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How do I Stay in Touch with Judaism When I Can't Get to a Synagogue?
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© Rabbi Jack Moline

Q: I'm in the United States Marine Corps and I have found it to be very hard to pratice Judaism for the simple fact is they all seem to belive that the millitay is one religion. How do I stay in touch with Judaism when I can't get to a synagogue?

A: First of all, good for you that you are looking for ways to affirm your Jewishness. I am a rabbi in the Washington, DC, area. In my congregation are any number of active and retired military personnel, all of whom have shared with me how difficult it can be to affirm their Jewishness -- at least until they reach a certain rank. Here are my few suggestions:

1) Seek out the chaplain and discuss you dilemma with him/her. Almost every military chaplain is sensitive to the diversity of the backgrounds of the "parish." If nothing else, you may discover many more Jews than you thought!

2) Contact a local congregation. San Diego is blessed with some fine synagogues of all denominations. They should be listed in the yellow pages, but if you can't find the information, write me back and I will track down the synagogue in the movement you indicate. Since SD has such a large military presence, I am certain there is a formal or informal outreach program in every synagogue. You may not be able to get to the synagogue, but it (or part of it) may be able to get to you.

3) While it may not be possible to lead a fully Jewish life (however we determine that!) while on active duty, you can still maintain a strong connection. Remember that there are two versions of the commandment about Shabbat: one is to "observe," and the other is to "remember." The same discipline which you have developed as a Marine can be put to good use as a Jew. Set aside a few moments each day -- perhaps in the morning and the evening -- to give some conscious thought to your Jewishness. If you can read a couple of pages of a Jewish book, recite the Sh'ma, reflect on how you have witnessed God's presence in the world or give a coin to tzedaka, how much the better. Once you have established this pattern of "remembering," you will find it easier to add a little bit of "observing" as time goes on.

You are correct that there is a presumption in the military (as well as much of American culture) that everyone is Christian. You and I won't correct that general impression, but we can firmly but gently correct the impression in our own communities. Let me know if I can help further. You and your fellow Marines (and all your brothers and sisters in the service) are in my thoughts and prayers during this time of engagement in Europe.

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