Friday, November 17, 2006

Jews in green

Pammer had a great question about being Jewish in the military. She asked, "Just curious... are there many jews in the military? Or is it hard to lead a jewish life while enlisted?"

There are more Jews than you might think, but yes, it is difficult to be a Jewish military family.

I had about 4 Jewish friends in college (small school with a very small Jewish community). I've completely lost track of one, but of the other three, 2 of them spent time in the military. One had to leave the Marines fairly early on due to a health issue, but another is in the Army. He's stationed in Iraq now and has been for a while (his wife just had a gorgeous baby girl about 4 months ago. He got to come home for a week to see her and went right back).

The title of this post is actually taken from this website: Jews In Green. Their tagline is "The ultimate source for Jewish service members." So apparently there are enough of us out there to warrant a website on the matter.

My mother's boss (who is also Jewish) keeps making insane comments about my husband being in the military. He likes to repeatedly ask, "Who has ever heard of a Jew in the military?" My response is always the same. "Have you never heard of ISRAEL where military service is mandatory?"

We are, however, still greatly outnumbered. Getting off for the high holidays is impossible for dh. He's been able to attend services twice during his entire military career. He's always either out of the country or in training. Once, they just refused to give him off. I love my husband, though, because he still insisted on working Xmas that year even though they offered him the day off. His thinking was that he'd rather work so someone who actually celebrated the day could have off. Oh how I adore my husband!

Keeping kosher was impossible for dh when he was deployed. If you can go into town, it's not so bad because the Muslim dietary laws are very similar to ours. When you're confined to the base or in an area where the towns are hostile, you eat what the military serves you and that's usually nowhere remotely near kosher. Dh just came in the room, so I asked him for his thoughts on keeping kosher while deployed. Here's his response, "Impossible. I'd starve."

One aspect that makes it difficult is the military tends to station you in places you would never consider living otherwise. For us, that means we wind up living in places that have small Jewish communities. We're both originally from an area that had a good-sized Jewish community. In high school, the entire town had the Jewish holidays off. Here, the public school system doesn't even acknowledge them. I actually love where we're living now, but it's not a hotbed of Jewish culture by any stretch of the imagination.

All the parties are Xmas parties. They tried to call it a "holiday" party a few years ago, but that's when Chanukah was very early and so the party was actually held after Chanukah. So it was a Christmas party no matter what they called it.

The kids used to go to a playgroup sponsored by the military. At the party for that playgroup last year, someone walked up to me and asked, "Are you the Jew?" I was more than a little taken aback. Turns out she meant well. She wanted to know because all the other kids got Xmas books, but she had gotten secular toys for my girls. I was thrilled that she had gone out of her way. I was just a little taken aback at being asked if I was "the Jew."

Here's a quasi-related story about Chanukah in the military: Protestant B. Not. I've read it before and I love it. I figure this is a good forum in which to share it.

Some of the difficulties are specific to the military. Some of them have to do with living where we do. Some of them we know we'd have to deal with in the civilian world as well. We're pretty good at adapting, though. If you're a military family and you don't get that adapting thing down quickly, you either won't be military for long or you won't be a family for long.

To be a Jewish family in the military, sometimes we have to march to the beat of our own drum. Other times, we have to bring our own full orchestra. :-)


Pammer said...

Thanks for the post -- I've sent the link out to friends and family. Glad to find another "tribe member" out here on the blogging highway!

Sarah said...

Over from Beth's... Hi! My husband is in the military too - and was talking the other day about a 12 week training that he may need to have. Yowza! He just got back from a 4 day business trip, and by the eve of day 1, I had adjusted to being sole parental unit on duty. I dno't know how 12 weeks would go! Yikes!