jewish marine says "kadish" for gentile marine

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    In case anyone is wondering what "kaddish" is....I've included a brief synopsis at the end of this post.


    It's hard to get kosher food in the U.S. Marines

    By Shlomo Shamir

    Rabbi Irving Elson, a Jewish chaplain for the U.S. Marines, was on his way to lecture students in a rabbinical seminar in New York when he learned that a Jewish marines officer was among the casualties in the Fallujah battles.

    Elson, a tall, mustached man in marines uniform, who recently returned from active service in Iraq, tried to persuade the rabbinical students to join the marines after their ordination. He believes that "every young Jewish man and woman ordained to be rabbis should aspire to serve in the U.S. Marines."

    "Believe me, the challenge to serve in the armed forces in a spiritual capacity, administering to the religious needs of Jewish soldiers, is greater and much more fascinating than the role of a rabbi in a synagogue," he says.

    Elson never met First Lieutenant Andrew K. Stern, who was killed in Iraq in September, but he did know four other Jewish marines who were killed in Iraq. There are no official figures of the number of Jewish soldiers killed since the invasion to Iraq. An American soldier's dog tag bears his name, personal number, blood type and religion, but in its official announcements, the army does not refer to their religion.

    "There are American soldiers in Iraq who do not reveal their Jewish identity and there are Jewish soldiers who don't bother to contact the chaplain," an official in the Jewish Chaplains Council's office in New York says. This makes it difficult to document authoritatively data on Jewish soldiers who have been killed during the war in Iraq.

    Some 37 military rabbis are in active service, 11 in the U.S. Air Force and seven in the U.S. Navy. Chaplain (Rabbi) Lieutenant Commander Irving Elson, 44, is completing his 18th year of service in the U.S. Marines.

    He first served as military rabbi at the Okinawa marine base. Between 1992 and 1994, he was rabbi of the Sixth Fleet. "We visited Haifa several times," he says. In the first Gulf War, he was based on an aircraft carrier "far from the real action."

    When the preparations for the invasion into Iraq began, he was attached to a marine artillery brigade that spearheaded the invasion. Elson estimates that 800 to 1,000 Jewish American soldiers are taking part in the war. His first term in Iraq lasted nine months. He was sent there again in August 2004, returning to his San Diego base in October.

    There are some 400 Jews in the Marines Expeditionary Force. Elson describes his service during the High Holy Days with Jewish marines in Iraq as "a spiritual experience" that will stay with him for many years. He was stationed at the Marine base on the outskirts of Fallujah, from where he would take off on a jeep or helicopter to visit Jewish marines.

    He "stretched" Rosh Hashanah out to five days "because I wanted to hold holiday prayers every place I knew there were Jewish marines," he says. He held Rosh Hashanah prayers, including shofar blowing, 17 times. "In one place near a battlefield, I blew the shofar for two Jewish marines," he says. On Yom Kippur, despite the terrible heat, Jewish marines fasted all day.

    "I decided to enlist as a rabbi to the army instead of looking for a synagogue, because in the army, religion is devoid of politics," he says. "Among the Jewish soldiers, there is no distinction between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. I never ask a soldier which stream he belongs to. Every Jew gets equal treatment in the army."

    The only complaint Elson has against the military authorities is the chronic shortage of kosher food rations. A Chicago plant manufactures kosher combat rations, but for some reason they are hard to come by. Elson says 3,000 kosher combat rations are stored in a base in Kuwait and for bureaucratic reasons the army is delaying their distribution. Every package of 12 standard rations has two vegetarian rations, "and this is what I lived on for months during my service in Iraq," he says.

    Elson, who was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, is married and father of three, wears a knitted skullcap and speaks Hebrew he learned during his studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

    Elson says that many senior marine commanders admire the IDF. "When they hear that I'm a rabbi, they ask if I've visited Israel and compliment the IDF."

    "Jewish marines ask me what will happen to them if they are killed in battle, or why was their friend, a decent, good guy, killed in battle?" says Elson.

    Many of the marines are 18 and 19-year-old men, who are stationed out of the United States for the first time.

    "A Jewish marine recently asked me if he may say kaddish [mourning prayer] over a gentile marine who was a close friend of his and who was killed. I told him he was permitted to express his grief any way he felt. But I recommended he say psalms," says Elson.

    Rabbi Irving Elson in Iraq.

    An English Translation

    Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

    May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

    Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

    May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
    and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

    He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.


    The Meaning of Kaddish

    Having read the translation of the Kaddish Prayer, one should realize that, although Jewish Law requires that the Kaddish be recited during the first eleven months following the death of a loved one by prescribed mourners, and on each anniversary of the death (the "Yahrtzeit"), and by custom in the State of Israel by all Jews on the Tenth of Tevet ("Yom HaKaddish HaKlali'), there is no reference, no word even, about death in the prayer!

    The theme of Kaddish is, rather, the Greatness of G-d, Who conducts the entire universe, and especially his most favored creature, each individual human being, with careful supervision. In this prayer, we also pray for peace - from apparently the only One Who can guarantee it - peace between nations, peace between individuals, and peace of mind.

    Paradoxically, this is, in fact, the only true comfort in the case of the loss of a loved one. That is, to be able to view the passing of the beloved individual from the perspective that that person's soul was gathered in, so to speak, by the One Who had provided it in the first place.

    As Beruriah, the great wife of Rabbi Meir, consoled her husband, upon the death of their two sons, with words to this effect, "A soul is comparable to an object which was given to us - to each individual, to his or her parents and loved ones, to guard and watch over for a limited time. When the time comes for the object to be returned to its rightful owner, should we not be willing to return it? With regard to our sons, let us therefore consider the matter as 'The L-rd gave, and the L-rd took back, may the Name of the L-rd be Blessed!' "

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