CPT Moses Y. Bension, US Army
I’ve never missed a Yom Kippur, and I have my fellow Jews to thank.
My first Yom Kippur in the Army was during the last week of Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I approached the cadre two weeks before and asked if I could have a 25-hour on-post pass to observe the Day of Atonement. I was lucky. I was requesting to skip equipment turn-in, not a crucial part of OCS like the military history exam or land navigation course. Still, understandably, the cadre were worried about a slippery slope. If they gave me a Wednesday off this October, they might be stuck giving May the Fourth off to self-proclaimed Jedi officer candidates next spring.
The First Sergeant tried to talk me out of it: I could get sent home as an enlisted man for missing equipment turn-in. Would I be willing to risk an Army commission that was mine to lose just for one holiday? I said I was. The Sergeant First Class approached me the next day. He’d had soldiers of other faiths eat on religious fast days. What was I going to do on a deployment during combat operations? I politely stuck to my guns. On a twelve-mile individual ruck march in the humid Georgia summer, I passed a cadre checkpoint, where the commander himself was waiting for me. He trotted alongside me, asking me if I had thought about it and was still willing to risk an Army commission. I was.
The Jewish chaplain on post, CH (CPT) David Ruderman, had been the Orthodox Union rabbi on my college campus. Afterward, he had joined the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, and the Army had assigned him to Fort Benning shortly before I arrived. Not only was he able to arrange my 25-hour pass, but I got to spend Yom Kippur with my college rabbi.
I cannot emphasize enough that the OCS cadre were not motivated by any sense of anti-Semitism. They had nothing but respect for my Judaism. During a beer social at the Fort Benning Golf Club a few days after Yom Kippur, the commander threw his arm around me and declared to his wife how proud he was of me and how much he respected that I had stuck to my faith.
My next Yom Kippur was overseas as a reconnaissance platoon leader. This time, my commander was himself a fellow Jew. Not only did he give me permission to attend services at the chapel on the camp, he even joined me at the chapel for the Ne’ilah service.
With only twenty-three months in between two deployments, I was able to spend a set of High Holidays with my family back home before I found myself at Fort Hood, Texas asking my commander for a 25-hour on-post pass for Yom Kippur. He told me he would talk to First Army, but that it was unlikely I, the executive officer, would get a day off in the middle of the week during the company’s final pre-deployment validation exercise.
The next day, the First Army infantry captain evaluating me sat opposite me at a desk and told me he was Jewish, but non-observant. He then informed me that the evaluators had already decided I was fit for the job and were planning on “killing me off” on Tuesday to see if I had equipped my headquarters to function without me; so why didn’t they just kill me off on Wednesday instead so I could observe Yom Kippur? That plan was enacted, and I was able to spend Yom Kippur with Chaplain Mendy Stern at Fort Hood, Texas.
God had his Chosen People in the right places at the right times so that I would always be able to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. I am truly thankful for that.
Originally printed in the Chanukah 2021 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.