This is a short article, accompanied by a photograph, which was featured in the Chicago-based Jewish newspaper The Sentinel on September 26, 1968. In the photograph, a Jewish officer, dressed in naval uniform, is standing in front of a table covered in a white tablecloth. The officer is wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) and is blowing a shofar, the most representative item of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the background, a number of Jewish sailors, dressed in casual uniform, are listening to the blasts of the shofar.
The article accompanying the photograph explains that the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) will be providing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at over 800 different military locations throughout the world. The JWB provided training for the chaplains who would assist Jewish servicemen in all the different branches of the American military.
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The National Jewish Welfare Board – The JWB was founded in the United States in 1917 in an attempt to provide support for Jews serving in the US Army during World War I. The JWB recruited and trained rabbis to serve as chaplains, supported chapels for Jewish prayers, and provided spiritual and practical support to the thousands of Jewish soldiers in the different units of the American military. In 1921, JWB merged with other Jewish organisations and became a national association of Jewish community centres, while still remaining responsible for Jewish soldiers. Today the organisation is called the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, and it is part of the JCC Association.
Rosh Hashanah – Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year which takes place on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is celebrated by blowing the shofar, lighting candles, eating festive meals, and attending services at the synagogue. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holy days which end 10 days later with Yom Kippur. The ten-day period is called the Ten Days of Repentance, because it is believed that during this period a person’s deeds are judged and the future year is decided. It is a both a festive holiday and a solemn time of introspection which includes prayer, asking forgiveness from others, and giving tzedakah (charity). The prayers on Rosh Hashanah include asking God for a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy year. Rosh Hashanah also celebrates the creation of the world. People greet each other on Rosh Hashanah by saying: “Shana Tova (Happy New Year).” Food customs for Rosh Hashanah vary among the different communities but often include round challahs (instead of the customary long loaf), apples and honey, and pomegranates. Many people send Shana Tova cards to their friends and family.
Shofar – The shofar is a ritual horn blown throughout the month of Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and at the end of Yom Kippur. According to tradition, the shofar is blown in order to awaken the heart to repentance on the High Holidays. In biblical times, the shofar was blown at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given to Moses, at times of war, to announce holidays and the Jubilee year, and in ceremonies at the Temple. In modern times the shofar is blown on special occasions such as the inauguration of the president of the State of Israel and on Yom Ha’atzmaut. A shofar is made from a horn, typically a ram’s horn, but other animal horns may also be used. According to Jewish law, a shofar cannot be painted with colours but can be carved with artistic designs.
Immigration to America – Sephardi Jews were the first to arrive to New Amsterdam (later named New York) in 1654 from Brazil. Large numbers of German Jews arrived in the United States in the 1840s due to persecution and a lack of economic opportunities. By the onset of World War I, 250,000 German-speaking Jews had arrived in America. They settled in America, spread throughout the country, and built institutions such as B’nai Brith and the American Jewish Committee. Eastern European Jews began to arrive in America after the 1880s, fleeing from pogroms, persecution, and poverty in their home countries. These new immigrants spoke mostly Yiddish and came from less educated and more traditional backgrounds. Many were attracted to labour and socialist movements, eventually becoming leaders in their communities. They tended to live in poorer neighbourhoods of large cities, often working in the sweatshops of the garment industry. The large waves of Jewish immigration to America ended in 1924.
The Chicago Sentinel - The Chicago Sentinel, a weekly newspaper for the Chicago Jewish community, was one of the longest continuously published Jewish weeklies in the United States. The first issue of The Sentinel was published on February 4, 1911. The newspaper focused on cultural events and included many eye-catching illustrations and photographs. It also published short stories and reports about events in the various Jewish communities. The Sentinel differed from many other English-language, often highbrow, Jewish weeklies, because it reached out to the Zionist immigrants who preferred to read in English and not Yiddish. The Sentinel is a treasure trove for social, cultural, and religious historians who are interested in American Jewish life outside of New York during the twentieth century.