Sunday, September 18, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The dedication of a Jewish chapel yesterday at the U.S. Naval Academy was hailed as symbolic of the acceptance of all religions in America.

“At the Naval Academy, we embrace freedom of religion in all that we do,” said Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, academy superintendent.

“Whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, Latter-day Saints, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or one of the many other religious faiths, we owe our midshipmen the opportunity to practice their beliefs as well as to understand how religion enters into their roles as combat leaders,” he said.

“The strength of our diversity is the greatest strength of our nation,” said Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations.

On hand for the dedication was Virginia Republican Sen. John W. Warner, who was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II.

“As always, our Marines and sailors will draw comfort and inspiration from their religious faith, nurtured by our Chaplain Corps in magnificent chapels like this one or from the back of a Humvee on a sandy desert eight times zones away,” he said.

The new chapel is part of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center, named after one of the first Jewish U.S. naval officers, who was a hero and prisoner for 16 months during the War of 1812. He served for 50 years, bought and restored Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, arranged for the Jefferson statue to be placed in the U.S. Capitol and was fervently patriotic despite facing six court-martial attempts as a result of anti-Semitism.

Construction on the 35,000-square-foot center began Nov. 2, 2003. It includes a 410-seat synagogue, a Character Learning Center, fellowship hall, classrooms and offices.

The interior includes a 12-foot-wide prism, constructed in the shape of the Star of David, illuminating the mosaic tile floor of the atrium. The chapel side of the center includes a 45-foot-tall replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The entrance is an adaptation from Monticello.

The Levy Center cost $8 million to design, build and furnish. About $1.8 million was military construction funds. The remaining funds were raised in more than 2,800 private donations by the Friends of the Jewish Chapel.

Next door is the recently renovated Mitscher Hall. That 53,900-square-foot building includes a 600-seat auditorium, meeting spaces, classrooms, offices for the academy’s chaplains and an All Faiths Chapel. Nearby is Bancroft Hall with a Muslim prayer room.

The All Faiths Chapel has been a place of worship and meditation for midshipmen of many faiths. For the first 100 of the academy’s 150 years, most religious services were Christian and all midshipmen were required to attend. Late in the 1930s, Jewish midshipmen were allowed to attend services at Annapolis synagogues.

Yesterday’s ceremonies and tours were attended by about 2,000 civilians and more than 300 midshipmen, wearing white caps and uniforms. Music came from the academy chorus, including “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.”

There are 4,200 midshipmen enrolled at the academy.

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