By Rabbi Albert Slomovitz / Special for AJT //
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Since our marriage in December of 1973, we have moved 14 times! Several of these were due to my military service – nevertheless, it takes an extraordinary spouse to supervise, plan for and successful ensure these multiple changes.
Let me share a brief period in our lives as an example of the strength, ingenuity and resourcefulness of my beautiful bride.
In June of 1979, I was ordained from rabbinical school. At that time Gail was five months pregnant. The next day I was sworn into the Navy as a chaplain. This required an eight week training course in Newport, Rhode Island. So we moved there, setting up our household in a delightful apartment.
Near the end of the summer, before she was too pregnant to fly, Gail preceded me to California where I was assigned to my first military assignment at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
We had a solid plan for our move. We had purchased all sorts of new baby furniture, clothes and infant supplies for our new baby due in September. We had a small apartment chosen in Oceanside, California near the base. All we had to do was wait for the moving van full of our belongings to arrive and then we would settle down.
In the midst of this were the High Holidays, my first as a military chaplain. This was no concern, as all my books and papers (also on the van) would help me prepare.
As we waited, the news reported something strange; there was a trucking strike that had the potential to stifle any shipments moving throughout the country. Certainly, not our things, we thought.
We were wrong! The strike kept all our household goods, baby-items and – yes, High Holiday materials – somewhere in the middle of Iowa. Despite this, life went on. In between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our daughter was born.
After a few days in the hospital, my wife, our three day old daughter, and myself came back to the Motel 6, where we had been staying, waiting for our items. Finally, after two more weeks, our items arrived and we moved into our new apartment. We were settled, but not for long.
We had evolved into a nice routine in our small apartment, with a new baby and new job, learning the in and outs of working with Marines. After three months, I received a message to call the Chaplain Detailer in Washington, D.C.
The Detailer is the person who assigns chaplains around the world. In my case, he had worked with me getting our three year first assignment to Camp Pendleton. It was very unusual that he wanted to speak with me.
The gist of the call was straightforward: The rabbi who had agreed to come into the Navy the following summer and be assigned to Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan had changed his mind, would I be willing to go in his place? After all, the Marines in California had access to other rabbis, not so the case on Okinawa.
After discussing the issue with Gail, we decided to take these orders and began planning for a move to Japan.
In August of 1980, we boarded the plane with our infant daughter for the 22 hour flight to Okinawa. There were many challenges that we had on the small island of Okinawa. One of those included our residence. Once on the island, part of our check-in was to go to the Base Housing Office where we were informed that for Officers of my rank there was a nine month waiting list for on-base housing.
In the interim, we were directed to find a house on the local economy. Within a few weeks, we had a home in an isolated Japanese neighborhood. There we were with Japanese neighbors who didn’t speak English, one car that was a stick-shift, with the driver’s seat on the right side of the vehicle.
Even with all this newness and temporariness, my dear wife took charge. Within a few weeks, we had a functioning household. Pictures and Mezuzahs went up, schedules established, baby-sitting arranged and our lives began to take on a semblance of normalcy. Due to Gail’s strength, resourcefulness, natural ability to communicate with anyone in any circumstance, I was able to do my job as a military Rabbi.
Her gift of establishing a household of love, structure and purpose allowed me to give of myself as a Chaplain. Without her ongoing support on some many levels, whatever I achieved in the military would have been impossible.
As our married life continued, I decided that I needed to do something to tangibly show her my love, respect and affection for her. One of the ways that I did this was by making our anniversaries extra special.
Throughout our military career and beyond, those times have been quite memorable for us. On our 10th anniversary, I had a surprise reenactment of our wedding. The rabbi who officiated at our wedding Max Lipshitz, of blessed memory, was there, as was a gaggle of family and friends, many of whom had been with us in 1973.
Over the years, I have “upped the ante” and tried to make a few anniversaries more special than others. For our 30th, I had placed an ad on the bottom of the front page of the New York Times. It read: “Gail, you are a loving, wise, beautiful wife and mother. Happy 30th, Love, Albie.”
A funny story for that occasion was that I had asked her family and mine to get copies of the Times and look at the bottom of the page for a special message. A number of folks got the paper and read the bottom story about taxes, I believe, but no one read the smaller print on the very bottom of the page! That anniversary included a weekend away as well.
Five years ago, we were fortunate to be invited to the Bush White House for the annual Chanukah celebration. I like surprising my wife and thought that I would be able to keep this as a surprise until the day we had to travel to D.C.
Those plans were altered when in my office at home she heard a message left on my phone from the White House asking that I return their call as soon as possible. I received a frantic call from her wanting to know what was going on!
We had a great time at that celebration. When it was our turn to have our pictures taken with the President and Mrs. Bush – which took about a moment – I whispered to them that this visit was part of our 35th anniversary celebration. The president quickly figured that we were married in 1973 and offered his congratulations.
So now we come to this year. Through the pages of the Atlanta Jewish Times I am able to share my appreciation for her. It is so appropriate to be doing so in the Simcha edition. She has been an absolute blessing to our four children, a daughter and son-in-law and seven grandchildren.
Her sense of family, empathy, ability to relate and overall life-wisdom are unsurpassed. On our Ketubah I added the following verse from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) Chapter 9:9-
“Enjoy happiness with a woman you love all the fleeting days of life that have been granted you under the sun—all your fleeting days. For that alone is what you get out of life and out of the means you acquire under the sun.”
Dear Gail, our days have been both fleeting and filled with mutual respect, wonderful communications, a loving extended family and adventures. We are truly blessed. Happy 40th. By the way, I do have something planned for us, but you’ll have to wait a bit for it!