Alison Buckholtz, author of the memoir “Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War” (Tarcher/Penguin 2009), wrote an op-ed piece for the March 14, 2014, issue of The Jewish Daily Forward entitled “3 Ways To Support Our Jewish Troops and Build Community: Let’s Stop Making Military Families Feel Invisible.”
The beginning of the piece describes an experience she had with the JCC in the Washington D.C. area when her active-duty naval husband was deployed to Iraq in 2009. Then she goes on to describe three ways that Jewish groups can support Jewish military personnel and their families:
Jewish military families like mine are often stationed in remote areas far from mainstream Jewish institutions, but there are ways to reach out and translate “Thank you for your service” into something tangible. Jewish groups should consider ways to acknowledge the unique needs of Jewish military families and welcome those families, even if it’s only for a short time. Here are a few ways to do that:
1. The JCC Association at the national level should offer a different membership structure to active-duty service members and to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and their immediate family members. Eight individual JCCs (out of 350) already do this but to make a statement and reach a much larger audience, it needs to be a national initiative.
2. Jewish cultural institutions and synagogues near military bases should reach out to the base chaplain’s office to connect with Jewish service members, offer to send speakers to the community and make synagogue services, including High Holy Days tickets, accessible without a membership.
3. Hillel should make outreach to Jewish military personnel as one of its core activities. After all, Hillel’s demographic includes college students ages 18–22; nearly one-half (49.3%) of active-duty enlisted personnel are 25 years old or younger, with the majority of those in the officer corps in their mid-30s. The age range is close, the extracurricular interests are aligned, and an effort to send appreciative words to Jewish service members or to show gratitude through care packages would be very meaningful. It would expose Jewish college students to a wider variety of Jewish experience and prepare future Jewish communal leaders for a better understanding of Jews in the military, so perhaps the next generation won’t feel so invisible.
OperationSupportJewsintheMilitary.com was started out of my own frustration at the Jewish community’s lack of support for Jewish military personnel and their families. I hope that, if you can, you will help make Buckholtz’s three recommendations a reality in your community.
P.S. If you want to read about being Jewish in the military in the early 1970s as part of the U.S. Army’s occupation forces in Germany, check out my work-in-progress Cold War memoir TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY on Wattpad at http://budurl.com/TAintro