[Updated for 2023]
Fall is one of my favorite times on the Yard. The air is crisp. The leaves are crisp. The uniforms are even crisper.
You hear the drumbeats from parades at Worden Field, the shouts of all the fall sports and the strains of music emanating from practice halls as they prepare for upcoming concerts. It’s enough to make your heart swell with pride for this place and its people.
Go Behind the Scenes
Fall is also the time of the year when the Jewish Holidays are preeminent. Some are a time of celebration, some are for mourning and remembrance, but all are woven into a piece of the U.S. Naval Academy fabric.
Today, we’re going behind the scenes of a tour that focuses on an important tenet of an Academy education: a spiritual base. Fourth Class Midshipmen (Plebes) carry their 300+ page Reef Points handbook everywhere (think of this as the “survival guide” for midshipmen). It notes the basics of uniform protocol, flag signaling and more. This book also hosts “The Midshipman’s Prayer,” made for all faiths, which says: “Almighty God, whose way is in the sea….Let me be aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will...Guide me with the light of truth and give me strength to faithfully serve thee, now and always, Amen.”
While there has always been a strong moral standard set by the USNA, it is not affiliated with any one religion, but rather representative and inclusive of all. There are a number of houses of worship on the Yard and a number of clubs and groups that “foster spiritual, moral and emotional strength,” as noted by Reef Points. I’ve shared a great deal about the Chapel and its history. I want to take you for a closer look at the Jewish Chapel and Levy Center on the Yard.
The Yard Tour: Jewish Chapel and Levy Center at USNA
In September 2005, the awe-inspiring Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center was added to the Yard. Designed with whitewashed limestone in horizontal lines to echo nearby Bancroft Hall, the overall effect with the entrance pavilion is neoclassical, similar to nearby Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is no accident. Commodore Levy was one of the most famous Jewish military officers in the Navy. He was so moved by Jefferson’s support of religious freedoms he purchased Jefferson’s Monticello home when it was in decline, and lovingly restored it to its original state.
The Levy Center’s materials were chosen carefully for their meaning. Inside, a mosaic dome in the shape of a double helix was made with ancient Jerusalem stone. The domed prism skylight, in the shape of the Star of David, gives a glimpse of the heavens. There are seven entrances to the building, which reflect the seven openings of Abraham’s tent, welcoming all. There are many more treasures and beautifully symbolic items inside, and the Academy offers a tour that lets you experience this history, enchanting architecture and celebration of faith for yourself. Today, the synagogue is more than a place of worship—it is a training center for the moral development and education of the Brigade of Midshipmen.
The Levy Center, which includes Stein Fellowship Hall and Miller Chapel, has become a central part of Jewish midshipmen’s time on the Yard. It hosts clubs, special meals for the high holidays and Friday evenings for Shabbat, while also offering counseling, intramural activities and worship services, along with a general sense of community and fellowship for the midshipmen.
Learn more about the Levy Center at USNA and the activities and mission for the midshipmen of Jewish faith during the behind-the-scenes tour offered through the Visitor Center. After that, be sure to experience the plethora of Naval Academy tours that give you the full USNA experience. You may choose our historical walking tour that departs on the half-hour most days, or plan a private walking and driving tour that explores every facet of the Academy. You can enjoy a rich musical history tour or our USNA Tour and Tea at the Naval Academy Club. If you have little ones, the whole family can partake in our tours created just for kids. Want to pick up a bit of a naval education? There’s truly a tour for everyone.
Don’t forget when you take a tour you’re also giving back to the midshipmen who give their all for our freedom. Each USNA Tour gives its proceeds to extracurricular activities like cultural arts, theater, music, club sports and more for the Brigade. That’s a tour that really makes a difference.