By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public AffairsOctober 2, 2018
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Army Chaplain (Capt.) David Becker is on a special six-week temporary duty, or TDY, to Afghanistan to minister to Soldiers of Jewish faith and to celebrate the many Jewish holidays that fill the calendar from late August through early October.
Becker explained that the TDY request came from the Army's Chief of Chaplains office, the chief supervising office of the Chaplains Corps. Heading the corps is Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Paul Hurley, who has been in that position since May 2015.
"They sent a rabbi to theater to travel around this country to be specifically catering to Jewish Soldiers, which I've had the opportunity to do," Becker said, adding he has ministered here at Bagram Airfield, Kandahar Airfield, and in Kabul.
Becker estimates there are less than a dozen rabbis on active duty in the Army. His selection was an honor, he said.
Back home, Becker is a pulpit rabbi and has served as a vice principal in Jewish day schools for the past 18 years. These full-time schools function to provide children of Jewish parents with both a Jewish and a secular education in one school.
He is also assigned to the 640th Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 40th Infantry Division, Army National Guard, Joint Training Base at Los Alamitos, California.
This trip allowed him the opportunity to merge both worlds in a different setting than back home.
"I have the opportunity to activate my patriotism and love for my country, which is deep and vast, along with my absolutely unfathomable spirit for Judaism and my fellow Soldiers in an environment where they would not necessarily get to have that opportunity," Becker explained. "Coupled with those feelings, it's unlike any mission that I've ever experienced outside of the Army. It fills me with a sense of awe and appreciation for the Army, for my country, and for my God."
Of great importance this time of year is Yom Kippur -- also known as the Day of Atonement -- when special prayers are made for repentance. It is the holiest of all Jewish holidays. It is a time of reparation to account for one's sins and a renewal of spirit to improve in life.
The holiday comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, or hollowed-out ram's horn, which Becker did during one of his recent services. As is tradition, special food was provided after the service as part of the celebration. One tradition calls for dipping apples in honey, in hopes of bringing in a sweet new year.
Another important holiday that was recently celebrated was Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Booths, which runs seven days in late September.
"It reminds us of the great comfort the Jewish people experienced while traveling in the desert. God provided for everything in a forlorn environment," Becker explained.
Today, Jewish people build booths outside their house to celebrate the festival and spend time in them, especially during meals, Becker said. The booths are symbolically considered to be God's shelter, providing for believers' every need, not only in biblical times but in current times as well.
"So you will find that the Jewish year is a re-creation, through its festivals and holidays, of the Jewish experience in the desert as they traveled for 39 years throughout the desert," Becker said.
Accompanying him in Afghanistan is Army Master Sgt. Capricia Turner, who has served for 18 years. She is a religious affairs noncommissioned officer, 38th Infantry Division, Indiana National Guard.
The pairing seems a bit odd at face value, as Turner is of Christian faith. As it turns out, this mission has been an eye-opening blessing in disguise.
"I think it's very interesting, and again I go back to it as a Christian. We learn that this is how Jesus worshipped," Turner said. "And I enjoy seeing and learning the different scriptures that people of the time would have worshipped and read. And, it's a lot of fun."
This is Turner's first trip to Afghanistan. She said the requirements for being in theater and assisting a Jewish chaplain are somewhat different than her duties stateside.
"One of the main things really have been preparing his services, preparing our air movement requests, and getting sent around the country accommodating his religious needs, as well as making sure we're abiding by those needs for other Soldiers," she said.
Also of importance is making sure the right kind of food is made available so people of Jewish faith can immerse themselves as part of the whole holiday experience.
"Getting the food … those are things you didn't think about. Going to the dining facility and putting in specific food requests -- kosher meal requests," Turner explained. "Learning about the different kind of kosher foods and what's different about them [and] making sure that it was accommodating those accordingly."
Turner said she feels blessed to have had this opportunity to serve with a rabbi chaplain in Afghanistan.
"[This was] an opportunity to reach out and have this experience that I never had before, with a chaplain I never had before, and a faith group that I never had before," Turner said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
For one attendee at the services on Bagram Airfield, having someone minister during these Jewish holidays is always welcome, especially during Yom Kippur.
"It's atonement, obviously reflecting on the past year in conjunction with the new year,
Rosh Hashanah," said Army Reserve Soldier Maj. Scott Lefton. "It's a new beginning, obviously to reflect; basically you get a restart. You look past the last year of what you've done and look forward to a good year."
Lefton is no stranger to being deployed to Afghanistan and being able to attend Jewish services. He said he served here in 2008 and 2011 in Kabul and in Mazar-e-sharif, in the northern section of the country, where services were provided during the holy season.
This trip, Becker said, has been like no other.
"People are absolutely floored I'm here … that the Army cares enough to provide a rabbi for their needs. And I come with a whole wealth of goodies, food, and ritual experiences," he said. "I put my whole heart and soul into building up our Soldiers."