As a chaplain with the New York Army National Guard, Rabbi Bazer was called to New York City to help on the day of the terror attacks. Almost 10 years later, Bazer, a lieutenant colonel with the Massachusetts National Guard, has been called to serve in Afghanistan.
Rabbi Laurence Bazer remembers seeing blue sky on 9/11. And then he turned around.
The World Trade Center's Twin Towers had fallen.
"I felt like I was looking into Hell," he said.
As a chaplain with the New York Army National Guard, Bazer was called to New York City to help on the day of the terror attacks.
Almost 10 years later, Bazer, a lieutenant colonel with the Massachusetts National Guard, has been called to serve in Afghanistan.
"I was there at the start of this entire war," Bazer said last week. "It's a full-circle feeling that now I'm going."
His six- to seven-month tour in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, will be his first deployment after 22 years in the military.
Bazer leads a congregation of 500 families at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, Mass.
Parishioners are "very sad that I'm going, very concerned with my safety," Bazer said. "But what's most comforting is (they're) very proud that I'm serving," he said Wednesday in his office, which is filled with books and decorated with military mementos.
A pair of Beanie Babies wearing fatigues sits on a shelf. Bazer, 47, wore a G.I. Joe tie as he talked about his call to duty and having to leave his congregants and family behind. He and his wife, Leslie, have a 13-year-old son, Oren, and an 11-year-old daughter, Eliana.
As a joint forces state chaplain, Bazer is usually responsible for recruiting other chaplains to fill deploying units. But for the 26th Yankee Brigade's upcoming deployment in April, "I did not have someone within our ranks –– Mass. Guard –– to fill the position," he said..
"We're pleased we can make this kind of contribution," said temple president John Kahn, a Korean War veteran who served with the Navy.
Bazer said he hopes to return home in time for the Jewish high holy days, which start with Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 28.
"It's a great sacrifice," said Scott Sokol, the temple's cantor, who will fill in for Bazer. He frosted red, white and blue cupcakes for a send-off party the congregation is planning for Bazer this Saturday.
Bazer leaves Feb. 15 for mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas. Lt. Col. George Harrington, executive officer for the 26th Yankee Brigade, said Bazer is the first Jewish chaplain in Mass. National Guard history.
"I am actually thankful that he will be coming with us," Harrington said. "He is a good friend as a well as a very good military officer."
Bazer has counseled soldiers and their family members, prayed over send-off and welcome-home ceremonies and served as chaplain on the personal staff of the state guard's adjutant general, Joseph Carter.
In Afghanistan, he will work to build morale and support his fellow soldiers.
A chaplain is an ear to bend and a source of guidance, "someone to be there through sometimes dark times," Bazer said.
Bazer has been assigned two other roles, as well: to oversee Jewish religious programs for the Army in Kabul and to serve as command chaplain for all the Army's military bases in the city –– coordinating all services, religious supplies and other areas.
"As I say," he joked, "I'll be wearing three yamakas."
He won't carry a weapon, he said, but he will have an assistant who serves as his bodyguard.
"I know my job is not to go find Osama bin Laden in the foothills of Afghanistan," Bazer joked, but instead to bless the soldiers who go out on missions and welcome them back to their base. "That's a role I'm very proud of."
"One little boy said he's going to be the rabbi for the heroes," the temple’s preschool director, Barbara Davis, said. "I thought that was just so beautiful."
Danielle Ameden can be reached at 508-626-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.