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November 9, 2011 By:
Chaplain Gets Flagged
When she learned that 14 Jewish chaplains were going to be honored at Arlington National Cemetery last month, local resident Beth Chernoff knew something was missing.
Chernoff, who had enrolled in ROTC at Temple University and served in a military intelligence unit in Northeast Philadelphia in the 1980s, had read about Chana Timoner, the first female Jewish chaplain to serve on active duty in the armed forces.
"Rabbi Timoner served six honorable years, often demonstrating skills that amazed her male counterparts," Chernoff said. "She brought kosher food to Fort Bragg, and at Christmas and Chanukah arranged for donations of needed clothing, toys and appliances so that enlisted men, women and families would have a happier holiday."
Timoner, of New Haven, Conn., was stationed in Korea, which is where she became ill. She died shortly after returning home, said Chernoff.
Her name was not on the plaque with the other fallen chaplains honored at Chaplains Hill on Oct. 24 because she had been medically discharged two months prior to her death in 1998, at age 46.
Chernoff, who knew something from personal experience about the importance of chaplaincy work, believed that Timoner should be acknowledged in some way. (Her own father, Aaron Chernoff, a Civil Affairs reserve officer from Philadelphia, had traveled around the country voluntarily providing prayerbooks and other religious material to posts with no assigned Jewish chaplain.)
She contacted Timoner's widower, Julian, who revealed his desire to receive an American flag, as is customary at funerals of military personnel.
A librarian by profession, Chernoff put her research skills to use.
She arranged for a flag to be presented at a separate ceremony in Washington the night before the dedication ceremony for the chaplains' memorial.
First flown over the U.S. Capitol, the flag was presented to Timoner's widower by retired Rear Adm. Rabbi Harold Robinson, former director of the JWB's Jewish Chaplain's Council.
Chernoff had a gift of her own for Julian Timoner -- a wooden flag case inscribed with the symbols of his wife's life: a Star of David, an Army branch emblem and the chaplain corps motto, "Pro Deo et Patria" (For God and Country).
Chernoff said she was "honored to have even a small role in this history-making event."
Julian Timoner, who now lives in central Florida, spoke with pride about his late wife's commitment. "Shortly after enlisting, at age 39, she told me how much she loved the army and knew this was her life's mission."
He recalled that on one of his visits to her at Fort Monmouth, N.J., she announced that she was going on active duty and that she would be the first female rabbi on full-time active duty in the army.
He said the flag presentation in Washington, D.C., was "amazing," and added that he was sure that "Chana would have loved every minute."