Story and photo by MC1 Gino Flores
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Coalition service members of the Jewish faith celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, aboard Camp Leatherneck, Oct. 8.
“For the Jewish community this is our highest holiday season, it is equivalent in importance to the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter,” said Lt. Joshua Sherwin, a chaplain who is deployed to Afghanistan as part of II Marines Expeditionary Force (Forward), Camp Lejuene, N.C.
There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) – also known as the Day of Judgment-and Yom Kippur. These ten days are referred to as the “Days of Awe”, or the days of repentance. On Rosh Hashanah, the Lord is said to inscribe the fate of every person for the upcoming year in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. The verdict is not final until Yom Kippur.
The Jewish community reflects on the past year’s events. They contemplate what they did not do well and then make improvements, said Sherwin.
“We use these days for introspection,” said Sherwin, a native of Orlando, Fla., whose local temple is Congregation Beth Am.
This year’s Rosh Hashanah celebrated the 5772 Jewish New Year. Worshipers have until Yom Kippur to seek forgiveness for past transgressions in hopes of influencing the Lord’s final Judgment before the Book of Life and the Book of Death are sealed until the next Jewish calendar year when the religious ritual will reoccur.
On Yom Kippur, worshipers observe a 25-hour fast that precludes food or drink starting on Friday evening and ending on sunset Saturday evening of Oct. 8, the day of celebration. They wear white clothing in celebration of the holiday and a symbol of the beginning of a pure New Year.
The Jewish community on Camp Leatherneck came together for dinner prior to the start of the fast on Friday Oct. 7 and again to end of fast on Saturday evening after the conclusion of the ceremony, said Sherwin.
During the holiday, a morning, afternoon, and evening prayer service is held in order to allow worshipers to complete the ritual of performing three prayers in accordance with customs and traditions. This allows worshipers to remain in good standing before the Lord in “The Book of Life.”
“Traditionally the distinct sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) concludes the ceremony and celebration,” said Sherwin.
Throughout Afghanistan’s history the size of the Jewish community fluctuated until the Soviet invasion and the Taliban regime sparked a final migration. Today, there is thought to be only one solitary resident left of a formerly thriving Afghan Jewish community that once had an estimated population of some 40,000.
The U.S. military makes a conscious effort to meet the spiritual needs of service members deployed throughout the world.
“The fact that we have Navy chaplains of all denominations and religious faiths forward deployed really encourage [U.S. Armed Forces] members to feel free to express their spirituality,” said Sherwin. “This allows service members to retain their religious individuality and freedom.”
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