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Interview with Mordechai Schwab, May 4, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Mordechai Schwab, May 4, 2007
May 4, 2007
Interview with Navy Lieutenant Mordechai Schwab, Chaplain.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Schwab, Mordechai Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  5/4/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina, Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 4th of May in the year 2007 and we're interviewing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This interview is part of the chaplains video project. My interviewee today is navy lieutenant Mordechai Schwab. Good afternoon, sir.

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina, Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 4th of May, in the year 2007, and we're interviewing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This interview is part of the Chaplain's Video Project. My interviewee today, is Navy Lieutenant Mordechai Schwab. Good afternoon, sir.

Schwab: Good afternoon to you.

Zarbock: And are you in good health and in good spirits?

Schwab: Yes, I am.

Zarbock: All right. Would you tell me, please, Chaplain, what individual, series of individuals or event or series of events, led you into identifying the life of a rabbi as your personal professional selection of careers?

Schwab: Well, sir, I would start with, actually, my father. When I was a child, well, he was not a rabbi; his brother was, and his father was, and up several generations. So, when I was little, he used to always say, I'm going to be a rabbi, I'm going to be a rabbi, I'll be a rabbi. And I guess I finally jumped in, when I was about eight years old. I came up to him one day, and said, "Dad, am I a rabbi?" He just laughed, obviously, and said, "Of course, not" but, and then-- so, I was raised in a traditional Jewish household.

Zarbock: Where?

Schwab: In Louisville, Kentucky. And I went to a Jewish day school there, for eight years, went to high school for one semester up in Chicago, and then I finished out public high school. It was only after I became an adult and I met my wife, and after we got married, shortly after, she was the one that encouraged me to go and become a rabbi.

Zarbock: When did you graduate from high school?

Schwab: 1983.

Zarbock: Okay. And what career were you headed for in those days, or job?

Schwab: The thing is, really, back then, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with my life. I'm sure that's a little common with a lot of people at that age. I didn't really want to go to college. I would have to be paying with my own money to go to college, at that point, and I figured I would be kind of wasting my time, really, and it was my father, again, who-- he encouraged me to go into the military. He had been in Navy Reserves for some years, and so that's, in fact, what I did. I enlisted in the Navy. Came on active duty, spent four years on active duty, and I guess kind of grew up in those four years' time.

Zarbock: So you came out when you were about-- you were about 22 years of age?

Schwab: That's correct.

Zarbock: And did you have any marketable skill?

Schwab: I worked as, I guess what we would call a human resources, did a variety of other jobs, as well, but my main job, from day to day, was working-- clerical work. I became an office supervisor before I got out. Ended up in those four years, I actually came back in on active duty and stayed eight more years, approximately.

Zarbock: 12 years in the Navy.

Schwab: So, 12 years total; yes, sir.

Zarbock: Where were you stationed?

Schwab: I was stationed in a place called Naval Air Station Cecil Field, which was in Jacksonville, Florida. I did three tours, three deployments on the USS Forrestal, which is-- you might have heard of that. It had, back in Vietnam, it went to go to Vietnam, never made it there. There was a very big, tremendous, terrible fire on that ship, so I did three deployments on that ship. Went to the Mediterranean Sea and different countries, what the Navy calls "assist fleet." I was stationed in Jacksonville my whole time, except for my last, not-quite-four, years in Orlando, Florida, at a Naval Training Center there.

Zarbock: With 12 years under your belt in the Navy, was that going to be a career for you?

Schwab: I guess I had planned on it.

Zarbock: Had you married?

Schwab: I got married within my last four years of being on active duty, and my wife, Miriam, she actually came home one day from work. She was working at the only kosher restaurant, at the time, in Orlando, and the funny story is, she says, "Well, my boss and I, we decided something, today." I said, "Oh, really? Well, what did you decide?" She said, "Well, we decided that you should become a rabbi." [laughs] So I kind of laughed a little bit, and, again, knowing my uncle when I was a child who was a rabbi; he had a synagogue; he was a pulpit rabbi, and seeing the different-- while there's all kinds of benefits and stuff, I also saw the inside problems that he had, as well. In my mind, I was thinking, well, that was really the only thing I could do as a rabbi, and something I really didn't want to do. [laughs] And I told my wife that, I said, "Well, you know, I appreciate the compliment, but; thank you, but no thank you." And she really-- and I also knew what it would mean to the wife of a rabbi. It kind of goes part and parcel with that. I'm not sure I-- I didn't think she really quite understood all that at the time, but, after she kept asking me, every day, every single day for a solid week, so I said, "Okay, well, let's sit down and talk about this." And I said, this is-- I said, "If I pursue this, then I will definitely need your support, 100 percent, both moral support and it's a full-time job, going to school, and I'm going to need financial support, as well. It means you'll have to go and get a full-time job."

Zarbock: Now, you were armed only with a high school degree?

Schwab: That's correct.

Zarbock: Now, you-- well, what faced you? College, before?

Schwab: Well, I went to a school that also offered college degrees, so I did get a Bachelor degree, what they call a Bachelors of Palliative Law. It's equivalent to, like, a Bachelor of Science degree, I suppose. It's accepted within the United States Navy, the Army, and as well law schools and whatnot, too, as well. So I went, in the end. So she, of course, agreed, and then we started to search for schools. An interesting story that goes along with that: we had many friends within the civilian community of Orlando, and we started looking around different locations and I was actually going to go-- we were going to go with Baltimore. There's a big rabbinical school there and, before we left, friends of ours in the community said they wanted to talk with us. So, okay, what do they want to talk about? They said-- well, he was a podiatrist and quite successful, but he wanted to move-- and he told me, he said, "I want to move," and he said, "Before you make a decision where you're going to move, can you include us with that? Because we want to move with you." I was very flattered, and so...

Zarbock: How had you developed such a strong relationship? On what basis?

Schwab: Just coming to the synagogue where he attended as well. He invited us to his house, kind of opened his house to us, and we would go over there to have meals with them.

