For Jewish soldiers serving in the United States Armed Forces being posted to Afghanistan or Iraq can be tricky from a religious point of view at the best of times. When the festivals of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish News Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) cluster together in a one-month period, celebrating them in a meaningful way can be even more of a challenge.
For Army Chaplain (Capt.) David Becker, the request from the Army’s Chief of Chaplains office under the leadership of Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Paul Hurley to go to Afghanistan on a special six-week temporary duty, or TDA, to administer to soldiers of the Jewish faith serving there, was both a surprise and an honor. With fewer than a dozen rabbis on active duty in the Army, there is not a large pool of people to choose from.
“They sent a rabbi to theater to travel around this country to be specifically catering to Jewish Soldiers, which I’ve had the opportunity to do,” Becker said, adding he has ministered here at Bagram Airfield, Kandahar Airfield, and in Kabul.
Becker is a pulpit rabbi and vice principal in a Jewish day school. He is also assigned to the 640th Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 40th Infantry Division, Army National Guard, Joint Training Base at Los Alamitos, California.
The chaplain said that he was so delighted to be given the opportunity to serve in this way because it allowed him to activate his patriotism and love of his country in conjunction with his “unfathomable spirit for Judaism and my fellow Soldiers in an environment where they would not necessarily get to have that opportunity.”
“Coupled with those feelings, it’s unlike any mission that I’ve ever experienced outside of the Army. It fills me with a sense of awe and appreciation for the Army, for my country, and for my God,” he added.
Becker was accompanied on his sojourn by Army Master Sgt. Capricia Turner, who has served for 18 years. She is a religious affairs noncommissioned officer, 38th Infantry Division, Indiana National Guard. Although the pairing may seem unusual from the outside – a Jewish and Christian chaplain serving together – but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
For Turner, it allowed her to get a deeper understanding of Jewish roots and how to practically prepare for Jewish festivals. “I think it’s very interesting, and again I go back to it as a Christian. We learn that this is how Jesus worshiped,” Turner said. “And I enjoy seeing and learning the different scriptures that people of the time would have worshiped and read. And, it’s a lot of fun.”
Turner was particularly sensitive to the dietary requests of Jewish soldiers, especially the need for the correct food to enhance the spirit of the festivals. She said that she felt blessed to have been able to serve with a Jewish chaplain. It was the first time that she had experienced working within a different faith group and she found it a deeply enriching experience.
Becker said that his latest deployment had been like no other. “People are absolutely floored I’m here … that the Army cares enough to provide a rabbi for their needs. And I come with a whole wealth of goodies, food, and ritual experiences,” he said. “I put my whole heart and soul into building up our Soldiers.”
Source: Israel in the News