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Vice Admiral (Ret.) Herman Shelanski will present a lecture titled “Entries from a Jewish Admiral's Log Book: Aircraft Carriers, Torah, and the Inspiration to become an American Jewish Admiral” on April 30.
MELROSE PARK, Pa.—On April 30, Gratz College will host Vice Admiral (Ret.) Herman Shelanski for a lecture titled “Entries from a Jewish Admiral's Log Book: Aircraft Carriers, Torah, and the Inspiration to become an American Jewish Admiral.”
Shelanski retired in 2018 after a 38-year career in the U.S. Navy, during which he rose from a young aviator piloting E-2 Hawkeyes to the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Navy. His final role was Naval Inspector General, a post he assumed in May 2015.
In his lecture, Shelanski will discuss his personal experiences in the Navy, such as putting a Torah onboard an aircraft carrier. The lecture is the inaugural event in Gratz College’s Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series.
“The story of my career, my life in the Navy, is really the story of being Jewish in the U.S. military,” Shelanski said. “In many cases, it’s a very positive story of acceptance and change. Philosophically, life in the armed forces has become so much better, so much more diverse, due to Jewish heroes that went before me and paved the way.”
Shelanski will talk about his hero, Commodore Uriah P. Levy, the man who inspired him to serve in the Navy. Levy, also of Philadelphia, was a veteran of the War of 1812 who went on to become the first Jewish commodore of the U.S. Navy and helped end the Navy’s practice of flogging.
“Levy was both an American sailor and a Jew, and that really resonates with me,” Shelanski said. “His family came to America seeking religious freedom after the Inquisition and he was motivated by everything America had to offer—so much that when the War of 1812 broke out, he joined the Navy. Then he suffered through years of intense prejudice, but he overcame it. He stuck it out to make the Navy a more accepting place, laying the foundation for a better Navy today.”
Shelanski holds a Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado and a Master of Science in Electrical and Space Systems Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College, the Navy Nuclear Power School and Prototype, the Naval Reactors Commanding Officer Nuclear Engineer Course and the Naval War College.

“My personal story is about how being a Jew in the Navy affected me at the beginning of my career and made me a better leader,” Shelanski said. “And it’s about how being a leader in the Navy made me a better Jew.”
His lecture will be introduced by Dr. Michael H. Mittelman, Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.) and president of Salus University.

Shelanski’s experience is part of a larger story about Philadelphia Jews and the military, said Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman. The Old York Road corridor in Melrose Park, Pa., where Gratz is located, is home to two historic rabbis who also served as admirals in the Navy: Rabbi Aaron Landes and Rabbi Bertram Korn.

Rabbi Korn served in the Chaplain’s Corps of the U.S. Navy during WWII and was later promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first Jewish chaplain to receive flag rank in any of the armed forces. He also served as senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI), located just down the road from Gratz. The current senior rabbi at KI, Dr. Lance Sussman, is the vice chair of the Board of Governors of Gratz College.

Rabbi Aaron Landes served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, reaching the rank of rear admiral and retiring in 1989 as head of the Chaplain Corps. For 36 years, he served as rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation, also located just down the road from Gratz. Landes is the namesake for Gratz’s Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series.

“The Old York corridor where Gratz is located is absolutely unique in American Jewish history because it is the place where two rabbis who served as heads of the Chaplain Corps also served in synagogues across the street from each other,” Finkelman said. “I see this lecture as closing the circle of Philadelphia’s unique relationship between Jewish leadership and American military history.”

Shelanski’s lecture begins at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, April 30. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. Click here to register or for more information.

The Rabbi Admiral Aaron Landes Lecture Series is made possible through the generosity of Bryna and Joshua Landes and Family.