Zarbock: Did you have children?

Schwab: At that point, we did not.

Zarbock: Did they have children?

Schwab: They had, at that time; they had three kids, three children, and I think the oldest one was maybe eight years old or so, approximately, so they wanted to move out of that community for their children's education. They felt like they weren't getting what they needed, there, and I said, "Okay." And they said, "Well, could you do me another favor?" He said, "Could you maybe possibly look into schools here in Florida, in a warm climate?" He said, "My wife is from Miami Beach, and she's never lived outside of the state." I said, "Well," I said, "yes, but the only thing is, I'm not aware that there are any schools here." Well, he'd already done all the research. [Laughs.] And he said, "I understand." He said, "Another friend of ours, who's from Miami Beach, as well," he says, "He tells me there's a wonderful school in Miami Beach. It's just a small school, but I think it will fit your needs." I said, "Okay." I said, "We'll take a look at it." And we did. So in fact, that's where we went for about four years. I ran out of money, but I did get a bachelor's degree from them; otherwise, I would have stayed there probably for the whole time, until I got my rabbinical ordination. What it was, why did I run out of money, even though my wife was working, I was also eligible for the GI Bill, but that particular school was not on the approved list for me to receive the benefits of it. So, okay, so I ended-- once upon a time, I had in the back of my mind, Yeshiva University, which is a bigger rabbinical school. It's a well-known institution. Like it says, "Yeshiva" means a school for-- to learn, university is just that. So they have both, they had, on their campus, a school of social workers; there's a law school, there's even Albert Einstein Medical School, is a part of that Yeshiva University. So we went up there. My wife got a job...

Zarbock: You packed up and left?

Schwab: We packed up and left after four years. And...

Zarbock: The climate is a little different.

Schwab: The climate is different. Yes, sir. But it was good. While there, it was-- I got a little experience in a community in New Rochelle, New York, which is about 15 miles north of where Yeshiva was in...

Zarbock: But now you're available for funds under the GI bill?

Schwab: Exactly.

Zarbock: That helped. And the student fees and tuition.

Schwab: Actually, at their rabbinical school, it's all, 100 percent scholarship, so I went up there, took an interview, got tested, got tested first and then took an interview, actually, with the dean of the school, and brought with me, where I had sent, in advance, letters of recommendation, with all the-- filled out all the paperwork, of course, application paperwork, and I was accepted. So that was-- what we had to pay, was for basically, our rent and, obviously, living expenses and so forth. So that was a tremendous benefit. I'm not sure exactly how I would have done it without that, really, but even still, New York's not an inexpensive place to live, and so I had an opportunity to work part-time, and I got experience teaching adult education, Jewish education, within a synagogue in New Rochelle, New York, at the same time while I was attending the rabbinical school, so I was...

Zarbock: What were your obligations as a teacher of adults?

Schwab: I was teaching about five different classes a week. It began-- the easiest class for me to teach probably was the Hebrew alphabet, and that was one of the most popular classes as well, because a lot of people come. This is an orthodox synagogue, which that simply means everything they do in their service is in Hebrew, so a lot of people-- some people who come but a lot of people won't come, because they don't understand anything. They can't even read it or follow along with the service. So, just teaching them how to read, even if they don't understand it, but they can just look inside the prayer book and be able to read it; that was rewarding for some people. First class, I had over 20 people attend in this small synagogue. Another class was simply a Bible class on the Pentateuch. Another class I was teaching, if I can remember correctly, now, let's see, oh, just one on Jewish values, human interaction, personal interaction between people, and how to conduct oneself, whether-- even things just on an emotional level, not being too sad all the time, not being jealous, things like that.

Zarbock: How to live a wholesome life.

Schwab: How to live a wholesome life and try to work on the one's, I guess, character traits.

Zarbock: Yeah. That could be an explosive situation from time to time.

Schwab: It was very good, though, actually, and we used our traditional sources, and I gained a lot of valuable experience just teaching. I had never really done that on a constant, regular basis until that point. So, for me, that was very well and good. The downside of that was, it took away-- I needed a lot of time, more time to prepare, maybe, as opposed to a seasoned educator, and I went and actually talked to the administrator one day. I said, "I just need some advice." I said, you know, "This is," he knew I was working there, and I was, like, overloaded and he said, "Well," he suggested a couple things. And then, the last thing he suggested, he said, "Do you know about our Israel program?" And he said, "Have you ever thought about going to-- spending a year or two in Israel?" And I said, "Well..." I knew about it. I said, "I just don't think it's for us right now, though." And then he proceeded to sell me on that point. He said, "Well, you should really think about it." He said, "Everything is paid for. It's 100 percent scholarship, room and board included. The only thing you have to pay for, is to get your way there and back." So I said, "Okay, well, we'll talk about that."

Zarbock: And you get credit for this?

Schwab: And it's credit, yes. It's, I guess, like, a satellite school over there.

Zarbock: Sure. Classroom without walls.

Schwab: Right. So, actually, no, it was, it was in the classroom. I mean, they had...

Zarbock: Yeah, but I mean...

Schwab: [inaudible] Sorry. So I talked to my wife about it, and she said, "Okay, let's apply." So, again, not only did I get interviewed; she had to be interviewed, as well. Even though I was the one who would be attended, they wanted-- it was a very small school, and they were pretty selective, I guess, and in the end, we got selected to go. There was about, all together, 35 students of us that went. Unfortunately, we went there in 2001, for the school year 2001/2002 and, of course, that's when 9/11 occurred, that tragedy, and for them, specifically at the school, of course, a lot of people knew friends and family that were working at the World Trade Center at the time, so they were having tremendous difficulty; the school was getting new students. Their priority was, if you were there one year, their priority was getting new students to come, but, since they had such a difficulty getting new students, at some point during that year, I don't remember exactly when, they said, "Any first year students who would like to stay a second year? You have blanket approval; no questions asked, you can stay." So, we said, "Well, we'd certainly like to stay a second year," and that's, in fact, what we did.

Zarbock: What were your activities at the school?

Schwab: It was mainly we learned the Talmud, which is what we call the oral Torah. It was part of an oral tradition that had been passed down from father to son, teacher to student, for generations, going all the way up to Moses from Mount Sinai. Due to historical reasons, and political situations, about 1,500, 1,600 years ago, what we call the Talmud was committed to writing, and so we studied that. How one lives a traditional Jewish life today, essentially comes from the Talmud. Yes, I understand there's no cars and the different technology and stuff that wasn't there, but they still formed the basis of-- even what we do in relation to modern technology, comes from that. And then we learn applied or practical Jewish law as well. Again, how to live day-to-day living, and basically training us to be cognitive rabbis who can deal with situations. We may be getting questions, and "Can we do this?" "Can we not do that?"

Zarbock: So this is education and acculturalization.

Schwab: That's correct; yes, sir.

Zarbock: That's nifty.

Schwab: Yes, sir.

Zarbock: I hope it was-- what did you think about it?

Schwab: There's no comparison learning in New York as opposed to Israel. I mean, just the historical background in the land of Israel, just being there, our [inaudible] that even the air of Israel is different than-- whatever that exactly means, but there's-- I'll just share one short story. When I was in the Navy, when I was in the Navy and my ship, the USS Forrestal, we went to Haifa, Israel. After we came back, I was in a unit of about 60 people and, back at that time, it was men, so I'll just say 60 men. Every single person I'd come up to who had never been to Israel before, they said, "I don't know what it is about that place, but I had a sense of peace come over me. It was just a wonderful experience." Something that they couldn't quite describe in words, but they really thought it was just a tremendous place, unlike other places they'd been.

Zarbock: On a very mundane level, what would be a typical day?

Schwab: So a typical day there, we would get up in the morning; we would say our morning prayers together.

Zarbock: Were you living in the dormitory?

Schwab: So we were living-- yes, sir, we were living in a dormitory, so basically, right across the street was our school, and it was a very small school. We had, like, 35 students, approximately. So we would say our morning prayers. That would last anywhere from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Then we would go eat breakfast, and then we would commence to learn and prepare for a class that we would have. How we learned, we learned in pairs, so we had study partners. We learned in a big study hall, and whatever we happened to be learning, we both, we'd go kind of back and forth, trying to explain to each other how we understand whatever that particular track is that we're learning, and then we would normally get a class on it. Of course, taking the class could be anywhere from one hour to three hours. So the instructor, the teacher, the rabbi, would just lecture along, and take questions and answers throughout the class. Most of us would take notes. Some people, with the technology and stuff, they would be recording it, different media. Then, after class, we would go back and, depending on the time of day, go back and review what we just learned, or it may be lunchtime already, and go to lunch and then, in the afternoon, we'd come back and learn another track, learn something else.

Either it could be another fundamental piece of the Talmud, again, with a study partner, or it could be we were learning a part of practical Jewish law, keeping kosher, for example, the laws of the dietary requirements that the written Torah. The Pentateuch-- five books of Moses-- is very precise, very, like, we say not even a sentence is wasted, not even a word is wasted. Everything is there for a point, but it doesn't go into very-- all too detailed to actually how to apply it. That's where the oral Torah, or what we call the Talmud, the oral law, that comes into play, and that explains what it really means, practically, and how to put it into use. So we would do that for several hours in the afternoon, probably have another class, and then come dinnertime. Many of the rabbinical students would learn, again, at night for a couple more hours. While I was there, I was, actually went to a separate program to get education, so I did that for the two years I was there, as well. So it's a pretty full day from about 7:30 in the morning until about 10:00 at night.

Zarbock: Your wife is with you?

Schwab: And my wife is with me.

Zarbock: What does she do?

Schwab: And so there, she actually started, for awhile, she was going to a women's seminary and learning some classes. She comes from a more-- less traditional background than I had, so this was giving her more of a solid basis in her Judaism, basically. She did that until she got pregnant and we had our one and only child that we have, that was born there is Israel, and so that pretty much took all the time after that.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Schwab: Taking care of the little one.

Zarbock: What is the name of your son?

Schwab: Zev Nassonil. It's a Hebrew name. Zev was named after my father's father. We have a custom to name our children after a deceased relative, so-- and Nassonil means "a gift from God." We had been married for not quite ten years, and not-- different issues and whatnot, so, anyway, so we considered any child as a gift, but we considered him, especially, so we appended the second name, Nassonil.

Zarbock: Healthy child?

Schwab: A healthy child, healthy, and now he's four-and-a-half years old and got all the rambunctiousness and energy of a, I guess, normal four or five year old.

Zarbock: Gift of God.

Schwab: Yes.

Zarbock: Well, how long did this exciting educational experience go on?

Schwab: So, from beginning to end, seven years. Seven years I spent in school, four years, again, in Miami Beach and three years in Yeshiva University. It was really three and a half years in Miami Beach, I guess, and three and a half years at Yeshiva University, and two of those three and a half years we spent in Israel.

Zarbock: And back you came to the States.

Schwab: And back we came to the States.

Zarbock: Now there are three of you?

Schwab: That's correct.

Zarbock: And are you ordained-- what is the technical term? Ordination?

Schwab: Ordination, sure.

Zarbock: Who ordains you? How is it done?

Schwab: So I got ordained from a rabbi that sits on the Jewish Court in Jerusalem, actually, right before my first year in Israel, and how he does it-- there's a couple different ways. There's always a test involved. The test, I guess-- the more older, traditional way, would be to give an oral exam, sometimes it's just one rabbi, sometimes it's three rabbis. In a Jewish court, there will be three rabbis, so sometimes they kind of will have three, like, it's a very legalistic thing, but, to this day, any rabbi can ordain another person as a rabbi. This particular rabbi is known, though, throughout the Jewish world, anyway, so he gave me a written test and it took me about seven or eight hours to complete this test, [laughs] which is not uncommon, actually. It wasn't timed, so I had plenty of time to take the test and expand on the answers and whatnot. It was no multiple choice, it was all fill in the blanks, and after he graded the test, I came to, actually, to his apartment and he asked me several different questions and just gave me a charge, saying, you know, "This is not an end," as he put it, he said, "This is a beginning," he said. "Now this is, you know, I do this for you," you know, and he wrote me out in all Hebrew, but a Rabbinical Ordination Certificate, which says who he is, of course, too, but he charged me to continue. It's a lifelong process.

