Meet Captain Saul Rappeport, the newest addition to Colorado Springs’ Jewish clergy. Rabbi Rappeport is stationed at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He and his family moved here at the beginning of July.
Rabbi Rappeport was born in Perth, Australia and moved to Israel at age 12. He attended rabbinical school in Israel and relocated to the US when he was 23.
His civilian pulpits have included those in Pennsylvania and Long Island, New York. He has been a chaplain in the Air Force for almost three years, coming to Colorado from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Asked why he decided to go into the Air Force, Rabbi Rappeport said he considered it a “calling within a calling.”
During his time as a civilian rabbi, he met with people from all over the world, each with a story to tell. He heard things from those with whom he interacted that guided him in the direction of the military. He finally decided that it was “time to do it.”
The process involved an application and appearance in front of a panel. When he was accepted as a candidate, Rabbi Rappeport attended Officers Training School and chaplain training. The training taught him about the unique focus for chaplains in the Air Force.
Not only are chaplains in charge of Jewish programs and rituals for Jewish personnel and cadets on campus, they provide counseling and services to those of all faiths in the military. Rappeport is often called on to provide “faith-unspecific” prayer that is appropriate for all in attendance rather than only those of Jewish descent.
The most meaningful experience as a chaplain for Rabbi Rappeport involves interacting with cadets away from home, some for the first time. He has had special connections with many people as part of his job; every day means different interactions.
However, he says, during the Jewish holidays his connections grow stronger with the cadets. He enjoys providing, in the military environment, a “little Jewish oasis” for these young people, “where everybody knows your name.”
Rabbi Rappeport relates a story about a candidate for Special Warfare who grew up in New York but rejected all Jewish observance until he arrived at the base where Rappeport worked. After interacting with Rabbi Rappeport, the cadet decided he wanted to become a Bar Mitzvah.
Rappeport’s favorite part of his job is the people he meets. He says that he “serves those who serve.” It is his “privilege, honor and pleasure” to connect with them. He knows that everyone has a story to tell, and he has a unique opportunity to meet and advise them.
Rabbi-Captain-Chaplain Rappeport has in his direct charge between 1,100 and 1,200 cadets. He not only runs religious services for Jewish cadets, but also acts as a resource for those with life issues, both reactively and proactively. Most often, a cadet needs counseling for a crisis of faith or existence that is not faith-specific. He deals with all comers. A strength of his is requesting relaxation of military restrictions for those with religious observances that differ from strict Air Force protocol.
For example, a group of Muslim cadets asked him to help them in allowing their beards as part of their uniform. Rappeport applied for and was granted a lifting of the code in this instance.
The most difficult part of Rappeport’s job is being a member of the Death Notification Team. Consisting of the chaplain, commander and sergeant, the team breaks tragic news to those cadets who have lost loved ones. It is a meaningful and rewarding but difficult task, especially when dealing with a less-experienced airman or airwoman. Newer cadets do not instinctively recognize the seriousness imparted by their entrance into the room with the small panel of officers. They do not know that “their world is about to collapse.” It is a very challenging moment for the rabbi.
Rappeport also acknowledges the challenge of balancing his job with his home life. “The possibility of doing good is infinite, but you have to know when to switch off the faucet.”
Rappeport holds Shabbat services each Friday night for an average of 15 to 25 cadets. He is aware of 35 to 40 Jewish personnel on base, but there may be those who choose not to affiliate. The routine is to provide Shabbat dinner and Torah study before services.
Rabbi Rappeport tries to relate his sermons to the cadets’ lives: the military, leadership, officers, the future. He says, “Judaism is a source of knowledge applicable to their whole being.”
Recently, in-person Shabbat services have resumed at the Air Force Academy, only for cadets. Masks, social distancing and sanitizing are in place. Rabbi Rappeport is hopeful that his wife and children will be allowed to join him in person for the High Holiday services.
Of all the places Capt. Rappeport has lived, he enjoys Colorado the most. His view, he says, is “breathtaking.”