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Jew on Deck

Azriela Jaffe

It’s not the most likely career choice for a nice Jewish boy, but Seymour Baer has never regretted his decision to “join the Navy and see the world.” Today, after 24 years of active military service, he is performing a service of a very different kind: telling the world that it’s possible to be a Torah-observant Jew even while in the middle of the deep blue sea.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

seymour BaerIt’s a good thing Seymour Baer isn’t allergic to peanut butter; that’s what kept him alive during his 24 years in the US Navy as one of the only Torah-observant Jewish servicemen. Indeed, says Seymour, who is also known as Simchah ben Yaakov, “nuts” have been a recurrent theme in his naval career, which began in 1959. Recalling the reaction of the non-Jewish sailors the first time they saw him doninng tallis and tefillin, he comments, “They went nuts. They had a million questions. But I decided early on that I was going to be completely open about being Jewish, and so I answered every one of them.”

Although that openness didn’t mean that everyone was now his friend, Seymour, who stands six feet two inches tall, never regretted his decision. “The people who hate Jews will hate you more if you deceive them. As for those who don’t like you, even when you let them know you’re Jewish right off the bat, it’s their loss. So be it.”

Now retired from the Navy, Seymourregularly makes the rounds of shuls and Hebrew and public schools, sharing his experience as a longtime serviceman and a passionate Jew. One comment that he hears a lot, and which always gives him pause, is: “You don’t act like a yeshivah bochur.”

“What is a bochur supposed to act like?” he asks rhetorically. “The military may have made me sound more like a gentile than a Jew, but I never forgot who I am.”

 

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