Sunday, July 6, 2008 U.S. Jewish Military Personnel Today – Part II

Brian Kresge, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, continues his response to my offer on for someone to write a guest post about Jews serving in the U.S. military:

Because of my own experience, I often speculate what crafts the negative perception of American Jews with regards to military service.

Contemporary perceptions of American Jewish service seem more apt to be influenced by several factors, only one of which seems to stem from the Holocaust.

There may be people who were left with the impression after the Holocaust that Jews merely "rolled" for the German death machine. Stories of the various partisans, the Jewish Mule Brigade, and others take a back seat to Anne Frank, Schindler's List, and Elie Weisel.

Fortunately for us, America became an academic and cultural bastion for global Jewry. This is not a climate which cultivates warriors in the numbers that other socio-economic conditions do, a factor not limited just to our group.

I think we American Jews are subject to an unfortunate juxtaposition with Israeli Jews. For 60 years now, Israeli Jews have fought tooth and nail to maintain the Jewish homeland. Between David and Goliath odds, daring and far-flung raids, and a demonstrable penchant for vengeance in the face of terror, they've crafted the definition of "warrior Jew."

It's most telling that, with at least 30 dead Jewish service members in the global war on terror, there is a push to name a Jewish War Veterans post after a young man who made aliyah from Philadelphia and died as an Israeli paratrooper in the recent war in Lebanon.

The truth is, the American military itself offers a very level playing field for Jews, with but a few instances otherwise. For many non-Jews, the failure to identify Jewish military achievement could just be a testament to our acceptance or that, aside from religious preference, the military has no mechanism by which to identify its Jewish warriors.

I have to add to Kresge’s guest post that things were different during the time that my husband was on active army duty from May 1970 to May 1972. For example, although Jewish military personnel stationed in Germany were entitled for major Jewish holidays to take leave to attend services at posts where there was a Jewish chaplain, this rule was not always followed.

I remember one couple who were unable to come to Munich to join us for the Pesach seders because the husband’s commanding officer had said the junior officer could wait to take Pesach leave in the summer. Although the junior officer could have gone above his commanding officer to get leave, the junior officer knew he would be made to suffer if he did this.

Thus I am glad to read that Kresge feels the American military today is “a very level playing field for Jews.” And I very much appreciate Kresge responding to my offer of a guest post.

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