Deputy Director and Commandant, Chap. (Col.) James Palmer, Jr. glances at content on the phone with IDF Rabbinate Chief of Staff, Col. (Rabbi) Avner Cohen during the team visit to U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership on June 27. (Photo by Mel Slater)

IRL, USARCENT host Israeli rabbinate

By Mel Slater, Institute for Religious Leadership

The Institute for Religious Leadership trains chaplains and religious affairs specialists to provide religious service support for our Soldiers wherever they are in the world and provide that religious service support – no matter what religion.

The Institute occasionally trains clergy from other militaries from around the world. South Korea, Serbia, Taiwan, Ghana, Jordan, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Armenia, Afghanistan, Latvia, Philippines and Bosnia Herzegovina are countries that have sent their soldiers there to train. And the list continues to grow. The most recent country added to the list is Zambia.

Recently, members of another country came to Fort Jackson for a visit.

The IRL, in collaboration with U.S. Army Central, hosted a team from the Israel Defense Forces that came to Fort Jackson.

The visiting team of three was led by IDF Rabbinate Chief of Staff, Col. (Rabbi) Avner Cohen. He was joined by Lt. Col. (Rabbi) Haim Dov Weissburg and Maj. Aviad Simhoni.

“We are so excited to host our fellow religious partners here at the USA-IRL for the first time,” said Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Swift, USARCENT command chaplain. “We are hoping that they find what our school offers to be useful in our developing partnership. It is extremely vital we nurture religious ties as it increases our support and strengthens our force.”

“The visit with the IDF Rabbis was extremely successful. I appreciate the support from the ARCENT command chaplain’s staff for their assistance in making this happen,” said Chaplain (Col.) James Palmer, Jr, IRL deputy director and commandant. “These visits with our international clergy help to build strong partnerships and will bear fruit for years to come and serve the mutual benefit of both nations, their armed forces, and the respective chaplaincies that support those who serve in uniform.”

The team expressed an interest in sharing religious affairs resources, educational and training opportunities between U.S. and the IDF military rabbinate. The desired goal is to develop partnership centered around religious support religious supplies. The team is interested in educational opportunities beginning with short courses.

“Religious support plays an essential role in both of our militaries and this in-person visit at the home of the Army Chaplain Corps furthered our ability to partner with the IDF,” said 1st Lt. Scott Klein, Israel Project Officer for USARCENT.

IDF religious leaders received a campus tour of USA-IRL by program leaders, educators and USARCENT. During the tour, the IDF received a brief on the school course offerings, discussed opportunities for collaboration on logistical supplies in IDFs region, and reviewed the history of the Army chaplain corps.

The team from Israel arrived June 27 for their visit and met with the USA-IRL team of Palmer, Sgt. Maj. Frederick Cohen, acting senior enlisted advisor, the academy’s Director for the Religious Leadership Academy, Chaplain (Col.) Dan Hardin, and Graduate School Dean, Chaplain (Col.) Roy Myers. Also included was USARCENT Chaplain, Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Swift. The groups sat down together for a light snacks and introductions.

Palmer led the group on a tour of the campus beginning with the auditorium. The auditorium was recently renovated. There are now photos depicting religious support themes. Photos of rabbis are included along the walls of the auditorium.

Next, was a tour of the Fox and Poling Building where Chaplain Basic Officer Candidates receive classroom training. Fox and Poling are the names of two of the four chaplains killed in a German submarine attack on the USAT Dorchester water vessel during World War II. The other two were Washington and Goode. Goode was a rabbi.

The next stop was the Chaplain Corps Memorial Garden. During the tour, an impromptu special moment occurred at the Memorial Wall.

“I was deeply touched when (Rabbi (Lt. Col.)) Haim Dov Weissburg offered a sung prayer in Hebrew to honor American chaplains and religious affairs specialists who’ve been killed in our nation’s wars,” Hardin said. “There was a sense of kindred fellowship that filled the courtyard of the memorial. I look forward to deepening our partnership and friendship.”

They then toured the Army Chaplain Corps Museum. Both groups expressed their appreciation of the meeting and discussion of future possibilities to meet again and work together in the future.

“I can’t wait till I see our rabbis go to this school and learn together with your chaplains,” Cohen said. “Thank you for everyone who invited us here.”

(Editor’s note: Sgt. Amber Cobena, U.S. Army Central, contributed to this article.)