Rabbi Lazer Danzinger, one of only two rabbis – who both happen to be Chabad – currently in the chaplaincy of the Canadian Armed Forces, is leaving his part time job in the reserves to become the first rabbi since the Second World War to be a full time regular member.
As of last Friday, his transfer to CFB Borden from the 32 Service Battalion of the Canadian Brigade Group was complete. And he is thrilled with the change.
“It will be a great move,” Rabbi Danzinger told the Jewish Tribune. “I find the work so rewarding, so fulfilling. I decided to go full time is because of the need that I see in the Forces. As a reservist, there was no way I could meet that need.”
In the reserves for about two years, Rabbi Danzinger, 54, has had a varied and accomplished past. After 20 years in computers – including at Bell Canada and Motorola — he decided to follow his passion, and six years ago he became a chaplain. This he did with Toronto’s Jewish Family and Child Service, Richmond Hill’s York Central Hospital, and for Correctional Services Canada. In the latter role, he has worked at a number of prisons near Kingston, Ontario, travelling there several times a month from his home in Vaughan, just north of Toronto.
He was also employed by Chabad.org — a major Jewish Internet site – where he was a member of its “Ask the Rabbi” team. He has also worked as a writer-translator for Kehot Publication Society.
Most recently, he was chaplain to the Max &Gianna Glassman Seniors Outreach Centre.
As a chaplain, Rabbi Danzinger explained, he is required to help people with their spiritual needs. “But in the Forces, to be effective, a chaplain has to understand the unique world of the soldiers. And it helps when you are wearing the same uniform.”
Nowadays, with Canada fighting a war in Afghanistan, so many soldiers “are on need of spiritual nurturing,” he said.
Though he is a rabbi, he is not only responsible for Jewish members. “The mission statement for the chaplaincy is that we minister to our own, we facilitate worship for others, and we care for everybody,” said Rabbi Danzinger, who noted that the chaplaincy is the “moral conscience” of the armed forces.
In a Tribune article published at the time he went into the reserves, he said: “I am a rabbi and I will be ministering to Jews, but I will also be there to help other soldiers worship in their own religion. I will provide generic spiritual care. There is a commonality among human beings; we are all created in the image of G-d.”
He noted last week: “Soldiers do not often care that I am Jewish. They are in need. They might need help after they get home from the war, or they need help with their families. They might have nightmares after Afghanistan. They are trying to cope; they have issues. Some might need psychiatric, and I can help arrange that.”
Interestingly, since he has been in the Forces, Rabbi Danzinger has seen “an incredible number of Jews come out of the woodwork. They immediately identify when they see a Jewish chaplain. For instance, at Hannukah last year, I put out a menorah at Denison Armoury. One of the commissionaires came out of the building and says ‘I’m Jewish.’ He wanted a picture of himself and me next to the menorah. He was so happy.”
It is very positive for Jewish soldiers who don’t identify as Jews to see a visibly Jewish soldier. “It makes quite an impact,” explains Rabbi Danzinger, who is the son of Holocaust survivors. “These soldiers otherwise feel marginalized. Right now I am in contact with more than half a dozen Jews in the Forces. A few non-Jewish chaplains have even asked to come over to my place for a Shabbos meal. They want to learn more about the roots of their own religion.”
CFB Borden is about 15-20 minutes west of Barrie, said Rabbi Danzinger. “The Forces posted me to a base that was close to Toronto, close to my family. I go to Borden by myself, and that way I do not have to uproot all my children. I could have moved my entire family up to Barrie, but that would not be possible with the kids in school. I will be able to go back home, but when it is not convenient I will have an apartment there that the government pays for.”
At Borden he will be assigned to the base chaplaincy, to a certain school there. “Borden has an impressive number of specialized schools,” he explained. “It has an engineering school, a logistics school, even a chaplaincy school.”
After three months of training, he will be assigned to care for the students of a particular school.
“There are many educational opportunities as a chaplain to teach about Judaism,” he said. “And the Canadian Armed Forces are very open to it. They are very excited and very accommodating.”