Rabbi Heather Borshof
Captain, United States Army
Hanukkah 2014 at Temple Rodeph Torah
It is hard to believe that four years ago this Hanukah I took my commission to serve in the Army as a rabbi to the Military Jewish community and as a chaplain to every other Soldier I encounter. Four years ago I spoke about the miracle that Hanukah celebrates – not just the oil that miraculously lasted for eight days, but that a very small, determined group of people was willing to fight hard and risk everything in order to keep Judaism alive. While the Jewish people have always been a minority and have often struggled to survive, most of us have always enjoyed our freedom. And sometimes it is hard not to take for granted what we have always had.
Four years in the Army have gone quickly, but feel like a lifetime. During this time I have been stationed in Virginia, North Carolina and have been deployed to Afghanistan for nine months. It is hard to describe in just a few minutes the experiences I encountered in Afghanistan. A lot has happened and I have changed a lot. But the one thing that remains the same is how honored and blessed I feel to have the opportunity to give something back to the people who risk their lives on a daily basis so that we may enjoy and take advantage of the freedom and sovereignty that we possess.
In Afghanistan, while our living conditions left something to be desired and there were a million and one things to complain about, I have to recognize that we still had a bed to sleep in, and access to fresh food on a daily basis, which is more than the average local national Afghan has access to during their entire lifetime. But given the fact that most of our Soldiers didn’t appreciate what we had, (like most of us who take for granted the things that are a given for us, such as our freedom) deployments are nonetheless challenging. Soldiers are away from their families and friends. The air quality that we breathed was nothing short of unhealthy and nasty. There is no such thing as a day off. (I realized that after this deployment the Army owed me 72 days off – which I will never see.) We worked absurd hours, from 6:30am to 11pm every day, and lived with dangers on a daily basis that one does not usually share with their loved ones.
But one of the things that our country has learned in the last 14 years is how to support our military in a deployed setting. And so even with all of the challenges that we dealt with, Temple Rodeph Torah had a big role in helping to raise the morale of the Soldiers. The gourmet lollypops traveled with me as I visited our Soldiers all over Afghanistan. The Soldiers looked forward to receiving them when they knew I was coming back a second time to visit. The toiletries that were collected and sent from everyone went a very long way; some people called my office “Walmart,” and they came shopping for snacks and hygiene products. In Afghanistan, everyone looked forward to receiving the simple things that we all take for granted here in the United States. On behalf of myself and my Soldiers, I would like to say thank you to the Religious School, all of TRT, and all of you for your hard work and constant support and for continuing to be my home away from home. I would also like to thank my family: I know that it wasn’t easy for you when I was in Afghanistan, as I imagine it is difficult for most families, and I thank you for your love and support.
And so, as a way to say thank you, I would like to present Temple Rodeph Torah with an American flag that was flown over our Battalion in Bagram, Afghanistan. The flag flew over the battalion on the anniversary of the very first Shabbat service we ever had in this building. It is sort of a random date, February 23rd. The reason I remembered it was because that was the day, now soon approaching 25 years ago, that my younger sister Kara was supposed to be born. She was not born that day, so I was able to attend the very first service we had here in this building, in this sanctuary. May this flag continue to guard and represent the freedom that so many people in the world can only dream of having, but that we have been fortunate and blessed enough to experience.
On this evening of Shabbat Hanukah, this evening of dedication, may all of our men and women in uniform one day know the blessing of Shalom.
Happy Hanukah, and Shabbat Shalom.