By: Chaplain (MAJ) Mendy Stern, USA
Shortly before Chanukah, I sent out a notice to all the Jews at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, inviting everyone to join a national menorah lighting ceremony in Washington, DC. I was pleased to see several people from my community at that event. Sitting on the Ellipse in front of the White House, I struck up a conversation with a few Israelis, one of whom introduced himself as the chief of security for the Israeli embassy. The Israeli Defense Forces sends military attaché officers to serve at different bases and take on various roles with the American military, a partnership that is mutually beneficial.
As the Israeli chief of security and I were talking, he asked if I offer support to Israeli officers that serve as attachés to the military to the greater DC area. I said yes, absolutely. The next day, I got a call from an Israeli officer who was living about 20 minutes away from my home in Fort Belvoir. He introduced himself and said he was an IDF attaché who was working with the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. He had been in the US for at least several months and thought he and his family were the only Jewish people on his base. They were attempting to keep Judaism by themselves, which was very stressful and lonely without come alone, and invited him and his family to come for a meal on Shabbat. Needless to say, they were thrilled!
The Israeli attaché showed up with his family on erev Shabbat Chanukah. He and his boys put on tefillin, we lit Chanukah candles, and celebrated Shabbat together. The following week, the officer returned with his wife, and she lit Shabbat candles with my wife Baila. We could see that the officer’s wife, who had grown up in a traditional home, was visibly touched when she lit the candles. The whole experience rekindled the family’s Jewish activities in a warm and nurturing way; they couldn’t believe they suddenly had Jewish support so close by.
The attaché and his family had such a great time with us on Friday night that they ended up spending many hours with our family, celebrating Shabbat with us, and joining us for other holidays and Jewish experiences. The family soon became regulars in all of our activities until we moved away from Fort Belvoir, but we stayed in contact and still talk from time to time. In February 2022, the Israeli attaché attended my promotion ceremony with his kids, who put on tefillin shortly after the ceremony.
Because of this warm connection, this officer later partnered with Aleph and arranged to have senior IDF leadership represented at last year’s Aleph Military Symposium. I am certain that it happened in part because of the connection we made during that wonderful Shabbat Chanukah that he spent in my home, which served as a catalyst for something great.
Originally published in the Chanukah 2022 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.