He sports a full-length beard, is 52 years old, and spent 20 years as a computer programmer. And last week, Chabad-Lubavitch Lazer Danzinger became only the second rabbi since World War II to join the ranks of the Canadian armed forces as a chaplain and officer.
He heads to boot camp next month to be trained as a captain with the 25th Service Battalion of the 32nd Canadian Brigade headquartered in Toronto. He'll be the brigade's first rabbi in more than 60 years.
"I am the first Jewish chaplain ever in the Canadian Forces whose parents were Holocaust survivors," he says. "Naturally, the poignancy of this historical event impresses upon me the awesome responsibility of my position."
Born and raised in Toronto, Danzinger attended the Associated Hebrew Day School and the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto before spending his final high school years in the city's Ner Israel Yeshiva. After high school, he studied at various yeshivas throughout Israel and was ordained at the central Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For the next two decades, he worked in the computer industry as a programmer and manager, but in 2005, he decided to return to his real passion of chaplaincy.
"Following my sense of obligation to serve in places where I was needed, I became a part-time Jewish chaplain at York Central Hospital and for the Correctional Service of Canada," he explains. "And after recently completing a clinical pastoral education course given by the head chaplain of the University Health Network, I am confident that I can fulfill the Canadian Force's chaplaincy mission of 'ministering to my own, facilitating worship for others and caring for all.' "
Danzinger also counsels people online as a member of Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team and works as a translator for the Kehot Publication Society, the publishing arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.
"I am thrilled to welcome Rabbi Danzinger to the battalion," says Lt. Col. Andrew Zalvin, the rabbi's commanding officer. He joins "a team that's uniquely qualified to serve the spiritual needs of a unit that may be the most culturally diverse in all of the Canadian Army."
Caring for All
Danzinger's 200-strong battalion, a logistics unit based at Denison Armoury in North York, includes soldiers whose first languages range from Arabic to Hungarian to Hindi.
"We worship with our own, facilitate the worship of others, and serve all," says Maj. Gillian Federico, the senior chaplain for the battalion's brigade.
"This mission dovetails with the teachings of my mentor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory," says Danzinger. "He urged his disciples to engage Jews of all stripes to invite them to experience the richness of their people’s heritage. Moreover, the Rebbe encouraged caring for non-Jews as well by inviting them to reflect upon the core values that serve as the underpinnings of any moral society, the Seven Noachide Laws predicated on the belief in a Supreme Being."
Danzinger's four weeks of basic training begin May 4. He'll be taught military rank and structure, how to live with troops in the field, and the nature of military chaplaincy. He will not receive weapons training, because Canadian service chaplains to not carry firearms.
Says the rabbi: "I am looking forward to the physical, mental, and spiritual challenges that the demanding training will entail."