When I was a chaplain in the Air Force, immediately after my ordination in 1974, I was sent to the Philippines. I was told I would also be “circuit-riding,” providing Jewish chaplain coverage to bases in Taiwan as well as elsewhere in the Philippines. When I arrived, I was told that I would also be traveling to several bases in Thailand, as the Jewish chaplain stationed there had recently been killed in an automobile accident and there were no other Jewish chaplains to replace him. This meant a lot more time away from family as well as a lot of unique experiences… and in several ways resulted in choices that changed the path of my life. All I knew about the rabbi who had died was that he was a Reform rabbi named David Sobel, z”l.
Fast forward 35 years. As an active member of the local Jewish War Veterans post, I read of a long-overdue program to set up a monument to the memory of Jewish chaplains who died on active duty at Arlington National Cemetery. Rabbi Sobel was the last name on the list. I mentioned to someone the connection between the two of us, and was told, “did you know he was from West Hartford?” No, I didn’t! I discovered that he had been best friends with Rabbi Jim Ponet, the Jewish chaplain at Yale. So I called and met him, and he has told me some very special stories about his friend. When that monument is finally dedicated, I’d like to be there and give a salute to this young rabbi whose life ended so tragically.
Rabbi Gary Atkins
Beth Hillel Synagogue, Bloomfield