LCDR Leah Bracha Lans (USN Ret.)
My husband and I have served in the US Military, defending our nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and more. We’ve both traveled in our military service; I went to Africa, most of the Arab states, South Korea, across oceans on US Navy carriers, and much more. We love the United States with all of its issues and troubles. We know there are people who are poor, struggling, and not nearly represented well in court; there are problems in schools and criminals in the streets. Yet when you have traveled as much as I have I can tell you this is the freest country on earth, even with the issues of antisemitism, racism, and other ills of society. There is nothing like the United States of America.
Anyone in this country can be whomever they wish to be, go to school and become the adult they want to be, marry and have a family, choose their city, and pray in their congregation of choice. When you travel and see what others go through—the slavery, the battery, the abuse, you realize how preeminent our nation is with all of our stores, televisions, cell phones, computers, and more. Even people who do not have a lot of money here still have clothing, televisions, and cell phones. When you travel, you learn how infrequent that is. You see where people are struggling to find food for their table, often going without nourishment.
I have encountered plenty of negative attitudes and prejudices toward military service, and still do. When I served in the military I was an Intelligence Officer, and people knew I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a female service member, most assumed that I did not hold a weapon. They would say things like, “Oh you were never on the front line,” as if there was a front line. On the other end of the spectrum there were others who questioned whether I had shot my weapon, if I killed anyone, that’s it. They didn’t want to hear about the war, the sorrow, the trauma. They didn’t want to know if I was injured or if my battle buddies were injured. All they wanted to know (if they believed I had a weapon) was, did I kill anyone?
Now, I am no longer serving at war. My husband is still serving and I love being his wife. He is a Chaplain in the US Army and serves both Jews and non-Jewish military members. We love our job! For our Jewish military members we do what others do—we move from base to base, providing kosher food and putting up mezuzahs. My husband puts tefillin on with the men, and I of course serve delicious holiday and Shabbat food. We give classes, organize challah bakes, teach Hebrew school, and much more.
Right now (ed. note: in 2022), my husband is deployed in South Korea and I’m in the US. It’s the first time we have been separated since in the past I have always traveled to war with him. When civilians in the states ask me, “Why don’t you go with him?” I think to myself, Don’t they know what a deployment is? Okay, maybe not. So I explain: Families can’t be with their military members, they need to go alone and we stay here. “Why?” they ask. Deployments work that way, we cannot go with them, I say. “Then,” they usually ask, “Maybe if you speak to the right person, you can go on deployment with him.” There is nothing I can say to convince them otherwise, so I just walk away.
Civilians and military families are different. Deployments are extremely difficult for the families back home as they are for the military members who are serving their country. Military families need assistance just as the deployed need assistance. The difference is that the families don’t always ask for help because they often feel like they have to do everything themselves.
Going from a US military member with a rifle and pistol to my new role as a family member, I realize we are different. It is the same with Jews and non-Jews—although both are created in God’s image, we are different. When Jews sang Ani Ma’amin at the Kotel (Western Wall) after Israeli citizen Eliyahu Dovid Kay was horrifically murdered by an Arab terrorist, it means we believe in God. It’s what the Jews sang about in the Holocaust, it’s who we are, it’s who we were created to be.
Being in the military is also different, it can’t be explained. No one fully understands until they are in the military. We must support each other and be there for each other. This is especially true for military families—there is usually no one to help us but ourselves. I feel fortunate to be part of a great WhatsApp group for Orthodox military wives. It enables us to be there for each other, discussing children, military moves, providing support to those on deployment for the first time, and much more. Additionally, the Aleph Institute is an incredible organization that supports us.
If you are reading this and are not part of the military but want to show support, words of encouragement are always welcomed. Please understand that no spouse can ever go on deployment, and this creates a tremendous burden on them.
Lastly, for those of you who pray in your shul for preservation and strength for Israel’s Defense Force, I request that you do the same for the United States Military. It was the US Military that destroyed the Nazis, brought freedom to those in concentration camps, and it’s what is keeping the United States of America free today.
On behalf of the rest of us in the US Military, I thank you.
Leah Bracha Lans grew up in Simi Valley, California. As a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Naval Reserve, Mrs. Leah Bracha Lans served on active duty in the Middle East supporting Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom from January 2003 to August 2003. She was activated once again to full time service and joined the ground forces in Iraq from September 2005 to September 2006, and most recently served in Afghanistan June 2010 to June 2011. While stationed in war zones, Lans upheld her duties not only militarily but also as a Jew despite the obstacles she faced. She tells stirring stories of events such as a giant menorah lighting ceremony in none other than Saddam Hussein’s Palace and how she and her husband were the only rabbi and wife to be sent to Afghanistan. She speaks about the steps she took to honor the Sabbath and keep kosher. She describes amazing people she met along the way in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jews from around the world who were just as surprised to see Lans as she was to meet them, including. She served on Navy Carriers, in Washington DC, and San Diego. In a recent interview LCDR Lans stated, “I’m grateful to G‑d for giving me the opportunity to serve my country; I’m so humbled to wear the uniform. Joining the military was one of the best decisions of my life. I’m also so proud to know I’ve been able to serve, even during war, never having to compromise my Judaism or devotion to the Jewish people.” Now, she moves every few years with her husband to different military bases.
This article was originally printed in the Passover 2022 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.