Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division

by

Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain


Touring Rabat and Observing
The Jewish Holidays of Shabuoth

While we were at Rabat we discovered how interesting the local walled city could be.  Officers could visit the Medina on pass, but the enlisted men could not.  On June 1st I contacted the Provost Marshal of the VI Corps to learn what arrangements could be made for the enlisted men.  With considerable help from Lieutenant Charles Walker, aide to General Walker, we finally got authority to conduct tours of the Medina for the enlisted men provided they were accompanied by a responsible officer.

During the months of June and July many such tours were conducted by Chaplain MacCombie and Lt. Walker.  The tours were available to all units of the division located in the vicinity of Rabat.  This was a very different life-style than our men had known before.  Mint Tea was very popular sipped in the palace garden.  The veiled women, the wandering goats and the open-air markets interested our men.  At the meat stalls one had to brush away the flies to determine whether the hanging meat was beef or mutton.

These tours had to be carefully supervised.  Some men wanted to move fast.  Some wanted to stop and view especially interesting sights.  On occasion I would have a request from a soldier to turn back because the sights and sounds were too much for him.  These requests had to be denied.  We had to keep together. 

On June 8th, 9th, and 10th occurred the Jewish Holidays of Shabuoth sometimes called the Festival of the Weeks, or Pentecostal days.  In modern times it is celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai (Matan Torah).  The scrolls of the Torah are presented in the synagogue and at least in Africa are paraded around the meeting room.

I obtained permission from the Corps Headquarters for our Jewish men to attend worship in the local synagogue.  Then I contacted the president of the local Jewish community to secure their approval of such attendance.  Permission was gladly given.  Appropriate orders were issued by Division Headquarters.  The following schedule was arranged:

Tuesday, June 8th at 2000    143rd Infantry Regiment
Wednesday, June 9th at 0800   111th Medical Battalion
Hq. And M.P. Company
Special Company
Signal Company
June 9th at 2000   141st Infantry Regiment
Thursday, June 10th at 0800   Division Artillery
111th Engineer Battalions
736th Ordnance

Altogether 174 men of the Jewish faith attended services in the local synagogue.  Because of the narrow streets we had to leave our transportation outside the walls of the ghetto and walk to the synagogue.  I led the troops.

On Thursday morning when we were coming in I saw a large group of natives waiting in the square.  I thought maybe they objected to my presence.  Many of them had fled from Nazi terror.  Many had lost relatives and friends in the holocaust of Germany and France.  I would not have blamed them if they resented a Christian coming into their midst.  I could not stop.  I had to go on.

When I reached the crowd an old man with a long beard stepped out, accompanied by the president of the local Jewish community.  He was the Grand Rabbi of Morocco.  He kissed me on the cheeks and thanked me for making it possible for the men of our division to visit with the Jews of Rabat.  Then he told me that the families of the community had arranged to entertain my men in their homes for luncheon after the worship services, if I would grant my permission.  It seemed like a wonderful opportunity for my men.  I said I would let them go to lunch in the local homes if they would agree to assemble promptly at a designated hour after lunch.  Every one of them reported promptly and without incident.  I was happy for them and glad it had worked out so well.

Not so the Corps Chaplain.  Someone told him I had allowed my men to enter local homes alone.  He really lectured me about my action and stated that I could not take any more men to the Jewish quarter and that if I did he would have me court-marshaled.  It didnít really matter.  The holidays were over.  All my men of the Jewish faith had been given an opportunity to worship with their fellow Jews.  I was satisfied and General Walker approved my actions.

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Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

 
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