You Should Know…Rabbi Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky

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Photo courtesy of Rabbi Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky

When he first enlisted in the National Guard and signed an ROTC contract in 2006, Rabbi Aaron Stucker-Rozovsky didn’t envision that he’d end up becoming a congregational rabbi and military chaplain, but that’s the road he’s taken with 18 years of military service, earning the rank of major.

His career began after he was commissioned as a military police officer through ROTC during his sophomore year of college with the Rhode Island National Guard in 2008. Stucker-Rozovsky was later sent on deployment to Guantanamo Bay, where his passion to become a rabbi became apparent.

Now, after being ordained in 2018, Stucker-Rozovsky serves as a chaplain with the 338th Medical Brigade in a role with the Army Reserves and as the rabbi for Beth El Congregation in Winchester, Virginia.

How did you get interested in pastoral work while on deployment in Guantanamo Bay?

While in Guantanamo Bay, I was a military police officer. I found myself visiting troops, talking to them in the guard towers, guard posts, throughout the base. I was one of only one or two Jewish guys in my entire unit, and people knew I was Jewish because I never hid it. As such, they’d often ask me questions like, ‘Hey, why can’t you have cheeseburgers, why can’t you have crab? Why don’t you guys celebrate Christmas?’ They were friendly, innocent questions, and some of the questions they asked weren’t simple! I sometimes would find myself saying, ‘I’ll have to get back to you’ … And I realized I really loved these interactions. You’re with someone who’s up in a guard tower for 12 hours at a time, providing company and engagement and you’re talking about some very fascinating theological questions. One day, one of my squad leaders said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about being a rabbi?’ and I laughed it off. But I thought about it more and realized it was not a bad idea at all. So, these experiences with other service members coupled with feedback from important others opened my mind to pastoral care and rabbinic life, and set me on the course to pursue the rabbinate and subsequently, military chaplaincy from there.

What is a basic summary of your role as a major?

As a brigade chaplain, one of my major roles is supervising other chaplains. Under the brigade you have battalions, and those battalions have chaplains, and it’s those chaplains who are doing direct ministry. So, I’m monitoring battalion-level chaplains to make sure they have resources they need, collect data on pastoral care services being delivered, and provide additional support as needed to these chaplains. I also liaise with my higher command to ensure this data is being accurately communicated up the chain.

How did you end up working as a rabbi for Beth El?

I’ve been ordained as a Rabbi since 2018. I was the director of rabbinical services for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), based out of Jackson, Mississippi for two years, which was a wonderful way to start off my rabbinate. During this time, I met my wonderful wife, Eliza, and she was getting her doctorate at James Madison University in clinical psychology. When we got engaged, I didn’t want to be in Mississippi while she was up in Virginia. I was very blessed that there were several congregations that had open positions in our area while I was searching. When I interviewed with Beth El Congregation in Winchester, it immediately felt like a perfect fit. We loved the people we met while we interviewed here and we felt some affinity for Winchester. It has been a great fit which is such a blessing, [and we] really haven’t looked back.

Can you describe the satisfaction that you get out of your role with Beth El? 

I really do love being a small-town rabbi. There’s just something so wonderful about being in a smaller congregation. I really get to know my congregants on a deep level, and it is so rewarding to be part of their lives and have our congregants be part of our lives. It’s an indescribable feeling to see kids grow up and be part of their life cycle events, to marry a couple and then take part in their baby’s baby naming. I love helping people feel that they can celebrate their Jewish lives and their Jewish identity with joy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

How has your role at Beth El been beneficial to your work as a chaplain?

Right now, I do one weekend a month at the Command and General Staff College. So, Beth El  has worked with me to tailor my schedule around my military duties to allow me to complete this military education. Once I go back to drilling with my unit, they’ll again work with me to adjust my schedule accordingly. So, I’m beyond grateful that I’m able to wear both hats, and that they have that flexibility and that understanding to let me do that. Out of appreciation, I applied and they received the Department of Defense award called the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Patriot award. It’s from the Department of Defense and it honors employers who allow and help their employees serve both in their civilian life and wear the uniform. So, my congregation, I think, has been just a perfect textbook example of being a supportive employer.

How does your Jewish identity interact with your job with the military? 

This country has done so much for the Jewish people. I’m so grateful for the First Amendment. Within the military, I have had so many chaplains, so many leaders throughout the years, many of whom were not Jewish, support my Jewish faith and support me as I became a rabbi and military chaplain. Now, it’s [about] paying it forward, returning the favor. I want to make sure that any Muslim soldier, Hindu soldier, Buddhist soldier, Catholic soldier, Norse pagan soldier, atheist soldier, or agnostic soldier feels that they can have their true identity, their true beliefs, and faith or lack thereof supported within the context of their military service. Just as I want to make sure that Jewish soldiers have all the resources there they need, I want to make sure that soldiers of all the other different faith groups and belief systems have their needs met as well. So that’s how my Jewish identity informs my role within the military.

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