1st Jewish female full-time Army chaplain dies at 46

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (JTA) — Rabbi Chana Timoner, 46, the first Jewish woman to serve as a full-time chaplain in the U.S. Army, died July 13 in her sleep.

Her husband, Dr. Julian Timoner, believes she died as a result of an accidental overdose of pain medication and sleeping pills. She had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, specifically the Epstein-Barr virus.

Julian Timoner said the medical examiner's office performed a toxicology report, the results of which will be received in a few weeks.

Until her honorable discharge for medical reasons two months ago, Chana Timoner had served for more than six years in the Army, rising to the rank of captain.

Religion and the military were deeply ensconced in her background. Her Russian-born maternal grandfather was a rabbi in New Haven, Conn., and her mother joined the Canadian army in 1940 — a year before the United States entered World War II — because she wanted to fight the Nazis, the New York Times reported.

Married at 18, Timoner graduated from Southern Connecticut State University, which she attended while raising two children. They were teenagers when she made the decision to enroll in rabbinical school.

According to the New York Times, Timoner decided to enter religious studies in 1984 when a friend said to her, "You know, in seven years you could be a 40-year-old housewife or you could be a 40-year-old rabbi."

For five years Timoner commuted to New York City to attend the Academy for Jewish Religion, where she was ordained in 1989. She then spent two more years studying for a doctorate at the New York Theological Seminary. She was working on her dissertation at the time of her death.

At age 39, she entered the Army, undaunted by the grueling challenges of basic training. There are countless stories of her caring nature. She organized donations to be made to social service agencies and to those in need on the base.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., where she began her Army career, Timoner was the only Jewish chaplain for more than 150,000 military members and families. She officiated at all lifecycle events, served as supervisor for the kosher kitchen and ran the Army's largest Jewish religious school. She taught adult Hebrew classes and developed a method to teach Torah and haftarah cantillation to children ages 5 and up, before they could read Hebrew.

The New York Times reported that Timoner was also active in providing counseling for gay soldiers. After discovering that homosexuals and those with the AIDS virus weren't being served by the Jewish religious establishment in Connecticut, she started study groups for them.

Timoner also served in Korea, where she was stationed with an aviation attack regiment near the demilitarized zone. With her usual zeal, she immersed herself in Korean language and culture. It was in Korea where she was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus.