(1968 - )
Rabbi Sarah Schechter is the first female rabbi to serve as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.
Schechter (born 1968) was born and raised in Greenwich Village, New York to a family deeply rooted in the Jewish faith and culture. Her father was a rabbi at Temple Shaari Emeth in Freehold, New Jersey and a former Air Force chaplain himself, yet Schechter says she never dreamt of becoming a "teacher of the Torah," until her mother suggested the possibility in 1999.
In her fourth year of rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College, Schechter made the decision to join the military and become Jewish chaplain. She explains:
"I joined the military because of September 11th. Within seconds of the attack on our country, the military suddenly stopped being an undefined culture I was vaguely familiar with and their mission became absolutely clear -- protection of our country, protection of our loved ones, protection of our very lives."
"Within moments I said to [husband] Joe: “We have to support our military. I have not yet committed to a congregation. I’ll become a chaplain.” There was no question in my mind that our country was vulnerable, and I wanted to play a role in supporting those who were putting their lives on the line to defend it."
Choosing between branches was an easy process as she decided to follow in her father's footsteps, who after being ordained by the Hebrew Union College in 1960 served as a chaplain in the Air Force:
"I ultimately joined the Air Force because my father was an Air Force chaplain in 1960. He always spoke well of his experience and that had a huge influence on my decision."
"Now, [my father and I] share a special rabbinic/Air Force bond. My father is my mentor. I call him often. And whenever I deploy, he travels the country to send me off, and is there when I return."
In 2007, Rabbi Schechter served her first foreign deployment in Iraq and in 2013, she embarked on her sixth overseas deployment to serve soldiers for the Passover holiday.
"The big message is that we live in an amazing time in history—a time when so many people are very interested in learning about Judaism," says Rabbi Schachter. "It’s also significant that the United States—a huge superpower—cares to have a rabbi on staff, serving everyone, but in particular also making sure that the needs of a very small percentage of their military’s population are met. And it says a lot about our country that Uncle Sam recognizes a woman rabbi."