Ariel Rice, who serves in the Maryland Army National Guard, was on base earlier this week when he got word there was someone coming to speak about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

“I was definitely surprised, definitely excited – I get questions all the time asking ‘what is Judaism,’ ” Rice noted just days before the onset of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that begins this Sunday night. “So to have somebody come out and explain what Rosh Hashanah is, what Yom Kippur is … then the captains or the people in charge know what it’s about.”

Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland, was there, pamphlets, ram’s horn, and the prayer boxes known as tefillin in tow, ready to answer questions and have conversations with anyone who wanted to chat. A chaplain with the Maryland State Guard, he recently launched a new organization called Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland.

Having been with the State Guard since 2007, when his appointment earned headlines for the fact that he sports a full beard, Tenenbaum spends a lot of time dealing with Jewish people in uniform, whether it’s the fire department, police, or military.

His business card sports the motto “serving those who serve us.”

For the launch of his newest venture, Tenenbaum held pre-Rosh Hashanah gatherings at two different armories in Maryland. He blew the ram’s horn – known in Hebrew as a shofar – and taught attendees about the High Holiday’s various customs. The rabbi credited the support of Chaplain William Scott Lee of the Maryland National Guard as key in reaching out to various Jewish service members.

Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum blows a ram’s horn known as a shofar.
Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum blows a ram’s horn known as a shofar.

“Any person who is in uniform is fulfilling a mitzvah by helping other people,” he explained. “This is a way of giving back to these people. If I can be of help to them, it’s an honor for me to do that.”

Last year, Tenenbaum hosted a temporary hut known as a sukkah at the Rockville Fire Department for the holiday of Sukkot.

“We had a lot of people stop by and it went really well, and for some of the firemen it was their first time being in a sukkah,” he noted.

Rice remarked that in his three years in the national guard, he’s never seen people respond so well to a rabbi.

“I enjoy it when the rabbi comes,” he said. “There’s a community here to reach out to.”