Jews decry 'slap in face' from academy Big alumni event scheduled for Yom Kippur holy day

July 13, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

The U.S. Naval Academy has scheduled its biggest fall alumni weekend on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest Jewish days, sparking complaints among Jewish alumni.

"That's a slap in the face," said Selig Solomon of Pikesville, the creator and first commander of the Navy SEALs. "They ought to make a public apology."

He and other Jewish alumni agreed, however, that the scheduling blunder didn't stem from anti-Semitism, but from an oversight.

"They don't always think when they do those things. . . . You'd think they'd be more aware of these things by now," said Earl Diamond, of Annapolis, who, like other Jewish alumni, said the somber holiday will preclude his attendance at homecoming festivities.

Fewer than 10 percent of the thousands of Naval Academy graduates are Jewish, said Annapolis lawyer Lawrence B. Goldstein, an academy graduate.

Naval Academy spokesmen said they were unaware of the conflict five years ago when, as part of their regular sports scheduling cycle, they scheduled homecoming for the weekend of Sept. 25.

They said they would try not to plan homecomings for major Jewish holidays in the future but could not promise there would never be a conflict. Scheduling procedures were changed last year to try to take into account such conflicts, said Cmdr. Michael John, academy spokesman.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is among the most solemn Jewish holidays. Observance of the High Holiday is marked by fasting and the recitation of prayers of repentance in a synagogue.

Homecoming draws as many as 30,000 people to Annapolis, Commander John said. The celebration begins Friday evening with a parade, cocktail party, dinner and dance. Tailgate parties precede the home football game Saturday -- this year against Bowling Green State University -- and class reunions follow.

At sundown that Friday, the opening prayers for Yom Kippur are recited. The holiday continues through sundown Saturday.

"They are not sensitive to that kind of thing," said Mr. Goldstein, who is host of a weekly Jewish radio show on WNAV radio, 1430 AM.

"I love the place dearly," he said, but "Yom Kippur doesn't appear on their holiday schedule."

Several Jewish alumni said this isn't the first time the academy has scheduled homecoming on a Jewish High Holiday. The dates of the High Holidays, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, are based on the lunar Jewish calendar and vary on the sun-based Western calendar.

Rockville lawyer Gary Siegel did not attend his class' 20-year reunion in 1986 because of such a scheduling conflict. He fired off a letter to William Busik, a retired captain who is president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association, and received an apology -- together with a statement that the association would try to avoid a recurrence.

The association has the main responsibility for selecting the dates of alumni events.

"What I have a problem with is that even after the letter I had written last time, it is clear to me they are not sensitive enough," Mr. Siegel said. He could not remember whether the holiday was Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Two elements that play an important role in the selection of a homecoming weekend are a home football game against an opponent other than the Air Force Academy and avoiding an Annapolis boat show, Mr. Busik said.

The alumni group also checks the timing of other school events, such as weekend symposiums, then looks at other considerations, such as the High Holidays.

"At the time we laid it out five years ago, we didn't know," Mr. Busik said.

When the alumni organization learned of the conflict a few years ago, it was too late to make a change, Mr. Busik said.

He said he had fielded two complaints and had apologized and explained.

Commander John said that when this year's homecoming activities were being planned, the process for planning such events was less formal.

Now, the alumni association recommends a date, which must be approved by a committee that includes a chaplain.

It is unlikely that Jewish alumni will air their complaints about the scheduling conflicts because those who attend service academies generally tend not to be rabble-rousers or strictly religious people, Mr. Goldstein said.

As a result of this year's conflict, Rabbi Robert Feinberg, the academy's Jewish chaplain, said he recently gave Mr. Busik a Jewish calendar showing holidays through 2005.

Mr. Busik said he saw no conflicts through 1999, which is as far ahead as homecomings have been scheduled.

Rabbi Feinberg said the approximately 100 Jewish midshipmen who make up his congregation will not be affected by the scheduling conflict.

He said he has responded to alumni inquiries about the #i academy's Yom Kippur services and that he would not be surprised to see alumni attend portions of the services.

"Between the exams and the sexual harassment, they've got enough tsuris [Yiddish for troubles]," Rabbi Goldstein said, referring to recent Naval Academy scandals.

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