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PFC Isaac Cohen, 82AD

I moved to the US from Israel in 2009 and currently serve in the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Being able to connect with my religion in a place like this, where I’ve found a family and a home, is next level. I feel very welcome here at Bragg, and wear my yarmulka proudly. Additionally, in my role as a Jewish lay leader, I have connected with numerous other Jewish lay leaders and Jewish soldiers. I am blessed to have plenty of opportunities to educate other people about my faith in a way I haven’t seen as much in the outside world.

Last year, I had a unique opportunity to light menorah at Fort Bragg’s Sicily drop zone. My unit allows us to jump out of planes for fun sometimes, and not just for training. It was the second night of Chanukah when I heard that a C-130 was going up and there was space for me. There was no one on
that plane from my unit, nor were there any other Jews on that jump that I knew of. But it was Chanukah, and I wanted to do something special to mark the holiday. Before we took off, I asked the sergeant I was jumping with if I could light my menorah when we landed, and he said, “Sure! Why not?”

I had my grandmother’s porcelain menorah with me, which I remember lighting with her when I was a kid and my family spent Chanukah at her home in Belgium. I don’t know where she got the menorah, but it’s been in the family for a while. Shortly before I left home to join the military, she gave me that menorah.

I didn’t want anything to happen to it on the way down, so I wrapped it in a ton of bubble wrap and then placed it carefully in my ruck for when I jumped. The C-130 took off, and at the right altitude, we left the safe confines of the plane and let gravity – and our parachutes – do the rest. After I landed, I collected my chute and then took out the menorah, unwrapped it, and lit it on the spot. An NCO that had jumped with me was curious about what I was doing, and I was happy to share my knowledge of this special Jewish holiday with him. It was a special moment and a really nice Chanukah experience. I thought it was especially powerful because I didn’t think anyone had ever lit a menorah in that part of Fort Bragg before.

I feel my status as a Jew in this country in a very strong way. It means the world to be part of an organization like the Army, on Bragg, that allows me to practice and represent my faith the way that they do.

Originally published in the Chanukah 2022 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.