It’s officially the holiday season, a time for giving and reflection. This week saw the beginning of Hanukkah, and all four active duty Jewish Marines were probably in the field, because they don’t give Jewish holidays off.
I’ll never forget my first week in boot camp as a Jewish recruit. During one of the first weeks, on a Friday night, our drill instructor comes rushing into the squad bay and demands our attention. Eyeballs.
“Who here is Jewish?” he asked.
I was hesitant to say anything. If you’re Jewish, you’d understand. Historically, when the military comes around asking where the Jews are, it hasn’t gone well for us. However, I did speak up.
“This recruit, sir,” I responded, along with one other recruit.
“Come with me,” he said as he lead us out of the squad bay.
We had no idea where he was taking us. It’s bootcamp, so Friday and every other day of the week blend together.
He took us to a small temple across the way from the exorbitant football stadium-sized MCRD San Diego base church, where a Rabbi led Friday night Shabbat service. Myself and my newfound Hebrew battle buddy were surrounded by a small gathering of other yarmulke-clad recruits and civilian old ladies that enjoyed spending their Friday nights with the recruits. They were actually the best, because they felt sorry for us, and brought us a smattering of cookies and other goodies while we were tucked away from the drill instructors and other recruits.
Being Jewish in boot camp ended up being a profound hook up, because we’d get to spend Friday nights away from the squad bay, and Sunday mornings were left alone while everyone else went to church. During the Camp Pendleton phase, we even got whisked away one Friday for a special beach service at Camp Del Mar, where one civilian Jewish girl let us use her cell phone to call home.
Happy Hanukkah, Marines.