Thursday, August 19, 2010

As Rosh Hashanah Dawns, We Support the Troops

This time two years ago, someone very dear to me was preparing to depart on a year deployment with the U.S. Army to Iraq.

He left at the end of September, and given the dates the Jewish holidays fell that year, if I remember correctly, he sort of missed celebrating Rosh Hashanah all together that year, but he arrived in time for Yom Kippur. We were both thrilled to learn that he had the opportunity to be escorted to another site where he could commemorate both Kil Nidre and the full day of Yom Kippur, including a break fast meal with fellow Jewish soldiers who had come together from various bases for the occasion. I think part of his excitement was breaking up the routine and getting to spend a night in peace and quiet away from work, but the most important thing to him was that though he was one of very few Jews in the Army, he could celebrate the most important time of the Jewish year.

So, this year, I came up with an idea. I collected Rosh Hashanah cards from Arkansas' Jewish community to send to deployed Jewish service members. I asked the senders to write generic messages that any soldier would be happy and honored to receive. People wrote beautiful, meaningful things, even though they were sending them to people they didn't know personally. And in the cases of many who sent me cards to send, they had very little, if any, personal connection to anyone serving in the U.S. military. I was proud to find one, even if very small, way to help them relate to the wars we are fighting in the Middle East and to the many brave, patriotic Americans who have chosen to dedicate a least a portion of their lives toward representing our country through the military.

Through some Googling, I quickly learned that there is a group of people throughout the United States whom have never met, but whom only have in common the fact that they want to do everything they can to ensure that Jewish service members are as comfortable as they can be while they are deployed far from their families, friends, and Jewish roots. They have a listserve -- which they immediately invited me to join upon reading of my interest -- through which they maintain a list of overseas addresses for deployed Jewish soldiers and chaplains. They share ideas of religious, cultural and food items to send on the various Jewish holidays, send cards throughout the year, and help anyone interested in helping them do the same. This group is just a small subset of the many, many groups across the country organizing similar projects for soldiers from their area.

Whether or not you "support" the wars or the reasons we're fighting them, everyone supports the troops. I'm glad I found one way particularly meaningful to me to show it.

For further reading, you may find my officer's story of grappling with his Jewish identity while serving in a Muslim country here, at the New York Times At War blog:

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