A Soldier's Diary
By: SPC BLYTHE BRIGGS
Being Jewish in the military, let alone an observant Jew can be a daunting task at times. I find that many of the people that you meet may or may not have met a Jewish person before. For them, their understanding of the religion is that of what they have heard in jokes, stereotypes, or movies. Their questions may seem odd, but your manner of answering them, and your overall conduct can make or break their opinion of future Jewish People they may meet. I have had to explain, almost every holiday, the meaning of kosher, how we view the afterlife and almost any topic that they can think up. Some of these topics are ones that I, someone who isn’t a rabbi, have a difficult time answering. In those cases I often relied on sending them to different websites I knew. I figured that I would answer what I can and send people to other places for the rest.
One of the most interesting things is trying to keep up my level of observance. The army doesn’t train around the Jewish calendar and I have celebrated holidays and Shabbos just about anywhere. Sometimes depending on what I was doing, being Shomer Shabbos was impossible. I have led Passover seder for just myself and a group of coworkers in a small FOB (forward operating base) in Iraq. I have lit my menorah in old SS barracks in Germany. Sometimes, it is the impact of what your doing, not always doing everything. I would always tell myself, I would do as much as a can, if I had duty on a Saturday, I would bring a jewish book, or study materials so that I felt that I was not “wasting my time”
I have also ran into all sorts of support of my religious difficulties. Some supervisors, or duty stations were all too willing to work around my observances, others, who didn’t understand it, just did like they thought was right, and sometimes I would have to fight for what I wanted. Honestly the hardest part was being a female jewish service member. First off, the Army is mostly male, and so most of the other Jewish personnel I would meet, would also be male. It became a network of other Jews that I knew in other places, civilian organizations and the local jewish community (if there is one).
Overall I value the little experiences that I got from being in the military. When you have to fight to observe your faith, every little act, every mitzvah, becomes that much more precious.