Tour Highlights Jewish Contributions At Naval Academy

Accomplishments Often Overlooked, Says Researcher

August 11, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

In some minds, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis once evoked a distinctly Protestant world, a sanctuary of white flannels and tea on the lawn.

But that picture leaves out significant minority groups inthe academy's history, says Annapolis researcher Eric Goldstein.

While the percentage of Jews attending the academy has never beenlarge, their contributions have been significant, Goldstein says. A Jewish professor taught at the college in its founding year of 1845, and many of the more famous instructors were Jewish.

Stories aboutthese prestigious Jews are part of the Annapolis Jewish Heritage walking tour that begins today and continues next Sunday. Goldstein, a college senior at Emory University in Atlanta, compiled information for the tour last summer and has added information to this summer's tour. Sponsored by Historic Annapolis, the $7 tour is scheduled for today and Aug. 18 at 11 a.m. Reservations are required (267-8149).

"Asfar as I can find out, the institution itself was not anti-Semitic,"says Goldstein. The academy maintained an open policy, even during the years when colleges enforced discriminatory quotas limiting the number of Jewish students.

The first Jewish midshipman to graduate was Albert Abraham Michelson, Class of 1873. On Michelson's graduationday, as legend has it, the superintendent handed him a diploma, admonishing, "If you would pay more attention to naval gunnery and less to science, there might be a day when you're of use to your country."

The science buff turned out to be anAmerican hero, returning to the academy as a physics professor who would become the first person toaccurately measure the speed of light. He was honored in 1908 as thefirst American to win a Nobel prize for physics. Visitors to the academy can view Michelson Hall, where small silver discs in the front yard mark the line of sight Michelson used to measure light.

However, while the school did not discriminate, hazing and anti-Semitism and racism among the midshipmen themselves were facts of life. Goldstein unearthed a story of two midshipmen in the Class of 1922: Leonard Kaplan, a Jewish midshipman, and a rival he was competing with for thetop spot in the class.

Kaplan, though brilliant, was rather socially withdrawn, and he was put "in Coventry" or ostracized by the other students. His competitor, the yearbook editor, engineered a prank to place Kaplan's photo on the last page of the yearbook, with a perforated page so it could be ripped out.

Academy officials were not amused; the yearbook editors received letters of censure and lost the awards they were to receive. Kaplan, however, became a captain with adistinguished naval career.

For years, however, Jews were forced to attend Christian services at the academy. The college's mandatory religious worship policy meant Jews had to attend services, even though no provision was made for Jewish worship. This changed in 1938, when a Jewish plebe gained the support of the Baptist chaplain, who joined forces with a local rabbi to obtain permission for Jews to leave campus for services.

In 1986 Norman Auerbach became the first full-time military Jewish chaplain in the academy's history, followed by the present rabbi-chaplain, Albert Slomovitz.


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