Congregation Tiferet Israel Rabbi Aims High with the Air Force
Congregation Tiferet Israel's Rabbi Daniel Millner was sworn into the Air Force in early February. Credit: Susan Millner
By Tonyia Cone
Congregation Tiferet Israel’s Rabbi Daniel Millner was sworn in as a U.S. Air Force major Feb. 8. Millner is assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He is the first rabbi to serve in the Texas Military Forces and the state’s first Jewish chaplain.
Congregation Tiferet Israel president, Arthur Altman, said in an email to the congregation, “We are so proud of our rabbi and excited for his service, and pray that he always be safe, the state of Texas flourish, and our country prosper.”
The move is not Millner’s first military experience. When he was a second year rabbinical school student, in 2012, he was accepted into the U.S. Navy Chaplain Candidate Program and commissioned as an ensign. He attended Officer Development School in Newport, Rhode Island, then Naval Chaplain School in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in 2013.
Millner explained that he was attracted to the Navy because of its history, culture and emphasis on tradition.
“As an Orthodox Jew, I like traditions,” he said. “I like rituals and they've got a tradition and a ritual for everything.”
His training gave Millner exposure to all the different kinds of sea services: Marines, Coast Guard and Navy.
While there, he paid close attention to military bearing at all times. He was conscious of always being part of the team while advocating for himself with issues like kashrut and Shabbat observance in a way that would gain respect and understanding from his superior officers and shipmates. He did not want to give the impression that Jews are one particular way.
“For many people in the military, a Jew in their company could be the first Jew they ever meet,” he explained.
“This is something, just speaking as a Modern Orthodox Jew, I feel all the time. When I'm in society, when I’m walking around, everything I do I'm aware of the fact that I'm an emissary for my people. So you have to be very careful about the way that you act, about the way that you speak, about being one of the group but at the same time being able to advocate for yourself and being able to do that in a way which speaks the language of the military culture. It’s a bit of a tightrope to walk but I think it can be done,” Millner added.
Millner had always envisioned going straight into the chaplaincy, but internships and other experiences led him to the pulpit.
“My desire to serve in some capacity in the military remained,” he explained.
Working out the logistical challenge of living in Austin took a few years and a more circuitous route than he planned, but with the understanding of his congregation and family, he transferred from the Navy to the Air National Guard.
As a reservist, Millner is committed to two days each month at Lackland Air Force Base, where he will provide religious services, facilitate religious services, provide pastoral counseling, teach classes and perform other chaplain duties. He is also required to attend two weeks of training each year.
Millner will continue to serve Congregation Tiferet Israel’s rabbi.
Millner and his congregation are proud to make Texas history. As the first rabbi sworn in the Texas military forces, he explained it is an example of Texas Jews fully participating in every aspect of life.
He said, “As a Modern Orthodox Jew and as a leader of a Modern Orthodox community, we believe in service to the greater world as well as fully committed service to Torah and to the Jewish community. I personally feel very strongly about serving the country. I think that it's part of my mandate as a Jew who benefits from the rights and liberties that the Constitution protects. I feel that it is my job as a Jew to actively protect the Constitution and defend the constitution. People have different ways of doing it. For me, this is the way that I envision myself doing that.” ■