Last fall, a Jewish soldier named Michael Handman who was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia was beaten severely by a fellow soldier and discriminated against in training by two drill sergeants, one of whom called him “Juden,” the German word for Jew, and the other who told the soldier to remove his Kippah when the soldier wore it in the dining hall.
After investigations into the incidents, the soldier accused of the beating was discharged, and disciplinary action was taken against the drill sergeants. In addition, JTA reports, Fort Benning is now undergoing serious policy changes in how Jews are treated and recognized at the base. The base recently added a kosher meal option, a full time rabbi-chaplain, instituted religious diversity classes for drill sergeants and decided to hold Shabbat and High Holiday services on the base instead of transporting the Jewish soldiers to a nearby synagogue. Around 25,000 trainees come to Fort Benning each year; 20 at any given time are Jewish.
The United States military has recently faced allegations of discrimination by other religious groups, including Sikhs, and Atheists, as well as from members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender and African-American communities. However, reported incidents of anti-Semitism and assaults against Jewish soldiers are a tiny fraction of the total annual incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism, harassment and and physical assaults against Jewish individuals, property and community institutions in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2008 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.
To learn more about the lives of Jews in the United States armed forces, including the number who have served and died in Iraq and Afghanistan, base listings with information on nearby kosher restaurants and Jewish community resources, and photos and stories about the daily living of Jewish soldiers around the country, go to the website for Jews in Green, “the ultimate resource for Jews in the U.S. armed forces.”
(Photo: Jewish cadets celebrating Hanukkah)