It’s rare for one of People magazine’s 100 most eligible bachelors to be a rabbi. It’s even rarer for someone who made the prestigious list to head off to the Persian Gulf as a U.S. military chaplain. But that’s what will happen next month when Capt. Gary Davidson, 43, deploys as one of two active-duty rabbis in the U.S. Air Force to be stationed in the Gulf.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to serve our Jewish men and women in uniform,” Davidson told JTA by phone from his parents’ home in a Boston suburb. “I’m looking forward to bringing an uplifting message to our troops and being with them during the High Holidays, Sukkot and Chanukah.”
At age 41, Davidson made a career shift to enter the military. The 6-foot-6 chaplain had been serving as rabbi at a Conservative synagogue in Long Beach, Calif., with about 180 families when he decided that he wanted to serve his country.
Because of his age, Davidson — who in 2000 made People’s most-eligible bachelors list — needed a special waiver to enter the Air Force.
“It was a question of now or never, so I took the plunge,” he said.
In all, there are nine active-duty Jewish chaplains in the U.S. Air Force.
Davidson said he couldn’t comment on which countries he may or may not travel to.
“My role is to support our troops, wherever I am. That’s my focus,” he said.
Davidson will be bringing gifts, phone cards and food to distribute to soldiers around the Persian Gulf region.
As a chaplain, Davidson said, “I’m not allowed to carry a gun. Someone will be assigned to me with a weapon to protect me.
“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have some concern about traveling as a Jewish chaplain to different Arab countries,” he continued. “I have faith in God — and in our security personnel and in our troops — that they will watch over me and protect me.”
Davidson, who spent two years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., said there had been many changes on campus after a report detailed allegations of evangelism.
For his part, Davidson said he did not encounter any incidents of evangelism.
“Reported incidents of evangelism occurred before I arrived,” he said. “I attended during a period of self-improvement.”
Davidson said the academy had made significant strides, praising the school’s leadership for being “very sensitive” to this issue.
“There is zero tolerance for religious discrimination,” he said. “The academy has mandated that all personnel attend RSVP training — ‘Respecting the Spiritual Value of all People.’ “
The academy also has established a new Interfaith Student Council, Davidson reported.
Further, Davidson said, “Anyone deploying to the Persian Gulf is given sensitivity training regarding the Islamic faith. We are made aware of basic Islamic beliefs, as well as proper behavior around Muslims.”
As he prepared to say good-bye to his family and parents, Davidson said he had a lot on his mind — not just the change in climate in the Persian Gulf, where daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees, or what he’ll say in his High Holiday sermons.
His family has been supportive, “even though my choice was a difficult one for them,” Davidson said.
He admitted that his older brothers believe that “war is not the best occupation for a nice Jewish boy,” and that his father, Murray, wishes he wasn’t going to the Persian Gulf.
His parents recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.
“I’m thrilled in how he has furthered himself in terms of his Jewish faith,” Davidson’s mother, Myrna, said. “We’re happy for him.”
But, she added, “it’s not easy on our family.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.