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.”

Spc. Joe Kashnow:
Almost Intact

Kashnow always wanted to serve his country. He lived out his dream, and now has to bury his leg.
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Pfc. Joe Goldman:
Frum From Birth

Goldman joined the military to escape his Orthodox upbringing, but he found many parallels—and value in what he rejected.
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Maj. Yonel Dorelis:
That Others May Live

Dorelis would still choose football over Hebrew school, but dangerous missions give him a sense of redemption.
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Jessie Graham is a radio reporter and producer based in New York.

Nextbook Resources

Reading List: Soldiers’ Stories

Essay: V-Mail by Seth Gitell

Other Resources

Jewish Soldier Foundation

Jews in Green

Jewish Chaplains Council

National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Jewish War Veterans

Jews in the Civil War

Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War

Photo Credits