Religious Identity During Wartime
It was difficult for Jewish servicemen to escape being labeled as Jews. The Canadian Armed Forces required all personnel to state their religion on their enlistment forms. Some Jews were concerned about how they would be treated if they disclosed this information, so they deliberately left it out. If a person included their religious identity on the enlistment form, “J”, “H”, or “HEB” was printed on the dog tags to identify them as being Jewish. By 1942, “OD”, meaning “Other Denomination”, was used instead, in an attempt to avoid discrimination by Canadian troops, as well as the potential persecution and torture of Jewish servicemen held in POW camps.
Jewish chaplains, who were all rabbis, played an important role in addressing the religious and social needs of Jewish servicemen. Working with the Canadian Jewish Congress, the chaplains were responsible for providing comfort, support, and religious leadership to the Jewish troops. In doing so, they performed many functions, including: arranging services on Jewish holidays, distributing prayer books and Jewish calendars, and ensuring that Jewish graves were marked with the Star of David. During the Second World War, Jewish chaplains did everything they could to ensure that Jewish personnel could observe Passover, by having matzah, prepared gefilte fish, and smoked meat sent overseas through the War Efforts Committee of the CJC.
Appointed in 1941, Rabbi S. Gershon Levi was the first full-time Jewish chaplain in the Canadian military. Posted overseas in 1942, Captain Levi was also the first Jewish chaplain with a Canadian overseas force. A number of rabbis, such as: Samuel Cass, Isaac Rose, E. F. Mandelcorn, H. Gevantman, and David Aaron Monson served under Levi during the course of the Second World War.