Insider | Funny | Traveler | Books & Culture | Eater
Moment‘s newsletters bundle the best in current events, humor, travel and cuisine. Pick your favorite or sign up for all five!
I was first introduced to the anti-Semitic trope that “Jews don’t serve” when I was still on active duty. I was showing a superior the hospital that I worked at, and somehow it came to light that I was a Jew. Her response to that was utter bewilderment, and she wanted to me to know that I should be “proud” to serve because “most Jews do not.”
It turns out that the trope “Jews don’t serve” has been used for centuries. It reached its heyday back in Nazi Germany. Since then, this falsehood has been on the decline, but the trope recently made a comeback this year in Charlottesville when we saw Neo-Nazis chanting, “blood and soil”—which refers to the idea that only white Americans have spilled blood for this country.
Then it came up once again thanks to the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, she went on Israeli television claiming that American Jews are a “people that never send their kids to fight for their country. Most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, going to Iraq.”
Hotovely’s statement could not be farther from the truth. American Jews have been fighting for our country since the American Revolution, where the “Southern Paul Revere,” Francis Salvador rode through South Carolina to alert American forces of an impending attack. He later died fighting for his country at the battle of Keowee River.
In the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has relied heavily on the American South and inner cities to fill the ranks of the military. Those that serve in America raise their hand; they are not told to go. Even so, American Jews have raised their hands to enlist at the same rate as other Americans. Thousands have fought in the 16-year-long war that began with the 9/11 attacks, and currently, there are 15,000 American Jews serving on active duty and an additional 5,000 serving in the Guard and the Reserves.
However, no one has paid the price of freedom more than our 56 Fallen Jewish Heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Let me tell you about three of our fallen American heroes:
Nathan Bruckenthal was born on July 17, 1979, and he grew up in Stony Brook, New York. He was a member of the Navy Junior ROTC while attending Herndon High School in Virginia, and after graduating, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard.
Nathan was chosen to be among the first Coast Guardsmen deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003, where he received multiple accommodations for his service. In March 2004, he volunteered for a second time to deploy to Iraq.
On April 24, 2004, two weeks after finding out that his wife was expecting their first child, Nathan and his team intercepted a vessel that was failing to respond to commands. As they began to board the vessel, an explosion was detonated, and Nathan and two U.S. Navy sailors were killed in action. He is the first and only Coast Guardsman to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. He was 24 years old. This year, the Coast Guard announced that they are building a vessel that will be named after Bruckenthal.
Roslyn Schulte was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and according to her parent’s testimony, she always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Her dreams came true when she was accepted in the 2006 class of the Air Force Academy.
After graduating third in her class, she was assigned to Headquarters Pacific Air Force on Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. She volunteered immediately to go to Afghanistan. It was during her time at Hickham that she met her boyfriend, Bruce Cohn, who later remarked at her funeral that he was going to propose to her after her deployment.
In February 2009, Schulte left to teach Afghanis how to gather their own intelligence, and she was scheduled to leave in August of 2009. On May 20, 2009, Schulte’s convoy was hit by an IED, and she was killed almost instantly. She is the first female graduate of the Air Force Academy to die in combat. She was awarded the National Intelligence Medal of Valor as well as the Hawaii Medal of Honor for her service.
Daniel Agami was born to an American and Israeli parent. Growing up in Coconut Springs, Florida, Agami grew up with a strong Jewish background and went to Jewish day school. After graduating high school, Agami worked as a disc jockey, but after the war began in Iraq and Afghanistan, Agami felt a greater calling and joined the U.S. Army.
In 2007, Agami’s unit was deployed to Iraq. Agami, like his fellow American Jews, had to make a decision—to be outwardly Jewish or to keep his Judaism to himself. For Agami, that decision was easy. He was the only Jew in his unit, and they affectionately called him “the Hebrew Hammer”; he even had the name sewn on his equipment. Because of his Israeli heritage, Daniel slept with an Israeli and American flag over his bunk.
On June 21, 2007, Agami’s unit was patrolling Baghdad when an IED hit his Humvee, and Daniel and four other soldiers died instantly. At his funeral, the Honor Guard fired off 18 volleys of shots, rather than the usual 21, to signify “chai,” the Jewish symbol for life. His mother, Beth Agami, is in talks with her representatives to name the new U.S. base in Israel after her son.
American Jews do serve their country. They send their sons and daughters to the marines, to Iraq and to Afghanistan. It seems like Hotovely is unaware of the rich history of American Jewish military service. The Jewish War Veterans of the USA invite Ms. Hotovely to come speak to our leadership about American Jewish military history. We hope she takes us up on our offer.
Anna Selman is the programs and public relations coordinator at Jewish War Veterans of the USA.
Click here to sponsor a subscription to Moment for Jewish service members in the U.S. military.
7 thoughts on “Yes, American Jews Do Serve”
I have served the past 18 years but American Jews do not serve proportionally as we once did. American Jews serve at .5% comprising 1.4% of the population. During WWII Jews made up 4.3% of the armed forces; today .9% seemingly proving her point.
In my experience as a Jewish Chaplain for the last 23 years we are about .2% of the military now. We are a mature immigrant population that has other opportunities. I am thrilled to serve the Jews in the military but I understand why we are not proportionally represented.
The People of Afghanistan are called Afghans;the currency is Afghanis..
Chaplain Colonel Hanoch Fields, Kuwait
Tzipi had a valid point viewed statistically. Furthermore, our argument should be with those who do not feel they or their children should defend their nation, not with those who do. And that is a colloquy best conducted privately.
Jews are ready to stand up and serve in Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, and hedge funds of all types.
To Anna Selman, great article! To the rest, include the Jewish Chaplain, the Colonel and the anti-Semite, how do you quantify Jews in the military like my brother who is 100% ethically Jewish, but is not religious, did not list his religion as Jewish (put “no preference” in his records) and never attended Jewish Chapel services during his 4 years in the US Air Force – how do you list him in your statistics? Or like me serving 30 years in the Marine Corps. How would you know? You cannot! We are not at all unusual as being un-affiliated Jews. It is no surprise for you to know that a large proportion of Jewish people in America are not very religious, are ethically mixed, and are very assimilated. How do you quantify them if they are in the military but don’t go to Jewish services, may not necessarily list their religion as Jewish and don’t participate in Jewish programs? A wise person once said “there are 3 types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics” – don’t fall into that trap and feed live ammunition to the anti-Semites.
I was curious about what percentage of American jews go to Israel to serve in the IDF.
Does any other ethnicity in America go to serve in this way?
I am from an Orthodox background and I serve. I enlisted and now I am a Major. If you are concerned about Jewish percentages, join the Reserve or National Guard to try it out. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the experience.