David Frommer grew up in New York City with his parents and his younger sister Kate. His father, whose parents had immigrated from Poland, grew up in the Bronx and had served in the military as a finance clerk from 1966 to 1969 after having graduated from college in 1964. His mother grew up in a well-established Jewish family from Lexington, Kentucky, with roots extending back to Russia and Lithuania. She had attended law school and was a lover of history. David grew up with strong interests in history, theater, visiting museums, and the New York Yankees. He lived in New York City until 8th grade, when his parents separated and he moved with his mother back to Lexington. He was one of the few Jews in his high school (the others were his cousins), and he used that time to broaden his cultural understanding. He was on his own during his senior year in high school, his mother having moved back to New York City, and David remained in their apartment finishing high school, an experience that taught him independence. He attended Yale University and was inspired by the people, teamwork, humility, and overall brilliance he found there. In college, he was part of a Jewish a cappella group named “Magevet” (the name means “towel,” and he tells the origin story at about the 49:30 minute mark). Singing with the group cemented his decision to become a cantor. In college, he studied Hebrew for two years. After college, he joined the Israeli Defense Force as a Lone Soldier (a foreign volunteer) because he felt called to align his actions with his beliefs despite the hazards. The most challenging aspect of his time in the IDF was being around so many non-English speaking people. He discovered that his college Hebrew was very formal and slightly antiquated, and not entirely compatible with the day-to-day Hebrew being spoken in the IDF. He was grateful to serve and grateful to return to the United States in 2006, where he enrolled in the Hebrew Union College to become a cantor. The first year of his five-year Master’s program was in Israel, and at a mixer at the beginning of his first semester, he met his future wife, who was studying to become a Rabbi. After returning to the United States for the remainder of his education, he decided to try being a Jewish Chaplain in the New York National Guard. He attended the Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and enjoyed the fellowship and discussions with Chaplain Candidates of other faiths. In 2008, he was commissioned, and in 2011 he was ordained a Cantor. Later that year, he deployed and spent time in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Jordan, and Qatar. He found Afghanistan exhilarating and enjoyed the mission. Returning from overseas, he transferred to the California National Guard, following his wife Carla to her new job. He supported responses to wild-fires and the COVID-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2020, he felt called to Active Duty and was assigned as the Jewish Chaplain at West Point, where he enjoys the vibrant congregation, the Jewish Chapel Choir, and the ability to teach Hebrew in the Department of Foreign Languages. Recently, he completed Air Assault School, carrying a ram’s horn instead of a rifle on the 12-mile road march.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his education at various levels, and his service in the IDF and as a Jewish Chaplain in the U.S. Army. He contextualizes many of his stories with supporting history. For example, he describes the founding of the Hebrew Union College, because prior to that institution, all Rabbis were educated in Europe. He highlights his diverse experiences, including stories of meeting the “only Jew left in Afghanistan.” Finally, he reflects on what his service in both the Israeli Defense Force and the U.S. Army means to him.