Zarbock: Learning. Yeah.

Schwab: Lifelong learning. And you do just that. And so that's it.

Zarbock: How old are you now?

Schwab: I am 41 years old.

Zarbock: Never had a steady job? [laughter] Okay, you come back to the States.

Schwab: So we came-- so I'll just backtrack a little bit. So, in that time, I had-- after I got, I guess, my Bachelor degree and right when I came up to Yeshiva University, I came in the Chaplain candidate program. I told my wife that I wanted the-- I always wanted to go back to be a chaplain. The whole time, the approximately 12 years I spent enlisted in the Navy, I rarely saw a chaplain, much less a Jewish chaplain, so I always felt that, you know, there was times, you know, I was lonely sometimes, there was times I certainly could have talked with a chaplain and so I wanted to go back and be able to provide, at least in some way, some sense, something that I felt was lacking when I was in. And my wife was keen to that idea, thought it was a great idea, as well. I just want to say, we can't do this without our wives, our families, and I just want to add that in right now, if I can. My wife totally supports me in this endeavor. So I went, and every chaplain, as you know, has what we call Ecclesiastical Endure Serve. So my Endure Serve asked me to come into the Army as opposed to the Navy. He said he considered, at that point in time, that the Army needed Jewish chaplains more than the Navy did. So I said, "Okay." I said, "I'd like to go where I'm needed most." And I said, "I will go in the Army, but I want you to-- if I want, at some point in the future, to come in the Navy, will you please let me do that?" And he said, "Certainly," so I went in what was called the Chaplain Candidate Program, which means I'm still in seminary. I was still in rabbinical school, not yet ordinated.

So I spent a few summers, during the breaks, at different-- not only the first part of the Army Chaplain School, but some Army bases as well, to get a little experience, to get an idea, a taste for what the chaplaincy is all about, what it's really like, on a first-hand basis, interacting with chaplains, going where they go to work and doing what they do. So, like, I got to go to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for almost two months in the end. I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for 30 days. So it was a varied experience, and they got me the chance to go with different chaplains. For one week, I would go for one place with the chaplain at the correctional custody facility, the jail. Another week, I went with the family life chaplain, saw what he did and got a chance to go out in the field, and spend a little time out there with them, the soldiers.

Zarbock: So you were assigned on the basis of job task, not on the basis of-- you were with another rabbi?

Schwab: That's correct.

Zarbock: You were looking at the spectrum of...

Schwab: Of the total...

Zarbock: ...tasks.

Schwab: Right. Exactly. Well, being a chaplain, even though I'm a Jewish chaplain, that doesn't mean I only cater to Jewish servicemen and women, for sure not. I'm assigned to a unit. Here I work at the School of Infantry, which is young men and women who, right after they graduate from their recruit training, they come here. They take leave for about ten days or whatever, and then they come here. So I'm a chaplain to everybody. If they have specific religious needs that I can't fulfill as a rabbi that they-- so I facilitate that by getting them another chaplain, of course. If they need to see a Catholic priest, for example, I'll do just that. So that gave me a little bit of experience of what being a chaplain in the overall-- in this particular place, the Army, at the time, was, and I loved it. I think this is just really great, to be able to serve our country's young men and women in such a way. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of it. So the first opportunity I had after I got ordination, I put my paperwork in and requested transfer over to the Chaplian Corps and go on active duty. I did just that. I came on active duty not quite four years ago for the second time, as chaplain this time, and I was assigned to a unit in Germany. It was a Military Intelligence Battalion and I got the opportunity to deploy twice to Iraq within a three-year period.

Zarbock: Tell me about that.

Schwab: So it was-- that was quite an experience.

Zarbock: Was your wife in Germany?

Schwab: My wife was in Germany. We had just moved to Germany. They had already deployed while I was still in school. I knew they were deploying, so I made nine months of a year-long deployment by the time I got checked in, processed, and there's a few other things one has to do to prepare for the deployment. She actually went back to south Florida. She knew a lot more people there and had a better support system, if you will. While I deployed, my wife and my son, they went back down there. So I deployed for nine months with this unit. It was very interesting. We had airplanes, so we weren't, like, ground units. We were what the Army would call a combat support unit, meaning we support the ground units with our different intelligence gatherings and the airplanes and whatnot, and whatever they do, exactly. So I was, I guess, as a Jewish chaplain, even though I was hired to the battalion, since we are such a small faith group, and I was, at the time, I think, one of two chaplains that were in Iraq at that point in time, so I would get a lot of calls from other chaplains, saying, "Hey, I got a Jewish person in my unit, can you talk to him?" or whatever. Usually, we'd do a Jewish service, our Jewish Sabbath service on Friday night, so I would always try to ask them, "Can he just come out there?" and just make it kind of more convenient. I didn't want to take too much time away from my unit, as well. That's usually how it worked out, pretty well, unless there was an emergency.

I really don't remember any types of emergencies like that. My first deployment, we were very fortunate. We didn't lose anybody within our particular unit. I found out, after I got there, though, they convoyed from Kuwait and one of the MPs, one of the military police that were escorting our battalion, this convoy was actually-- he did get killed during that convoy, through. I think, I believe it was an IVD, what they call a roadside bomb attack. So that affected, you know, the unit a little bit but, you know, the big challenge, not only did they not only have a chaplain assigned at that point in time when that happened, because I was still at school, had not yet made it there, but the battalion commander has an overwhelming responsibility to get-- they had not even come to begin their mission, if you will, yet, because they had not even arrived to Iraq yet. So apparently he, the way I understand it, just kind of sidetracked that, and kind of ignored that, and said, "Okay, this is what we've got to do. We're here. We've got to get and start working and do our job."

