In the Navy: First Jewish chaplain aboard a warship seeks to build relationships

Rabbi Noteh Glogauer, a chaplain with the Canadian Armed Forces

You can call Arnold Noteh Glogauer lots of things: rabbi, doctor (as in PhD), captain, chaplain, or padre.

“It doesn’t matter what you call me,” he said, “as long as you call me.”

He’s at his best when interacting with about 240 Royal Canadian Navy personnel aboard the HMCS Winnipeg, a 134-metre-long frigate now traversing the Pacific Ocean toward Asia in Operation Projection.

During this operation, which will last until December, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are conducting training, exercises, and engagements with foreign navies and other international security partners—part of Canada’s “ongoing commitment to global peace,” says the military on its website.

For Rabbi Glogauer, it’s an opportunity to minister to sailors of every religious stripe over the four months the ship is at sea.

“It’s all about creating relationships,” he told The CJN prior to shipping out. “I work very hard to do that.”

He’s the newest full-time Jewish chaplain in the CAF, the first rabbi ever posted to the Royal Canadian Navy, and the first to be deployed on a Canadian warship. The Winnipeg departed CFB Esquimalt on Aug. 17.

As the effervescent 51-year-old Chabad rabbi and captain told The CJN prior to shipping out, CAF chaplains have dual accountability, to faith traditions and military authority. As a religious leader, chaplains fall under the jurisdiction of their own faith or denominational group.

But because he’s the only padre aboard the Winnipeg, Rabbi Glogauer has to be able to shift gears on the go, and hew closely to the three “pillars” of the military chaplaincy: To minister to members of one’s own religion, to facilitate the worship of others, and to care for all, even if that means simply consoling a homesick young sailor.

He said Jews comprise an estimated one per cent of the regular strength of the CAF—reflecting numbers in the general population—or roughly 700 men and women. The military does not release official numbers on religion.

Still, “wherever I go, I find Jewish members,” Rabbi Glogauer noted.

Jewish chaplains, he explained, repeating the pillars, “never minister to other faiths. We only minister to our own. So I focus on caring for all and facilitating the worship of others.”

To that end, he’s prepared pre-recorded videos of Sunday worship services for Catholic and Protestant sailors “so they have the opportunity to connect to their own spirituality.”

For an Indigenous member, the rabbi organized a smudging ceremony prior to departure and procured supplies for that member to do smudging throughout the Winnipeg’s trip.

For Muslims, there are Qur’ans and prayer mats, and Rabbi Glogauer ensured the ship’s galley met requirements for halal and vegan meals.

As for himself, he has more than enough frozen kosher meals, jokingly likening them to TV dinners, “just like in the old days.”

“The military has been very clear in being able to support my own needs during this trip,” he said.

That includes the High Holidays, during which Rabbi Glogauer will be aboard ship. So, he’s brought along a shofar to blow every day during the Jewish month of Elul, culminating in Rosh Hashanah. He calls that “one of the most exciting things” happening on this trip.

Another will take place on Sukkot. He’s made arrangements to pick up a lulav and etrog from Israel either in Japan or South Korea.

The downside of this mission? For the first time in 32 years, the rabbi will be apart from his wife, Chaya, their two university-aged children in Toronto, and a daughter in New York who recently had a baby.

He’s only the third rabbi since the Second World War to serve full time in the regular Forces.

He follows Capt. Bryan Bowley, a Montreal native who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2013 after a career as a pulpit rabbi. Rabbi Glogauer’s mentor, Capt. (Ret.) Lazer Danzinger, a Toronto-area rabbi, was the first, after switching from the Reserves to the regular Forces in 2010.

In 2007, Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn of Ottawa became the first Jewish chaplain in the Forces since the Second World War, as a member of the Reserves. And Reform Rabbi Karen Soria of Winnipeg joined the Reserves in 2010, becoming the first female Jewish chaplain in the Forces.

The Forces’ Royal Canadian Chaplain Service does not provide lists of chaplains categorized by religion. But a spokesperson told The CJN that there are currently six Jewish chaplains, three each in the Regular Forces and in the Reserves.

Born in South Africa, Rabbi Glogauer immigrated to Calgary in 1977 with his parents and siblings. He majored in French and mathematics at the University of Calgary and received semikhah (rabbinic ordination) from institutions in New York and Israel.

He also earned a master’s degree in educational technology, and in 2007, completed his doctorate in instructional technology and distance education. At just 29, he became a principal at schools in Calgary, New York, and Sydney.

In 2016, he released an impishly but revealingly titled book, Never Give Up: A Journey from Class Clown to School Principal.

Around that time, he decided to leave teaching.

“It made me realize that serving in the military would be an opportunity for me to give back to the larger community and, in moving back to Canada, give back all that Canada had provided for me,” Rabbi Glogauer told The CJN in 2018.

He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2017, inspired, in part, by family history: His German great-grandfather was awarded an Iron Cross in the First World War, but in 1936, the family escaped Hitler’s Europe and settled in South Africa.

At first, he was nearly overwhelmed by how warmly he, a clearly visible minority, was welcomed—“from my fire team partner at basic training in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu carrying my pack on Shabbat, to the HMCS Kingston’s chief cook handing me the kosher food manifest and saying, ‘choose whatever you need.’”

As chaplain at 12 Wing Shearwater outside Halifax, Rabbi Glogauer was known as “Padre Bagel” for the nine dozen bagels he would have delivered to the base every Friday.

He was supposed to ship out last May aboard HMCS Kingston for a 10-week deployment to the Baltic Sea, but the mission was scotched due to COVID. When he found out that a chaplain was needed aboard the Winnipeg, on the other side of the country, he eagerly volunteered.

“Knowing my keen desire to deploy and create a groundbreaking opportunity to demonstrate that Jewish chaplains, as all chaplains, are able to care for all, I raised my hand,” he said.

For Rabbi Glogauer, the job is not about titles or formalities but cultivating relationships, even before deployment, so that a Forces member coming to see him would be “a natural progression.” The bagel story is an example, he said, of how personal, collegial connections are made.

“If I can do what I do, hopefully they’ll look past the beard and see the heart,” he said. “I have a few other tricks up my sleeve to connect to all the members here.”