Rare Army Rabbi Serves Soldiers
July 13, 2010
JOLON, Calif. - Col. Jacob Goldstein, Army Reserve chaplain, is a man worth noticing when he wears his military uniform.
An Orthodox Jewish rabbi assigned to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, Goldstein made a sudden impression on Reserve troops when he visited Fort Hunter Liggett during the Combat Support Training Exercise - a large scale logistics sustainment exercise held June 16-24, which recreated a deployment environment for over 2,000 Army Reserve Soldiers.
Sporting an epic white beard, the 63-year old Brooklyn, N.Y., native's facial hair caused quite a stir in an environment where clean-shaven faces and finely trimmed haircuts are standing orders.
"My first thought was, 'Wow! He has a lot of hair,' said Spc. James Bridges, a cook with the 352nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Macon, Ga. "We just had an Army birthday and I thought the beard was part of a joke."
Pfc. Cortez Peters, a cook with the 442nd Quartermaster Company, Bellefonte, Pa., was also surprised by the chaplain's appearance, giving Goldstein a once-over before approaching.
"I've never seen a person in the military with a beard before," said Peters, a Trenton, New Jersey native.
Goldstein, who wears a matching Army-issued yarmulke with his Army Combat Uniform, said the purpose of the visit was to get acquainted with the forward operating bases and conduct Jewish services in the field. Goldstein recognizes the importance for Soldiers to become familiar with his position and his role in providing pastoral support, regardless of religious denomination. He also appreciates being among the troops because he understands their purpose.
"I love Soldiers," Goldstein said. "I love their heart . . . I know what a Soldier does each day, what they experience."
Goldstein has made visits around the world on behalf of the military for more than 33 years. Serving since 1977, he has deployed to Bosnia, South Korea, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Goldstein was also instrumental in stateside affairs. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, he served for five months as the senior chaplain for all military branches at Ground Zero.
Goldstein is one of only seven Orthodox Jewish chaplains serving in the Army. In 2009, he helped military officials at Fort Benning establish weekly Jewish and High Holiday services on base, where they previously didn't offer any, and helped the base to start serving kosher meals.
Goldstein said the military's continuous effort to foster religious freedom within its ranks is a trait he deeply respects.
"The military gives great deference to religion," said Goldstein, "You ask any commander - any Soldier that is spiritual and has some religion makes for a good Soldier. The fact the Soldier has some kind of comfort and has some faith - regardless of that faith - if you believe in something, that's important."
Goldstein's religious practice of keeping an unshaven beard almost kept him from remaining in the Army. Jewish law forbids a rabbi to shave his beard, but Army regulations forbid Soldiers from having beards while in uniform. An exception to policy was granted to Goldstein because of his date of entry into service. With a shortage of chaplains available, Goldstein applied for an extension of service (reservists usually resign their position at age 60). He has two years remaining on the extension, but is more than comfortable continuing to reach out to troops.
"I love Soldiers," said Goldstein, "and that's why I'm in the Army."