Jews in Viet Nam Theater Plead for Prayer Books, Other Facilities

The urgent need for more Jewish religious facilities for Jewish personnel in the United States forces in South Viet Nam has again been pointed up for this observer. That need and its urgency are seen as greater than ever today, following a visit by this correspondent yesterday to the SS Midway, the huge aircraft carrier of the Seventh Fleet in service in Viet Nam waters. The story goes back to last Passover, but the facts are as relevant today as they were in the spring.

Of the 3,500 men in the Midway’s complement, 12 Jews sat down to a seder on the first night of Passover. The food had been prepared especially for the Jews by Navy cooks under the supervision of one of the galley crew who knew how to do that particular Job.

The Catholic chaplain aboard had arranged for the use of the officers’ mess for the seder. The ingredients had been provided by the National Jewish Welfare Board. The service was conducted from an old Haggadah that had somehow been left, probably by accident, in the ship’s library. A Negro member of the crew who knows Hebrew participated in the seder.

There is a very busy Jewish chaplain here in Saigon, Rabbi Richard Dryer. But even he had not known of the seder aboard the Midway. Like all chaplains in this theater, Rabbi Dryer, who makes his headquarters here, is constantly making trips away from his office in Saigon to outposts around the country.

REGULAR SABBATH EVE SERVICES SCHEDULED; ‘NO ONE ASKS A MAN’S RELIGION’

Since Passover, several of the men on the Midway have requested that they be furnished with Jewish prayer books. Two of the crew members, Lt. Ronald Lightstone and Chief Fireman Abec agreed that regular Friday evening services should be held on the Midway after they receive the Jewish prayer books. It would be so much simpler, they said, if each man attending had an individual copy of the prayer book.

Asked whether there were only 12 Jews aboard the ship, the answer came quickly: “No one asks the other man’s religion.” It became clear that others might answer the call to Sabbath eve services if they chose to do so.

The visit to the Midway again illustrates the truism that Jews do want to perpetuate their Judaism wherever they are, and the need for encouragement to worship in their faith more adequately. The least we can do is to give them the implements of their faith–the prayer books, the Torah. The stimulus will be an enhancement of our Judaic heritage.

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