Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm back at Al Taji, Iraq and trying to readjust to my environment. The heat is up to 120 degrees, which reminds me of my visit to Death Valley last summer, but mostly I'm having trouble with the time change. It's been over a week, so it's not 'jet lag' any more; I just seem to be having trouble sleeping.

When I started out on my journey back to Iraq from R&R, I checked in with the rear detachment at Fort Hood. They told me a Soldier had died in my squadron while I was away. I think all rabbi's have that thought in the back of their mind - "What if something happens while I'm away... I hope not." It's a non-combat related death (ie accidental or suicide) and it began to weigh on me. I didn't know the Soldier all that well. He was a recent replacement who came out here just a few months ago; I had just seen him around the hangar, but we hadn't talked. I missed the memorial ceremony which was held a few days after his death, and everyone here is further along in dealing with their grief - I'm still having trouble believing it.

I think all congregational rabbis have to wrestle with the number of funerals and shiva calls as time goes on, especially if/when their congregation ages. In an Army at war, we also have to come to terms with death; only it's death for those who haven't lived a full life, who have so much ahead of them.
It's tough for me sometimes, but in being there for their comrades-in-arms who have to carry on, and for their families, I find the strength to continue.

I read a book by the military historian, Victor Davis Hansen called "Ripples of Battle: How the wars of the past still determine how we fight, how we live, and how we think." He describes how the death of his namesake, an uncle in the Marines who died on Okinawa during WWII, has reverberated through his family, and how three specific battles (Okinawa, Delium and Shiloh) have influenced the world. His premise includes the idea that war compresses time, and small events can cause ripples in families cultures and nations that last centuries.

So why do I think of this book now? I wonder at the ripples my own experiences will be part of - such as the exposure to death of young people in war and the time away from my family.

I don't know if that's enough to keep me awake at night; hopefully I can work this out during the days, as I need the sleep. I moved my quarters this morning, in preparation for our replacements to come in so we can shift down to Baghdad in a few weeks. Now, as I get ready for this Shabbos (parshas Korach - with it's own share of conflict, death and destruction) I'll try for some menucha (rest) and simcha (joy), for Shabbos is the tachlis (purpose) of creation - our opportunity to make a kiddush haShem (sanctification of G-d's name) here at Al Taji. Have a good Shabbos!