FORT RILEY —When services begin at Fort Riley’s new Victory Chapel in March, the post’s first Jewish chaplain in more than 20 years will be one of the officials to conduct them.
1st Lt. David Gingold is one of fewer than a dozen Jewish chaplains on active duty in the U.S. Army and will conduct Jewish services on the base. Gingold said that those chaplains have to serve around 30,000 troops in the Army.
Jewish people make up about 5 percent of Department of Defense personnel, Gingold said, and it is difficult to find people willing to become chaplains. Once they have finished their schooling, Gingold said, most rabbis have passed the Army’s age limits or cannot easily meet in the Army’s rigorous physical demands.
“A lot of people support the military not ever thinking they could serve,” he said. “That makes it hard to find the necessary amount of volunteers. That’s kind of what brought me to this calling.”
GINGOLD WAS born in Florida but moved at a young age to New York, where a relative was stationed at Governor’s Island with the Coast Guard. They eventually moved back to Florida, and Gingold went to high school in Miami.
However, after 10th grade, Gingold went to Jerusalem to get his bachelor’s degree in Jewish law. He then got his master’s degree in rabbinics, which he said is essentially a master’s in divinity.
Gingold married his wife, Nili Gingold, six months before he was ordained at age 21. The couple moved to Tel Aviv, where he became the rabbi at a rabbinical college.
He was there for about three years before he moved to Kobe, Japan. He was in Japan when he received a call from a cousin who worked with the Air Force at the Pentagon. The cousin tried to convince him to become a chaplain. The conversation eventually led to Gingold deciding to join the military.
Once Gingold realized the gaps in resources for Jewish service members, he felt a sort of calling to the job.
“He convinced me that there’s a serious mission to be done here,” Gingold said.
VICTORY CHAPEL, where Gingold will conduct services, was dedicated Friday in a ceremony that drew post officials and chaplains as well as soldiers and their families.
The chapel seats 600 people and also includes 16 classrooms, a religious education resource center and a large kitchen.
Construction began on the chapel in August 2012, and services are expected to begin on March 9. The chapel will be home to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations from Fort Riley, each of which will have religious education and youth programs based at the chapel.
Brig. Gen. Charles Bailey, the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains, attended the dedication and said he always feels humbled to see the importance of the resources offered, which he said he saw firsthand while deployed in Afghanistan.
Bailey said his morale was low about a week into the deployment, so he decided to check out the worship services taking place that morning. Bailey said the sight he saw brought tears to his eyes.
“I saw soldiers with weapons strapped to their thighs and machine guns under their seats, but they were standing up and praising God,” Bailey said. “This is where they come to find their hope.”
Brigadier Christopher Ghika, a British general officer and deputy commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, also said the chapel should serve as a safe place to sustain soldiers and their families.
“It’s important that we make a statement about the centrality of faith and provide a place for its expression,” Ghika said.
FOR GINGOLD trying to work toward that goal for a group that wasn’t being served was a big part of his interest in becoming a chaplain.
Based on the small numbers of Jewish chaplains, Gingold said he felt compelled to join. Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are both required to have a rabbi at all times, Gingold said, as are forces in Korea and Germany.
This limits the already small number of rabbis, so Gingold hopes to encourage other rabbis to join as well.
“It made me want to join and find other people, but you have to lead by example,” Gingold said.
He said that although the chaplains come from different religions and denominations, they have a unified vision for how to serve the troops.
“We want to make sure they they’re taken care of as whole beings,” Gingold said. “That starts and ends here.”