And so I talked to some of the senior NCOs, for example, the senior enlisted men and women and they said, "You know, we really could have used a chaplain, back then. We really needed one, but we didn't get any type of pastoral care or anything." So, again, you know, I saw right then and there, another concrete example of the care and of the need for chaplains today, as well as yesterday and tomorrow, too.

Zarbock: Rabbi, let me back you up. Something that appeared in one of the earlier interviews. You were in Germany. You've got a wife and you've got a son and it's pretty comfortable living there. All of a sudden, you say, "Well, sorry, honey; would you take baby with you? I've got to go into a war zone." Now, I'm buffooning that, but what was that like? How did you manage your relationship with your wife when you've got to go away and into what is a hazardous situation?

Schwab: Well, let me make a very fine point. I think, for me, personally, that was probably the most challenging, the most difficult part, was just being separated from family, and on a personal level, you know, we emailed. I personally had access to the telephone, and within my unit, we could use and make telephone calls. A lot of the service men and women don't have that opportunity, as you know, but we did. That could be a positive thing. That could also be a negative thing as well, but that's why, you know, our military today, the U.S. military has and is spending a heck of a lot of money. They recognize that this is a very real issue, and they consider the whole total quality of a person, not just the soldier, not just the sailor or the air man. It's the families as well, and they know that we're affected by being separated, and being-- whatever our relationships is with our families, that can and does oftentimes affect how we are on our job. So, I was able to communicate with my family. I don't want to downplay that it was not hard and challenging; it was.

Zarbock: But this is a total commitment on the part of your wife.

Schwab: 100 percent. 100 percent.

Zarbock: I'm not going to, you know, keep my arms around your neck and say, "No, please don't go, please don't go."

Schwab: Well, she didn't do that.

Zarbock: No.

Schwab: You know, for certain.

Zarbock: Irrespective of the fact she may have felt that.

Schwab: Right. Exactly.

Zarbock: But, you know, it's 100 percent commitment on her part.

Schwab: Oh, for sure. I couldn't do this job without her, and I've told her countless times, I couldn't do this job without her. I've told other people as well, you know? Really, if we didn't get the support from our families, from our spouses that we do get, we couldn't be doing this job like we do today. So...

Zarbock: And she didn't come from a military family?

Schwab: No, sir. No, she did not. So this is, the military recognizes that. In fact, as well, I think, next Friday, I believe, is Spouses Appreciation Day. This is one day of the year, although every day really is, but that they actually designate, just as a-- totally appreciation to the military spouses.

Zarbock: But her commitment is not only to you as an individual, but also to the-- your religion as you represent it.

Schwab: Sure.

Zarbock: Teach it and live it.

Schwab: Sure. And there's particular-- you know, we all have different challenges, and I told my wife, I said, "Well, one of my concerns is," before I left, before I deployed, is, "how will I be able to keep kosher?" The Jewish dietary restrictions. But, as you know, today, it has become very easy. In fact, now we can even get kosher MREs that, again, that's through the military supply system. MREs, by the way, are the meals ready-to-eat, the military meals. They've gotten a lot better, over the years. I know they had, back in, I think, World War II, what they called K-rations, and then they went to C-rations and now-- but they're a lot better, these MREs, meals ready-to-eat.

Zarbock: But you couldn't get everything that was kosher, could you?

Schwab: Well, again, I was fortunate where I was, because I was on a pretty big base there, and just going into their dining facility, their chow hall, breakfasts were easy. I could just eat cold cereal or even packets that-- they had packets of oatmeal, hot water and get a cup of coffee and fresh fruits and stuff like that. So while I'm very restricted-- but there's always some things I can eat, just there within the dining facilities. Plus, I was getting, my unit, they ordered me those kosher MREs, specifically. So I could keep that kosher diet, and I was supplemented from my wife and some other Jewish organizations and friends, as well, that were sending us, just, like, all kinds of other-- there was such a tremendous outpouring of generosity from the United States, American community, to support the service men and women. As a chaplain, I'm, if you will, I'm like the middleman, to distribute from all kinds of organizations, care packages-- either food, toiletries and other things, as well. So we got some from Jewish ones as well that were specifically, like, the kosher food and things like that.

Zarbock: I question theoretically, and in the abstract. You are Orthodox, and you're in a situation and you cannot get kosher food. What is the religious situation with you at that point? You're hungry.

Schwab: Sure. As the Torah says, "It's the Torah to live by, and our faith enough to die by," so meaning, if it's a matter of life and death, you have to eat, you have to eat. That's what one would do. I personally never had to resort to that, but certainly, that's what one would do, for sure.

Zarbock: But you are not commanded to starve to death?

Schwab: Exactly. Exact opposite. Then I would be commanded, I would be obligated to eat the non-kosher food...

Zarbock: Maintain life.

Schwab: Life takes precedence.

Zarbock: So you came back from your first deployment.

Schwab: Came back, and...

Zarbock: Landed where?

Schwab: We landed in Frankfurt, Germany. My base was in [inaudible], Germany, which is about a 30-minute drive, approximately, from Frankfurt. It was very-- my family, my wife and my son, they were there to greet me as well with the rest of our unit. That was pretty special. Again, just on the ride back, it was-- the police escorted us for the last, maybe, mile in, I guess, so we got-- that was kind of neat, and just coming to this "Welcome home" ceremony was just wonderful. So we got to spend some-- we had-- the Army has a week integration for the active duty units to get reintegrated back within the Army out of the combat zone. There's specific things we have to do for a week, and it's about half-days, and the other half-day is to be with the families and whatnot, as well. So we got a lot of downtime, and then we got to go take leave after that. So, what can I say? That was a wonderful time, just getting reintegrated, but it's also challenging, as well. Both of us have changed, you know; time doesn't sit still for a year or nine months or whatever the case may be. As much as we would like it to, it never does. And so there is an adjustment period, and we recognize that. Part of the things that I do as a chaplain, was teaching classes before we even got back from the deployment, just blocks of instruction to what to expect and just to be aware that things aren't the same.

