Even if some Jewish servicemen and women haven’t celebrated Passover in years, attending a Seder thousands of miles from home can be a source of comfort. Several Tucson mothers of Jewish servicemen have found their own ways to honor their offspring, while extending tzedakah to other Jewish members of the military.
“How can I just send a package to my own son? What can I do to show I appreciate the service” of others in the military, Alayne Greenberg asked herself in July 2006, when her son Isaac, a 2005 U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate was deployed on his first tour to Afghanistan. When the High Holidays arrived that year, Greenberg located other Jews serving far from home through The Brave, a listserv for families with members in the military, which she learned about at Congregation Anshei Israel. The listserv, established and hosted by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, was started as a resource for families to feel connected to others who understood their challenge.
Greenberg decided to send care boxes, and started out sending around 10 boxes to Jewish recipients. She now mails 36 boxes eight to 10 times a year at Jewish holidays, with the help of Josephine Harris, a military mother-in-law. At Rosh Hashanah the boxes may include honey, toiletries, and socks, which are always part of the package, says Greenberg. At Passover the contents would be gefilte fish, horseradish, macaroons — and socks.
Harris, who also belongs to Congregation Anshei Israel, told the AJP, “What’s selected for the boxes are nourishing Jewishly for the heart and the mind, with food items that are strictly kosher. We always include cards from Tucson Hebrew Academy students [and local synagogue religious schools], information on each Jewish holiday, and a personal letter saying ‘this box is packed with love.’”
Harris’ son-in-law, Lt. Col. Paul Stanton, now 38, was 8th in his class at West Point, she says. When he graduated the United States was at war with Iraq. There goes our brilliant computer scientist,” she thought to herself. Stanton was part of the first wave of military personnel sent to Iraq in 2001.
A Jew by choice, Stanton is married to Harris’ daughter Naomi Sara Harris. “When Naomi and Paul were teens at Highland Park [Ill.]High School, he hung out at our house,” says Harris. “He liked this thing called Shabbat.”
Now an observant Jew associated with Chabad, “my son-in-law is a patriot,” she says. “He’s passionate about his commitment and sees [his military service] as the best thing he’s done for his family. We have had our consciousness raised by our attachment to the military. We consider ourselves a military family.
“I think that military families pray harder for peace and feel more anxiety about their loved ones being in harm’s way than most people ever know,” says Harris.
Stanton is the first serviceman that the military is providing with enrollment in a Ph.D. program in computer science at Johns Hopkins University, notes Harris, adding that her son-in-law will be working in a new military field of “cybercommand [related to drones] and all aspects of computer science.” Stanton, who has completed two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, has been redeployed to Ft. Meade in Maryland.
In Tucson, Greenberg connects with the military in another way, her own way of doing a mitzvah. If she sees someone in uniform at a restaurant, “I’ll pick up the tab for their meal to thank them for their service,” she says.
“I express my gratefulness for their military service. Women are serving who have left their families to go serve. And by supporting military personnel overseas with care boxes,” says Greenberg, “I feel you’re enhancing the religious and spiritual freedom they have back in the United States.”
Some Jewish servicemen are following a family history of military service. Anne Lowe’s husband, David, served in the U.S. Air Force for four years during the Vietnam War, and her father-in-law served in World War II. Lowe’s son Jonathan, now 39, was a student at Syracuse University when he spotted a photo of his father (a Syracuse alumnus) outside the ROTC offices. “He went into the office to say ‘that’s a picture of my father in the hallway,’” says Lowe. “Next thing we knew he had signed up for ROTC.”
Lowe, director of outreach and Northwest Division director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, is keen on Jewish statistics. “As an ethnic group, I read that the percentage of Jews who serve their country is higher per capita than any other ethnic group,” she told the AJP.
Her son, Lt. Col. Lowe, has been deployed to Qatar and Iraq and will be redeployed again in January. “I’ve always been proud of his choice of a military career,” says Lowe. “There’s no greater thing you can do with your life than serve your country. I was proud of my husband, too. It makes me think if we didn’t have a strong military we may have been conquered by Hitler, and there would be no Jews in America today. It’s the same as in Israel today. Would they be as strong without a strong military?”
Although she’s proud that her son is passionate about serving his country, “there will be times when I’m worried,” she says. Four years ago when Jonathan was first deployed, Lowe started an e-mail group to lend support to others, Parents of Jewish Servicemen, which has a web page at jewishtucson.org/pjs. “You never stop being a mother,” says Lowe, “no matter how old your child is.”