The U.S. Army has retaliated for an anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish soldier last year and now offers kosher food for Jews, who also have been given access to a rabbi-chaplain at the Fort Benning, Georgia training base.
Col. Scott Davis, head chaplain at the base, said that the improvements in religious observance for Jews is a direct result of the attack, in which 20-year-old Private Michael Handman suffered a concussion following a beating from other trainees. Several days before the attacks, Handman’s parents had complained to the army about religious discrimination against their son.
Handman had been ordered by a drill sergeant to remove his kippa while eating in the army dining hall, and another sergeant called him “Judean,” German for “Jew.”
“We took a close look at ourselves and saw where we could make some improvements,” Davis told the Associated Press. “I wouldn’t say we’re totally there yet. But I would say we’re definitely moving forward.”
The army also is giving classroom lessons to drill sergeants on religious tolerance. The Fort Banning base also is inaugurating religious services on the eve of the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays instead of sending the soldiers by bus to a nearby civilian synagogue. Jewish law forbids riding on the Sabbath or holidays, except in situations when life is threatened, such as in war.
The base, where 25,000 soldiers train every year, now offers a full-time Jewish rabbi-chaplain, as it used to have two years ago. Approximately 20 Jewish soldiers in every training period are at the base.