of the prayers may not sit well with the congregation.
"What people think is the right way to do something is the way that they know," said Borshof. "So, when you change the melody there's resistance because people think this isn't right."
Though Borshof did change the melody for several of the prayers, she said she did her best to learn the way the congregation liked chanting other prayers.
"I chose to learn some of the prayers the congregation already knew because you want to keep the continuity," said Borshof. "You want the congregation to feel like it's still their church."
Changing the way certain prayers were chanted was not the only adjustment Borshof wanted to make. Increasing the number of volunteers within the congregation was also important, she said.
In February, the congregation put on a play for Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire. Borshof said the number of people who volunteered to perform is what made the play a success.
"I had a lot of volunteers help out and they did a terrific job," said Borshof. "We had one of the best Purim spiels that we've ever had. It makes it that much more special when volunteers come in and help out."
There were responsibilities within Headquarters Battalion that Borshof had to take care of along with her job as the installation's rabbi. One of the battalion responsibilities she enjoyed was talking to Soldiers who came to her for help.
"It's very rewarding to be able to speak with them," said Borshof. "It's a give and take. They come to you for help and hopefully we are able to help them with their issue."
The majority of Soldiers who came to her for guidance were not Jewish, according to Borshof. Whether they were of the same faith or not, she said they were still able to speak the same language because of the trust each person had for the other.
"Soldiers come in and talk to chaplains because of the trust factor and that's really special," she said. "Often, the trust they have for us helps us as much as we are able to help them."
The support system Borshof had within the Chaplain's office was very instrumental to her success the last several years. Having experienced Chaplains like Col. Phillip Hill, Lt. Col. James King and Maj. Kristi Pappas to go to for advice was a huge advantage when it came to balancing her religious responsibilities with her battalion responsibilities, according to Borshof.
"They were very supportive," said Borshof. "You're pulled in many different directions, but I was never told, 'Well, you have this responsibility but you need to be here now.' The battalion and chaplaincy understood my various responsibilities and worked hard to make sure I could do what I needed to do without making me feel like I was ignoring another responsibility."
Learning how to work with different people from retirees to active duty, her supervisors, the battalion Soldiers, people in and out of her faith are lessons Borshof said she will take with her as she continues in her Army career.
Though excited for the future, she admits she will miss being at Fort Belvoir.
"I've had wonderful people I've worked with and for while at Belvoir," said Borshof. "Everybody has made me feel comfortable with everything I've tried to do."