Airborne Rabbi Leads By Example
by U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Cieslak
January 16, 2019
Determination to lead by example spurs a Chaplain to serve alongside paratroopers.
Capt. Yisahar Izak’s drive to be a role-model to fellow faith-leaders and paratroopers in the midst of adversity spurs him to serve as a Chaplain in the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“When I came into the US Army, there was a lack of Jewish Chaplains in active jump status, meaning we are not able to have a Rabbi lead by example for our paratroopers,” said Izak. “I was already a fan of the 82nd by virtue of studying its history and proud legacy. It was a win-win match with my high motivation to become an Airborne-qualified Chaplain.
U.S. Army Capt. Yisahar Izak, a Chaplain in the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team (1-505), 82nd Airborne Division proudly stands in front of the memorial for the 1-505 fallen paratroopers in the Global War On Terroirsm ... Rabbi Izak strives to be a role-model to fellow faith-leaders and paratroopers in the midst of adversity. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
Before his assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division, Izak globe-trekked through forty different countries on four continents, growing up in six of them and spending over 17 years in developing regions.
“Having been a civilian, member of a Non-Governmental Organization and soldier at war in other countries, I came to the conclusion the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence are the most sacred human-written texts and the only ones that give humans a chance to coexist in a civilized manner,” said Izak. “To serve them would be the highest ministry I could achieve.”
Orthodox Jewish by faith denomination, Izak previously served as a Rabbi in Flatbush, New York, Izmir, Turkey and in numerous locations in Israel. He first heard his calling to faith while involved in humanitarian relief and disaster response operations in South Asia and the Middle East between 1998 and 1999.
“The amount of suffering pushed me towards more and more self-reflection to the point that after the two large earthquakes in Turkey with over 50,000 casualties combined…I could not reason with all what was going on all around me,” said Izak. “All I knew was I needed to understand the balance in all what goes on.
“I set sails to go to seminary. Being concerned with volunteering, eager to address other’s needs, and having a genuine concern to help others – I ended up evolving into a faith leader,” continued Izak. “More than a calling, it was a natural journey full of divine providence.”
The transition from faith-student to faith-leader was natural for Izak. After seven years of full-time study, he was approached by his elders with the offer to study for the Rabbinical exams. His drive to lead by example in the midst of adversity eventually led him to serve alongside paratroopers in the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg.
Izak’s kippa, the traditional brimless skull cap worn by Jews to fulfill orthodox requirements to keep their head covered at all times, is often the topic of conversation between he and paratroopers along with his prayer shawl and other ecclesiastical items.
“One of the three main competencies of the Chaplain Corps is to nourish the living, requiring me to provide services for my religion while facilitating services for all paratroopers per their faith group,” said Izak. “I love the concept of chaplaincy where a minister can care for everyone regardless what religion they are.”