From his home in Riverdale, Dr. Avraham (Avi) Henoch can see the Palisades and the Hudson River, where he sails as a hobby. Seven years ago, he applied his love of the ocean in service of the country and the Jewish community, serving as a volunteer medical officer for the US Coast Guard.
“I joined to be a better mariner and I take care of the medical needs of the cadets,” he said. Serving for two to three weeks in a year, the auxiliary officer wears a uniform and is given the same respect as active service members. “We had a cadet with septic shock who had to be evacuated from the boat, and we’ve had cadets fainting on the boat.”
This past summer, Dr. Henoch sailed out of the base at New London on a historic ship, USCGC Eagle (WIX-327), a sailing ship that is the oldest one in active service, and is used for training. “It was built by the Nazis and named for Horst Wessel, an early martyr of that party,” he said. Hitler attended its launch in Hamburg in 1936, where he was serenaded with the Horst Wessel Lied, the Nazi Party anthem. Two years later, the Henoch family fled from their home in suburban Berlin, following the Kristallnacht pogrom. “My father was 14. With help from a Chinese diplomat, they traveled to Shanghai,” he said.
After Germany was defeated, the Horst Wessel was awarded to the Coast Guard, renamed after this country’s national symbol, and taken to its port at New London. When he is not tending to the medical needs of cadets, he serves as an unofficial chaplain for the Jews on board. “In 2022, we sailed during Purim, and I brought a megillah with me. I thought that I’d be reading for myself, but the captain was one-eighth Jewish and there were two Jewish cadets. We read it in the captain’s quarters.”
Earlier this summer, the ship sailed to Helsinki to welcome Finland into the NATO alliance. During its two-week crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, it was Tish’ah B’Av, and Dr. Henoch leined Eichah for the seven Jewish cadets who joined him. He appreciates davening aboard the ship built by his family’s tormentors. “It shows the forces of freedom triumphing over evil. There are materials aboard the ship that show its German history.”
Most of the Coast Guard’s mission involves protecting the country’s maritime borders and rescuing people at sea. “It is a force of 60,000 people that relies on auxiliaries. It’s an intelligent lot,” he said. When he is not at sea, Dr. Henoch commutes to the Coast Guard base on Staten Island.
Concerning daily conditions for an observant Jew, Dr. Henoch said that it is not a cruise, but they “work with you” to make it easier or have a kosher meal and reserve time to daven. “Not all Coast Guard jobs are at sea; some are on the bases. There are ranks, uniforms, retirement in your 40s, and it’s mainly in a non-combat, policing role.”
By Sergey Kadinsky