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A Soldier's Reflections

September 23, 2010 By:
Avi Behar, JE Feature
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 Who would have thought that Afghanistan would be a place of unity for Jews? A few weeks ago I came across a flyer posted in the local chapel with times for services for every Christian denomination possible. A few hours later a thought of "Hey, why not" came across my mind. So, I walked and took a second glance.

To my amazement Jewish services were listed. When I arrived I found one other person there. So, he and I conducted services by ourselves. I began going every week and our numbers grew. New faces began appearing, and some were confused until we replied with a smile on our faces, "Yes, you are at the right place."

For Rosh Hashanah, the base flew in a Jewish chaplain. The taste of the kosher wine and challah the Rabbi brought was the sweetest` I've had since I've been here, and the Havdallah candle sparked the brightest flame in my heart since my arrival here.

After Rosh Hashanah services, we all stayed after and competed for who has the "most Jewish mother;" personally, I believe myself to be the victor, but I suppose every Jewish son believes that. It seems like "yente" talk knows no boundaries or geographical limits.

In the past year, prior to my deployment, I went to services maybe once or twice; but here, I go every week. This small, dusty, and sand covered tent is our one hour a week sanctuary from Afghanistan. This is the place where the rank on your chest has no bearing and I am no longer addressed as "sir." It's the place where I am just Avi - and it's our place. This little hour, this moment, belongs to our proud people, and we own it like no other.

To me, this symbolizes everything Judaism is about; no matter when and where, we manage to find ourselves among the masses and unite. This is what has kept us from disappearing in the past thousands of years. As the services conclude and we each go about our separate ways, it's back to the customs and courtesies, to Sir's and Sergeants, to the daily grinds, and to the persistent threat outside the wire. So close no matter how far, my 11,000 mile away home never seemed so close before.

Settl​ing In

As I settle in Afghanistan and time passes by, the reality of the deployment begins to set it. We all begin to hear less talk of "things" back home; they begin to slowly fade away from conversations, interests in American sports teams begins to disappear, and casual talk tends to be dominated by "Army talk". Phrases like "another day in paradise", or "living the dream" are heard more frequently amongst the soldiers.

Anxiousness and restlessness are affecting everyone as time passes. For some, moving around is a light at the end of the tunnel; a way for them not to be bogged down by the tight parameter around us. For others, those who are creatures of habit and wish to establish a daily routine, this proves to be a nightmarish experience as the possibility for that happening are inhibited by plethora of internal and external factors.

Those who are particularly affected are those who are new to the Army. The biggest battle here is of the mind, not the body. We do not seem to be physically at stake, but mentally. Some soldiers see this deployment as never-ending; I view this as temporary and only a stepping stone in life. I find myself pondering about many things I did not back home. Memories from different events come to mind; memories of different people and events which I would never have imagined would come to me back home.

With that in mind, I find myself quite easily adapting to the constantly changing environment. The upbringing I received, along with the constant moves from place to place while growing up, have prepared me to tackle these challenges. Those who are mentally strong, as I believe myself to be, use this opportunity to promote self growth and development. I find myself reading more books, learning from others, working out more frequently, and appreciating the luxuries I had back home. This deployment will do well to promote a stronger character, and one that will appreciate everything we have back home.

I do not wish to give off the impression that I am upset; on the contrary, I find myself quite happy and in high-spirits. We have very good (for those who wish to eat healthy) food here, hot showers, and climate-controlled tents; The military has done much to improve the living conditions of those stationed here. Other than that, not much is new here. 

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