The following (reprinted by permission) is part of an email I received from Neil Block, Captain, US Navy, Retired, and the Jewish Lay Leader, US Army Maneuver Center, Fort Benning, Georgia.
Please add my voice of support to the objective of awakening and calling to participative action our Jewish world at large in recognizing that our Jewish military is overlooked and underserved.
Also, be aware that a program has just been instituted within the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) for this very objective. A seminar at the upcoming URJ Biennial in December in Washington, DC is already scheduled at which we will be making presentations.
We here in the Columbus, Georgia, area have long ago realized that there was no national initiative or organization or central point of contact or control to provide programs and coordinate support for Jewish military.
So, we started a local program ourselves to support the significantly large number of Jewish military at this facility, of which there are two categories:
One military category is the Basic Troop Training entity. This category is the agglomeration of training units to which civilians initially report, and after anywhere from 11 to 14 weeks of basic training are transformed into military personnel.
The other category is represented by post-training personnel who are stationed with and assigned to the many operational units here on Fort Benning.
The latter category of personnel are not personally restricted to a set and relatively inflexible regimen, and as a result can and do participate with our local Jewish community in worship, fellowship, life cycle events, etc.
The first category — because of its rigid structure — has to have worship, fellowship, Jewish education, etc. brought to them within the strictures and time constraints of their training schedules.
For both of these groups our local community provides the necessary and required support because not always will a Jewish military chaplain be assigned to this facility.
As a result the entire Jewish program impact is a local area community responsibility. When a Jewish chaplain is assigned, then the community provides resource and personnel assistance.
Here at Fort Benning an average Jewish weekly worship service will see 300 attendees. We assist in or actually conduct those services on post. We ensure that there is a Passover seder and a Yom Kippur break fast, among many other and varied support issues.
To my knowledge, there are no other programs like this one anywhere in the country.
I, personally, have been pushing for similar programs at all military basic training facilities. There are only a handful of those in the army, navy, marine corps and/or air force.
The greater need is for local communities to provide for the needs of Jewish military personnel and their families at operational facilities.
From my experience few, if any, communities reach out to the Jewish personnel and families that might be stationed at bases in and around those communities.
That leaves the service personnel and their families the sole option of presenting themselves to the local community with the hope that their reception is warm, open and friendly.
That is not always the case. Many communities make no effort in that regard, and some communities are even cold and hostile.
It may be inadvertent or lack of knowledge. The impact is the same, though, for the service personnel. They find themselves isolated and alone in their Judaism.
Deployed troops see a slightly different perspective. But their families at home generally suffer the aforementioned isolation.
As a national Jewish undertaking, we have not properly addressed this issue. The URJ biennial conference is a first.
And I hope to see that this conference seminar leads to more and more participation on the part of the American Jewish community to support our Jewish men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces.
You can read more about my opinions on this important subject in my post on the Reform Jewish magazine blog.>
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