US Military Deploys “Rabbinical Surge” into Afghanistan

As noted previously, the US military has four Jewish Chaplains in Afghanistan to help US servicemembers celebrate the Jewish High Holy days; in fact, three of the chaplains are in country temporarily solely for that reason.

Four rabbis – roughly 15 percent of the military’s Jewish chaplaincy – are visiting Afghanistan, including several remote military installations, to help troops and civilian employees mark the High Holidays through Oct. 21.

The four are Army Chaplains (LtCol) Laurence Bazer, (Col) Jacob Goldstein, (LtCol) Avi Weiss, and (Navy Lt) Josh Sherwin. Chaplain Bazer noted the significance of the Jewish presence in the predominantly Islamic country: 

“It probably hasn’t happened in Kabul history for hundreds of years that three rabbis were here to celebrate our Sabbath together,” said Rabbi Laurence Bazer, a lieutenant colonel and the U.S. Army command chaplain for the Kabul area. “That was very powerful.”

Interestingly enough, Chaplain Weiss noted their ministry to all, not just Jewish servicemembers — and nearly implied an evangelical purpose behind their visits:

“When you’re out in an area, people come out,” he said. “We’re going to be going around and having a Jewish presence, and to be honest, it’s not just for Jews. It’s for people who are interested in Judaism, have questions or concerns.”

The US military sometimes takes extraordinary efforts to ensure the free exercise rights of its members, and military chaplains are one means to that end.  As Chaplain Goldstein remarked:

The High Holiday visits, broadly, demonstrate the extent to which the military is committed to serving the spiritual needs of troops, Goldstein said.

“At the end of the day, it tells them a lot,” he added. “It tells them somebody cares about you.”

Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.