APG civilian volunteers lead daily Jewish prayer services at APG chapel

Steven Raczkowski, center, a computer scientist with CERDEC, prays during a Jewish prayer service at the Aberdeen Proving Ground chapel Wednesday, Nov. 29. U.S. Army photo by Jon Bleiweis, APG News.

Prayer time for some Jewish APG employees used to mean searching for an empty conference room, stepping out into the parking lot or praying quietly at their desks.

Now, all are able to pray together in an organized setting on post, as daily Jewish afternoon services have been arranged at the APG North (Aberdeen) chapel.

Organized and led by civilians, Jewish prayer services have been taking place in classroom 4 of the chapel for the past month. They are about 15 minutes in length.

Services are held Monday through Thursday and start a half hour after midday, which is evaluated on a weekly basis.

“It’s great,” said Yaakov Gorlin, an engineer with the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. “It’s spiritually uplifting and it also saves us the trouble of trying to run out of work early to go somewhere else.”

For Steven Raczkowski, two years of trying to make the services a reality have come to fruition. He said he modeled the program after similar efforts at Fort Meade, the National Security Agency, and Booz Allen Hamilton in Linthicum, Maryland.

“It’s a dream come true,” Raczkowski said.

The prayer service is open to all denominations of Judaism and is performed in Hebrew.

While the service is open to men and women, a quorum of 10 Jewish men — known as a minyan, per Orthodox Jewish customs — must be met before a service can take place. Raczkowski said about 15 people regularly attend the services.

He said he hopes to soon have a supply of prayer books for participants and to enlist a rabbi to lead the services. For now, the participants lead and bring their own prayer books – physical and electronic.

APG Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. Michael King said the Army mandates that the chaplain corps either performs or provides services for religions, to protect first amendment rights. A longstanding Islam group meets daily, he said.

He added that about 400 Jewish people live or work on the installation.

“It gives one more faith group an opportunity to practice their faith in a public forum,” he said.

The group is planning a Hanukkah party for Dec. 19, noon to 1 p.m. at the APG North (Aberdeen) chapel. The public is welcome to attend to learn about the holiday, sample traditional holiday foods and play with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, played with during Hanukkah.

For more information about the Jewish prayer services contact Raczkowski at 443-861-0543 or email steven.e.raczkowski.civ@mail.mil.