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Academy's Torah Scrolls Rededication Links Generations of Jewish Midshipmen

KINGS POINT, N.Y., November 2, 2015 – Three Torah scrolls from the Mariners’  Memorial Chapel at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., were rededicated in a Friday Evening Jewish Sabbath service, bringing together Jewish alumni and current midshipmen during this year’s Homecoming weekend.

Alex Rosenberg, class of 1969, organized the service together with the Academy’s Advisor to the Jewish Midshipmen Club, Dr. Michael Melcer, following a tradition to hold a Jewish worship service as part of Homecoming Weekend every five years.

From a family with strong Academy roots, Alex Rosenberg jokes that he is the “un-official, un-ordained, un-paid, un-anointed, self-appointed rabbi / cantor of the Mariners' Memorial Chapel.” His father, Allen Rosenberg, was a 1945 graduate, as were his three uncles, Cy Rosenberg-Roberts, 1950, Jack Rosenberg, 1955, and Barry Rosenberg, 1963. (All were engineers, and all nicknamed “Rosie.”)  Alex Rosenberg’s father-in-law Stanley "Sid" Unger graduate class of 1944, and his cousin Jonathan Nitkin in 1982.

Beginning in 1990, three of the Rosenbergs who shared ’00 and ’05 Homecoming celebrations, Allen, Cy, and Jack, decided to organize a Friday evening worship service every five years. After Alex Rosenberg’s father passed away in 2007, he picked up the tradition. 

This year’s included the rededication of the Academy’s three Torah scrolls.   A 2010 inspection found the scrolls were in disrepair, no longer “kosher” for use in services, and needed repairs.  Working with the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Jewish Chaplains Council, and with the help of a donation from Eugene Landy, class of 1955, Melcer, Alex Rosenberg and the JWB had the scrolls sent to the non-profit Machon Ot Institute in Jerusalem to be repaired in a painstaking line-by-line, word-by-word, and letter-by-letter inspection process.

The renovated scrolls were returned to the Academy this summer, just in time for the 2015 Homecoming celebration. Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Durham, U.S. Navy, thanked Alex Rosenberg and Melcer, noting “it is such an incredible opportunity to have the three Torah scrolls rededicated the Mariner’s Memorial Chapel.  Not only are they a part of our Academy’s history, but they are essential to worship for our Jewish midshipmen and alumni.”

About 100 congregants attended the service, which Alex Rosenberg led with Cantorial Soloist Shanna Zell.

Midshipman 2nd Class Stacee Glass, a Marine Transportation Major from Johnstown, Pa., and Plebe Michael Sobelman, a freshman from Paramus, N.J., participated in the service, linking the Jewish alumni to the current midshipmen.  Smiling in their white uniforms, they proudly carried the scrolls down the aisle while the congregation stood in honor and celebration of the rededication.

“I thought the Jewish service at the Mariners’ Chapel was a great experience. It was special to be part of it,” said Sobelman.  Glass said, “being able to gather with alumni, students, and friends was a testament not only to the rededication of the Torahs, but to the dedication of those who are keeping the community alive. A major part of Judaism is keeping traditions active and present, and the event celebrated the efforts of the alumni and faculty who are doing just that for Kings Point.”

Superintendent, Rear Adm. James A. Helis, USMS, who attended with his wife Jan Helis, noted “I greatly appreciate the efforts of Alex and Michael, and all who made this joyous event possible. Diversity is an important part of keeping our Academy community dynamic and vibrant.”

“USMMA has a very small Jewish midshipmen community, but the amount of support we have received is truly amazing,” said Glass. “The past few years the alumni have provided a full Passover Seder so the holiday may be observed; last year we had a small service with Dr. Melcer and several other students. It was a really great experience sharing the holiday. A local synagogue has also opened its doors to us, with families around the community opening their doors for dinners as well.”

As the Academy’s Advisor to the Jewish Midshipmen Club, Melcer welcomes all new Jewish midshipmen, facilitates the midshipmen’s participation in religious activities, and organizes activities and outings.

Looking towards the future, Durham said, “it is my hope this celebration will be a catalyst for revitalizing our Jewish community on campus.”

By Benjamin Benson

Updated: Monday, November 2, 2015
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