The Flying Rabbi
On October 24, 2011, a memorial to the Jewish chaplains of the United States Armed Services was dedicated in Arlington National Cemetery. The 14 Jewish chaplains whose names were inscribed on the plaque all perished while serving their country.
Today, Jewish Treats presents a short bio of Rabbi Louis Werfel (1916-1943). Rabbi Werfel attended Yeshiva College and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), both schools of Yeshiva University. After receiving his ordination from RIETS, Rabbi Werfel and his wife Adina, moved to Mount Kisco, NY, where he accepted a post at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation. The next year, however, Rabbi Werfel was assigned to a rabbinic position at Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama.
Not long after they moved, the United States entered the Second World War and within a few months, Rabbi Werfel decided that it was his duty as a rabbi and as an American to enlist as a chaplain. In August 1943, after nearly a year of training and work on U.S. bases, Rabbi Werfel was deployed on his first over-seas assignment – North Africa.
As a result of the many military bases in North Africa, Rabbi Werfel often found himself flying from one base to the next in order to serve his congregation of soldiers. In fact, he flew so often, that the popular chaplain was nicknamed “The Flying Rabbi.”
On the second night of Chanukah, after Rabbi Werfel conducted a Chanukah service for troops stationed in Casablanca, the plane that transported Rabbi Werfel crashed in the Algerian Mountains. The next day, December 25, 1943, his young wife was informed of his passing. He was only 27 years old. He was deeply mourned by his family, his military colleagues and throughout the extended American Orthodox community.
Rabbi Werfel gave his heart, his soul and his life in service to the soldiers of the U.S. Military. His story, like the story of each of the 14 men engraved on the Jewish Chaplain’s Memorial, is one which we should take to heart and remember.
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