Brighton rabbi trains for new role in the RAF

Rabbi Samuel de Beck Spitzer was commissioned at a graduation ceremony attended by Prince Edward at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire


An Orthodox rabbi has become the first Jewish flight lieutenant chaplain to have undergone RAF officer training.

Rabbi Samuel de Beck Spitzer, who until recently led Hove Hebrew Congregation, was commissioned at a graduation ceremony, attended by Prince Edward at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

He will be attached to 600 squadron at RAF Northolt, providing support to personnel of all religions and none. He told the JC: “Scenarios could be anything from family issues to PTSD.

“Everybody turns to the chaplain at times of crisis.” Calling it “a really historic moment in Jewish-British history”, the 50-year-old rabbi undertook a ten-week bespoke training programme alongside other officer cadets, which he described as “rewarding, rich, but very hard to navigate at times”.

He said after his graduation: “In his speech, Prince Edward said that no one would be able to grasp the difficulties each cadet had experienced at Cranwell during their training. Laymen usually think about the hard physical training, but the emotional and mental stress level is so high.”

Rabbi de Beck Spitzer said that the greatest lessons he had learnt from [the training] was “to be true to oneself and to lead by example”.

Asked what had attracted him to the role, he said: “A sense of service and gratitude to Great Britain in all that it has offered me in terms of education and living, as well as the opportunity to expand my exposure and service outside the realms of the Jewish community exclusively.”

Rabbi de Beck Spitzer, who has French and Indian-Iraqi heritage, grew up in both the Sephardic and Chasidic communities of Stamford Hill and was an erstwhile student of the late Rabbi Schmelke Pinter, a leading figure in the Orthodox community.

Before becoming rabbi of the Hove Hebrew Congregation, also known as Holland Road Shul, he led the Lisbon Jewish community.

He said he hoped “to bring a different perspective to military chaplaincy”.

The new role adds to his already eclectic CV since, as a professionally trained baritone, the rabbi has performed as a soloist with the Israeli Opera (formerly the New Israeli Opera) and the Israeli Philharmonic.

“I’m still singing from time to time and the RAF is interested in inviting me to sing with their music ensembles,” he said.

Although the new position won’t require him to fly planes, he does hold a private pilot’s licence, though he hasn’t used it for 25 years..

Rabbi de Beck Spitzer was joined at the ceremony by his mother, sister and son, 23, who had flown in from Israel. “My son was a soldier with the Golani Brigade [an elite IDF unit]. He was fascinated by all the pomp and circumstance. Unlike the RAF, when you are in Golani, you don’t have time to polish your boots.”

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