April 14, 2024
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Fair Lawn’s NATEP Program Presents Rabbi David Lapp

When I asked my grandson Naftali (named for Naftali Aron) if he could describe what a treasure was, he said, “A chest filled with gold and jewels with a pirate standing next to it, and maybe a parrot.” That was quite a visual. However in Fair Lawn, especially in connection with the Naftali Aron Torah Enrichment Program (NATEP), we definitely have a different view.

A few weeks ago we had a chance to share the very special life experiences of one of our very special hidden treasures, Rabbi David Lapp. As usual, The NATEP programs are all well thought out, interesting, informative and very worthwhile. Once again, we were not disappointed.

At a very special breakfast we were privileged to be part of an interview that focused on Rabbi Lapp’s military career. Rabbi Lapp was interviewed by Rabbi Wallace Greene. Both of these amazing gentlemen are members of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn as well as active participants in the NATEP program.

Through stories and photos we actually felt as if we were part of Rabbi Lapp’s amazing military career. We learned about how he approached daily challenges as a Jewish chaplain with a rank of Colonel in the United States Army from 1958 until 1982.

In the words of Rabbi Lapp, “Why would a nice Jewish boy like me who grew up in Austria during the Nazi era become a chaplain in the United States Army?” He expressed so beautifully that he felt it was his duty to serve and give back to this wonderful country. Additionally, there was a great need for Jewish chaplains at that time.

After his commission into the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1958, one of his early assignments was as an assistant chaplain in Munich. There, along with providing programs for Jewish personnel in Munich, Augsburg and northern Italy, he served as stockade chaplain at Dachau. Rabbi Lapp told the JTA in 2006: “On the one hand, I wanted to be there to show that the Nazis didn’t get rid of me as they wanted. On the other hand, I wanted nothing to do with them. But after a while, you realize they aren’t the same people, they’re the children.” During his stint in Germany he organized a Jewish conference in Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler’s retreat. The U.S. Army converted one of the buildings into the General Walker Hotel, where Rabbi Lapp held a gathering for Torah study, attended by some 500 Jewish men and women.

Rabbi Lapp served in Vietnam from 1966-67 as deputy field force chaplain, ministering to troops assigned to two divisions in the II Corps Highlands area. He spoke of the challenges in Vietnam. He was assigned a helicopter as the mode of transportation, which he explained was the only way he could go from place to place to conduct services for the boys; travel any other way was dangerous.

Rabbi Lapp said he encountered no discrimination in all the 25 years he served. He felt that this was because he and his boys always acted like “mensches.” Whenever he needed something he always acted in a soft, respectful way. It was a lesson he learned and taught to others that paid off.

In 2007, Rabbi Lapp presented the Jewish Museum with a “Jewish Chaplain Kit” containing everything a rabbi needs to support Jewish soldiers in the U.S. Army all around the world: a Torah scroll, menorah, prayer book, cup and two candles.

Rabbi Lapp retired from active duty in 1982 with the rank of colonel, and was awarded the Legion of Merit by the U.S. Army. After his retirement he served as the director of the Jewish Welfare Board’s (JWB) Jewish Chaplains until 2006.

It was an honor and privilege to be part of this wonderful program. It was an honor and privilege to sit in the room with Rabbi Lapp, such a special treasure. There are quite a few more hidden treasures in the Fair Lawn community that NATEP hopes to spotlight in the near future.

If you are interested in our daily learning, live and on Zoom, or if you would like to be notified about any programs scheduled in the future please contact Mendy Aron at [email protected].

By Honny Aron

 

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