Sasebo reaching out to Jewish community
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — An accurate count doesn’t exist of those practicing Judaism at this small base, but a rabbi visiting here this week estimated no more than 10, and likely fewer.
Lt. Col. Brett C. Oxman, a rabbi and U.S. Air Force chaplain attached to the U.S. Forces Korea Chaplain’s Office, met Wednesday evening in the Community and Education Center with a few Jewish individuals who otherwise lack pastoral care or guidance.
Sasebo has three chaplains assigned to the shore command, but none have the training to attend to the specific needs of Jewish personnel.
Often, a base population must rely on community members willing to serve as “lay leaders” to facilitate activities for a particular faith. That’s part of the reason he visited Sasebo before he travels to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station for a similar visit.
Lt. Howard Polanski, a dentist at the base’s Navy Branch Dental Clinic, and his wife, Nina, informed Cmdr. Harvey Ranard, Sasebo’s command chaplain, that they would serve as Jewish lay leaders. Ranard helped arrange Oxman’s visit, hoping Polanski would acquire some ideas from the rabbi to develop the base’s Jewish community.
“I just noticed there weren’t many options for things to do in the absence of a significant Jewish population,” Polanski said. “To do the kind of things the rabbi generally does takes study for many years.
“But by trying to offer what we can, we hope some of the Jewish people in the community will come out of the woodwork and participate,” he added.
Kiddush gatherings are one way, Oxman said, to provide for the needs of Jewish people in a remote location such as Sasebo with no Jewish chaplain. The meeting Wednesday evening was a small-scale Kiddush, attended by just a few.
“It’s a limited service that could be done here,” the rabbi said. “There are usually a few contemporary scenarios presented that point to a dilemma pertaining to some issue. Then those attending discuss the scenarios and what they may or may not do in such a situation. After that, we come back to the scenarios and discuss them further based on biblical values.”
Oxman said food is an essential ingredient at a Kiddush.
“They tell me they don’t really care all that much about my talking and teaching; they want to come for my wife’s cooking,” the rabbi quipped. “But seriously, the gatherings help to create that sense of fellowship people need, and it seems to usually begin around food.”
Accordingly, Polanski indicated he had good news for future Kiddush gatherings: His wife, he said, also is a great cook.