Zarbock: How comfortable would you be in telling-- revealing, in this interview, by category, some of the things of changed nature in your wife and some of the things of a changed nature in you during that deployment?

Schwab: Well, certainly. Probably one of the most common things and, personally, this was-- I found this to be true, as well-- my wife realized how independent she can be. Taking all the responsibilities that I was doing at home, she took them over. She was doing both, you know, the mother and the father, so to speak, and that's a very common thing within the military person, not so much of the change, but just some of the-- sometimes the insecurities of-- I had a soldier in my unit specifically ask me, he said, "How do I know my wife needs me, anymore?" In other words, being away for so long, he really felt and he asked me; he said, "I don't think she needs me." I said, "You know," we talked about it, of course, but that's a common feeling that's not uncommon for sure. You know, that's why we have all these programs, these different blocks of training that are set in place, now, because it's recognized that these are real, these are valid emotions that people feel, and how to overcome them, how to adjust and to readjust, reintegrate and hopefully have a happy family life, again.

Zarbock: But that can be a formula for some really difficult times, if the spouse, for example, either one, male or female, has taken on roles, duties and obligations not previously required of them.

Schwab: Sure.

Zarbock: And gets this sense of independence and competency, and suddenly comes the other spouse, who says, "Well, I'm back, honey..."

Schwab: And that's...

Zarbock: "...I'll take over now."

Schwab: Right. And that's the hard part, maybe, on the spouse that has been deployed, the military spouse, to want to take back over all the responsibilities.

Zarbock: Right.

Schwab: And we tell them, we advise them, you know, "Go slowly," you know? "Your wife, your husband, has been back on the home front doing all those jobs, doing them well, and so...

Zarbock: You can't walk in the door and say, "Okay, you..."

Schwab: [inaudible] hassle or something.

Zarbock: Right. "You row from now on, I'll steer."

Schwab: You're 100 percent right. That's right. [laughs] So, you know, we do, we advise them to go slowly. Make it a gradual process of taking over those responsibilities that you did once before, because this is going to be hard, also, on the spouse, to give those up, and we understand it's hard on you, not to take those back. Just go slowly. I mean, you have to-- you haven't seen each other, if you were away for a year, you might have gone home on leave for two weeks but, you know, you haven't seen each other for periods of months at a time.

Zarbock: Now, the language that you use of a consulting nature, were these comments offered to people who came to you, or was it a requirement to go...

Schwab: It's a requirement. We had a requirement for everyone, before they left...

Zarbock: A briefing.

Schwab: ...the theater, the combat theater, to have a briefing. And then, as well, when we went back, the military, again, were required to have another briefing. I was included in that briefing, as well as the chaplain; I attended the briefing, in other words. The spouses, we can't require them, but they were encouraged to come, too, and some certainly did. The spouses and families. So that's, I guess, one of the advantages of the military system. You can't require and obligate someone to do just that, but it is for our benefit, for sure. And, with that, I got a lot of people afterwards who wanted more in-depth, you know, had a lot of questions that couldn't necessarily be answered within the time period that I was given, for example, to give that long of instruction. So, you know, that was-- certainly, that this is an important subject to other people, if they're coming to me, asking more questions and want to know specifics and, "What should I do?" "What shouldn't I do?" type of things.

Zarbock: If I didn't have a very deep sense that you were a man of-- capable in mirth and humor, if I really didn't feel that, I wouldn't hit you with the zinger, but I think you'd be a man of mirth and humor, so here comes the zinger. How did the Jew in Germany get along?

Schwab: You know, that's a great question. I really liked being there. I had never been there before, but, at this point in time, just the chance, if you will, just to see the country, and to be in the country, and you're right, I do, by the way, I do have a good sense of humor, but it was, what can I say? There was a person who wanted to destroy the Jewish people back then, and I guess just seeing Jewish communities alive and breathing and doing well today, made me kind of stand up a little more proud, if you will, so to speak, you know?

Zarbock: Was there ever a situation when the German national, looking at the tablets, identified you as a rabbi and made a comment about that one way or the other? Were you ever identified as a rabbi?

Schwab: [inaudible] I did go out sometimes, in my uniform. Even though we Americans, as a whole, we're discouraged from doing just that, sometimes I had to. But, no, I never got any-- a lot of people tell me, actually, that there's an overriding sense of a little bit of guilt within even the young Germans, even today, you know, who had nothing to do with it, just happened to be that's where they were born, you know? So maybe if that's what-- I'm not really sure; I'm just speculating now...

Zarbock: Did you go to any of the concentration camps?

Schwab: We did. We went to one, to Dachau. So we saw that, and that was pretty emotional, seeing some of that. Again, I say, thank God we're still here; we're alive and breathing and I'm happy to be able to serve wherever I'm sent, and Germany, included.

Zarbock: Well, I'm going to ask you a question here, and then change tapes, said he, rowing and steering at the same time. Could you recount for me, we mentioned this off-camera, could you recount for me, since we're in sort of a sorrowful mood right now? Dachau. Bad time? Time that you will remember with sadness?

Schwab: Sure. I remember one soldier that I used to see regularly, that was in our unit, this was my second deployment to Iraq, and he was always very, like, a happy person. His particular job-- he wasn't, if I said it, I take that back, he was not in my unit, but he was one I saw once a week, once every couple of weeks, periodically. I saw him often enough that I got to know him, and established a relationship with him. In his job, he went out on convoys all the time, and he was even telling me, and a group of us, one day, "Oh, yeah, you know, we got shot at sometimes, you know." He was telling us, "Just the other day, you know, my Humvee got shot, and there was bullets hitting it but ah, that's no big deal." I'm thinking, I said, you know, "That's a great attitude. I don't know how you do it all the time," you know? He said, "Well, I have to, you know." He said, "I don't think about it too much. I love my job; I love going out there and doing what I'm doing." He was very, just, very upbeat, very upbeat. And almost at the very end of his year of deployment, he came to tell me, he said, "You know, just the other day," he said, "we were in a convoy," and two vehicles ahead of them, a guy got hit and he got killed. Someone in his unit, and he was just totally and complete one-eighty of that. I talked to him for a couple of hours, in fact, that day. It was just very-- just to see how he totally changed, from day to night. I encouraged him to, you know, to tell me more about it, and he went into a lot of details with me and whatnot. I just, you know, said to him, I said, "You know, you're never going to forget this, but you're not always going to feel like this, either."

