By: Mrs. Baila Stern
“Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven…” (Kohelet, Chapter 3)
There’s a purpose for everything, everywhere, anytime. As emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we joined the US Army to serve Jewish Troops wherever the Army may send us. Our family has followed my husband’s assignments through 6 duty stations, many months of separation and multiple deployments since joining the Army. Throughout all this, our family has grown resilient and strong.
Throughout my childhood, I was taught to reach out to others to make the world a better place. And when our family arrives at new duty stations, wherever they may be, we have been given many opportunities to exercise this exact game plan; by reaching out to those around us, serving like a lighthouse in the dark ocean. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent thousands of Chabad emissaries around the world to build communities and bring light to the Jews around the world, so are we proud to do so for the many bases we have served at, and the many bases we will yet, G-d willing, serve at.
At each duty station we have experienced instances of Divine Providence. These are stories which serve as energy to keep us moving forward, bringing light to another corner of the world, growing our extended Jewish family. Each instance is a chapter in the story of our military journey.
There was the time on a random Wednesday, when walking through the Post Exchange, we heard someone call out to us, “Shabbat Shalom!” Noting our children dressed modestly in accordance with Jewish tradition, the gentleman expressed surprise to find religious Jews on a remote military base. Not only did he join us for Shabbat dinners, but he brought a few more Jewish souls along with him.
On another instance, while stationed in Texas, I had the rare privilege to help facilitate a kosher burial for a Holocaust Survivor, saving her from cremation and giving her final honor as she was laid to rest. As word got out of a Jewish funeral in Killeen, TX, our Passover Seders attendance grew from an expected 30 people to over 200! Our time on that base concluded shortly thereafter, when we were ordered to move on to another duty station.
Shortly after settling at Fort Sam Houston, TX, while out shopping for kosher food, I encountered a young Jewish military couple and invited them to our home. As my husband assisted the Soldier with Tefillin, his wife and I got to talking. She shared with me her pain resulting from a recent miscarriage. I did my best to comfort her, and suggested she start going to the Mikvah. Since then, this young couple has been blessed with children.
On another occasion, we helped a young lieutenant prepare for a deployment by providing Jewish books, including the Aleph Chumash, Siddur and Tehillim. Months later, we received a letter in the mail from this LT, expressing his loneliness as the feeling of being a lamb amongst the wolves. With the help of Sara Fuerst of koshertroops.com, we sent this lieutenant care packages and Jewish supplies, keeping the spark of Judaism alive and burning in the midst of a hostile world. Returning from this deployment, the Soldier added found a Jewish soulmate and began taking on a commitment to the observance of Shabbat and Kosher.
Even recently, at our brand new duty station, while out shopping, a Jewish military spouse identified us as Jews and excitedly connected with us… And this is just the beginning of the story of yet another spark of Judaism that will become a part of our family.
Originally printed in the Tishrei 2020 issue of The Jewish-American Warrior.