In “Defender of the Faith,” Philip Roth’s Army story set in 1945, Sergeant Nathan Marx tells one of his charges in basic training who wants kosher food, “This is a war, Grossbart. For the time being be the same.” Sixty years later, America and its military have become more culturally flexible, but even as Jews participate fully in many professions they are underrepresented in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The thousands who do serve must negotiate how to meet their individual needs—kosher food, time to pray—and also to fit in with their comrades in arms. And what Sergeant Marx tells his superior still holds: “Some things are more important to some Jews than other things to other Jews.”
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Jessie Graham is a radio reporter and producer based in New York.