In other words, you know, and just, I guess, to see that, that really kind of touched me, too, it really did. To see, you know, how it really does affect on a personal basis, someone. My unit was combat support, and we had pilots up in the air and whatnot; I guess we were doing the most dangerous parts of our job, probably, but to see that firsthand. I carry that with me as well. That's something I'll never forget, talking with him, and walking away and thinking to myself how fortunate I am, you know, to have, I guess, not to be out so much in combat, if you will, as he was.

Zarbock: Tape number two. Lieutenant Schwab, Marine Base, 4 May 2007. Well, I changed the tape, and, take it away.

Schwab: Okay. So, I would just again tell the story about this one soldier who was always in a great mood every time I saw him, and then towards the very end of his deployment, within the last couple of weeks in fact, he experienced a tragedy. When he was down on the convoy, two vehicles ahead of him got hit by-- ran over an IED, one of these roadside bombs, and one of his fellow soldiers died. He and I, we talked about this for a good couple of hours. Just to see how distraught he was, it was literally like a one-eighty of his whole way of being, how he had, always, every time I had always seen him before. It was just something that I don't think I'll ever forget. It really brought this whole war into perspective for me, because, again, I was in combat support unit. So, we never had anybody in my particular battalion-- nobody got hurt, thank God. He was, again, going out with convoys all the time and, just to see how this really affected him and what not; it affected me a little bit as well.

Zarbock: And I think that's an important point, that the helpers get injured too.

Schwab: Oh, sure.

Zarbock: You're going to lug that memory with you for--

Schwab: I think so. It's hard not to. Yes, we have to be in the moment, and we have to try to separate ourselves, especially when we're talking with somebody. But the truth is, sure, we're affected by it.

Zarbock: Let's do a one-eighty and see a mirthful situation as you remember it.

Schwab: A mirthful situation.

Zarbock: Happy, mirthful.

Schwab: Sure. Just the day-to-day of doing our job, and the camaraderie, I guess, with the people in the unit. I know these are probably generic standard answers, but it really is true. Every time I'm deployed, it always seems like we're closer with the people we deploy with, as opposed to be in a unit, like where I'm at right now, actually. As much as I like doing this job, and I get a lot of satisfaction, and hopefully I'm helping the people I see, but there's still something about going on a deployment with somebody. We work with them. We eat with them. We see them almost 24 hours a day, every single day of the week. So, there's a whole different sense of feeling. We all rely on each other more. We work with each other more. So, I don't know if there's really one specific thing that I can really pinpoint, or just to say the overall general feeling--

Zarbock: But, you're right. There aren't that many hazards is garrison life that you're going to share. Your DI or first sergeant may come in and ream you up, but that's, I think, a lot different from mortars dropping on you, or anything else like that. How about some incidents as you remember, of "Who could believe this, but unless you were in the Army" type of situation? One of foolishness, or clumsiness, or laughable.

Schwab: I guess, I don't know if I should say this or not, but it happens. Every time a soldier-- chaplains, we don't carry weapons, but the rest of the soldiers, of course, they do. They were supposed to clear their weapons before they enter certain spaces, including the dining facilities and whatnot, to make sure that their weapon goes off. And so, they always did that. Of course, I think pretty much everybody knows, a serviceman and their weapon, they go together; you don't leave it anywhere or whatnot. I didn't see this firsthand. I was told this right after it happened, that one of the Iraqis; we had a lot of different, what we call, from the local population, the local nationals, the Iraqis working on the base as well. Many of them, they would eat in the dining facilities, as well. Some of them, they had different security accesses and whatnot. Apparently, one of those Iraqis came with a weapon that he had found in the dining facility and he gave it to the person who was like in charge that day, and he said, "Somebody left this." I can only imagine what happened to that solider, but I'm sure he got a little chewing-out from his first sergeant or [inaudible].

Zarbock: That's a day to remember. The guy left his weapon.

Schwab: As much as I remember that, I think that particular soldier will probably never forget that.

Zarbock: Yes, that's an imprint there. Free time for you. Anything you want to say or do, before we get back into more structured give and tell?

Schwab: That, for anyone out there who might even remotely consider coming in the United States military or being a chaplain, if one wants to be a clergyman or woman, being in the chaplaincy, I can say firsthand, is a wonderful experience. There's a lot of personal satisfaction, self-satisfaction from doing this job, and we have the opportunities that we have, and to do, is probably something that almost nobody else will ever get to have, and we do this daily. If you're considering it or thinking about it, we need you [inaudible].

Zarbock: Back to specific duties: how often do you have services?

Schwab: I have them once a week.

Zarbock: And where?

Schwab: Right now, I have them in the Jewish chapel, which happens to be, actually, downstairs in this building. So, we have them on Friday evenings, which is when the Jewish Sabbath begins. We have them every week, and we do that with the fellowship afterwards.

Zarbock: How many do you have in your group?

Schwab: We're a small group, probably 20 to 25 people come every week.

Zarbock: What do you do on Saturday?

Schwab: So on Saturday, again, being Orthodox, I'm restricted from a lot of things, including driving and riding in a car, for example. So, I actually stay here on the base. I give a couple of classes, including what we call "Alabet," the Hebrew alphabet class, and a Torah class, as well. So, we have a little bit of fellowship as well, afterwards, and whatnot.

