West Point celebrates 25th anniversary of Jewish Chapel openin

By Tommy Gilligan, Pointer View Assistant EditorNovember 19, 2009

West Point celebrates 25th anniversary of Jewish Chapel opening
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Jewish cadet roots at the U.S. Military Academy stem back to the first graduating class in 1802, when Simon Magruder Levy of Baltimore finished second in the class. Since Levy\'s graduation, more than 900 Jewish cadets have matriculated from the grounds of West Point, while countless others have participated in the cadets' education in and out of the classroom.

However, the Jewish cadets did not have a sanctioned place to worship for many years until they began using a chemistry lab in Bartlett Hall Saturdays to practice their faith. In the 1960s, a serious movement began within the Jewish community to build their own chapel.

Unlike going to "the town hall" to get a building permit and proceed to the construction of the chapel, there were many other hoops to jump through to make their vision of this structure into a reality.

The reality occurred with the groundbreaking in 1982 and the first service being held in 1984.

The Jewish Chapel celebrated its 25th anniversary Nov. 13 on the grounds of what only seemed to be a dream years ago. Flag level officers, West Point graduates, World War II veterans, cadets and members from the local community filled the pews of the Chapel to rejoice in the achievements of what it represents. Even though its main mission is catering to the needs of the Jewish community, the Chapel is a safe haven to all.

President Obama sent his remarks on the day. "Places of worship like the West Point Chapel serve as temples of peace, fellowship and quiet solace for the cadets, officers, educators and staff. On this special occasion, I am pleased to join the West Point community in celebrating the proud heritage of the Jewish faith and the significance it holds in the lives of countless service men and women," he wrote.

As the celebration continued, members of the official party shared their thoughts and feelings about the growth of the Jewish community at West Point through the years.

Major Gen. Jeffery A. Jacobs, Class of 1979, spoke of his time at the academy prior to the Chapel being built, spending Saturday evenings in the chemistry lab. He recalled how he and his fellow cadets bonded during this time. As he closed his remarks, he looked over to the crowd of cadets saying, "For all we may know, our first four-star Jewish general may be sitting here in the pews."

As Jacobs stepped down from the podium, Lou Gross, Class of 1954, walked to the front of the congregation to recognize a man who had been influential in the fund raising for so many projects at West Point including the Jewish Chapel--the late Herbert S. Lichtenberg. Gross presented Lichtenberg's wife and two sons with a plaque for what he had done--helping to build the only free standing Jewish Chapel in the entire Department of Defense.

The ceremony closed with the Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir singing the Alma Mater. Members from the surrounding community then entered the community center for the holy evening and the beginning of Jewish Warrior weekend.