Zarbock: Who does the cooking?

Schwab: My wife does. My wife is a wonderful cook and a wonderful woman.

Zarbock: But, is that work?

Schwab: Everything is precooked, and we have it in such a way where we can heat it just by leaving like a burner on and covered up. So, she cooks everything-- today is Friday, for example, right now. I think she's cooking as we speak. But you're right; that would be considered like work. So, we don't actually do the actual cooking on the Sabbath, but we precook everything, which she does, I should say, and then she just reheats it. So it's a good day to reconnect with family, and also study a little bit more, connect with God more.

Zarbock: Rabbi, what do you do given the demands placed upon you by your religion and the practice of your religion vis-a-vis military contingencies? It's Saturday, and somebody takes a shot at you, or Saturday, and you're going to move.

Schwab: Sure. Okay. Again, in combat, there's a whole different world, so to speak. With three exceptions, our life takes precedence over everything. If it's a matter of me getting shot at, for example, obviously, I'm going to get in that car, or that military vehicle, and move on. It's a whole different environment. I've been asked by servicemen, "On the Sabbath, I was taught I'm not supposed to carry things outside, but I had to carry my weapon." I said, "That's different." Your weapon-- and other Rabbis have considered it, if you will, part of their clothes, so to speak. You have to carry, and even if they say it's not, you're carrying it across your shoulders, that's a matter of life and death. You need that for your own self-defense. So, that's not a problem. It's not an issue.

Zarbock: There's no exception to that among any of the Jewish Rabbis?

Schwab: Not that I know of.

Zarbock: I think that's a redundancy, isn't it - Jewish Rabbi? I've never heard of a Methodist Rabbi or anything. But, there's no rabbinical argument about a military person on Saturday doing what must be required for his military duties?

Schwab: Again, I'm coming from a traditional Orthodox perspective, and we tend to be the most strict. I don't think there are. I don't think there's any exceptions. Again, we're talking about life and death. So, I'm being strict. Yes, I'm being strict on saving lives, and "What's life?" and so we definitely have to push off with what is given to us.

Zarbock: Rabbi, did I hear you correctly, saying there were three exceptions?

Schwab: Yes, sir.

Zarbock: What are the three exceptions? Three exceptions to what?

Schwab: Of where my life takes precedence over everything else, and whatever I have to do in violation of the laws of the Torah would be pushed off. For example, the Sabbath. For example, keeping kosher, like we were talking about earlier. One exception is murder. If someone points a gun to my head and says, "You have to murder him or I'm going to kill you," I'm not allowed to murder that other person to save my life. I can do whatever I can to resist or stop that person from shooting me. But in the end, if someone forces me to worship idols, that's, as well, the same thing. I'm not allowed to do that. Again, I can do what I can to save my life, but I can't actually bow down to-- Today, when you think of worshiping idols, most of us, at least in our culture in the United States, in America, it's kind of hard for us to comprehend having someone actually bow down to a statue or whatever. You really think it has powers. The third exception is, I guess, in the English word "immorality," but how the Bible defines, I guess, forbidden relationships, sexual dealings. Again, if someone points a gun to my head and says, "You have to have relations with this person or I'm going to murder you," I can't do that. Again, I can do whatever I can to stop them from shooting me except for that one thing. So, I guess that's how important we consider those three things. But anything else-- though, again, it's important that we observe the Sabbath. It's important that we can observe the dietary restrictions of keeping kosher. They're more important than our own lives, and the life of even someone else.

Zarbock: Again, I'd like to surf into your sense of humor on this and draw a parallel. Shabby as the parallel name, maybe. For a number of years, I taught courses in statistics. We'd get to the concept of probability. Well, the graduate students, they have to pass, or they're out of graduate school. It's a white-knuckle course, and I did everything I possibly could to relax the death grip on the side of the chairs. I said, "Okay. Probability - let me define probability. This is the way it is, except when it isn't. This is the way it is, it has a number, and this is the way it isn't, it has another number. And sometimes, those numbers are highly questionable, but they have a number." I was thinking of the specific injunctions required of you, of the demands that are required of you. Again, probability. This is the way it is, except when you can't possibly do it. When you can't do it, when you possibly can't do it, there's a reason for that, and the reason is why you can't do it.

Schwab: You're right.

Zarbock: This is the way it is except when it isn't.

Schwab: I guess it's really that simple. That's really true.

Zarbock: And yet, that profound... Okay. This is the all-embracing final exam question. Rabbi, with the tremendous width of life experiences that you've had-- childhood, adolescence, education, military, family, tragedies, moments of humor, requirements placed upon you and requirements that you placed upon others-- how do you summarize Rabbi Schwab's meaning of life?

Schwab: Okay. I love waking up every day. The challenges and just the living, is-- I think I try to be a happy person and I think I am just by nature just that. I try to be who I think I should be, and to the best I can do those things, and at the same time, knowing that I'm not perfect. I make mistakes like I just did a moment ago, and that's it. To keep it as simple as I can put it; just try to be the best person I can be, according to how I've been taught and who I am. Again, I'll make mistakes, but yet striving for the stars and keep my feet on the ground.

Zarbock: Off-camera, I told you infacetiously that one of the payments for you is immortality, electronic immortality. As long as the Planet Earth is capable of making electricity, this tape and some DVDs will be held in a vault in the archives at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, available for reproduction and use. So, you'll never be a day older. I'd like you to look directly in the camera, here, in the first week of May in the year 2007 and talk to your unborn grandchildren and leave a message.

Schwab: Well, I'd like to say to you that even though we haven't met, that I'm confident knowing who your father is, knowing who I am, who my wife is, your grandmother that you come from a long proud tradition, and I challenge you to live up to that tradition and to be the best that you can be. Wherever that life takes you; it doesn't mean you have to be in the military; it doesn't mean you have to be a chaplain. Just be the best that you can be, and always be kind to others and care for others.

Zarbock: Thank you, Rabbi. Shalom.

Schwab: Shalom. Thank you.

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