Keeping kosher in Iraq

BAGHDAD—I met Army Captain Andrew Shulman last fall, when he was on leave in the States. At the time, he was the only Jewish chaplain deployed to Iraq, and we joked about the quirks of keeping kosher in Iraq, observing the Shabbat in a deployment where "every day is a Monday," and the excesses of life on sprawling military bases that serve Baskin-Robbins ice cream every day (some flavors are kosher) and Maine lobster on Fridays (decidedly not kosher, but still a great conversation topic). The war for him largely seemed to be a great adventure of a Jew from Beverly Hills to a Biblical land that, until recently, had wiping Israel off the map as one of its officially stated goals. The death and destruction that raged outside his military base appeared to have little effect on him.

I am passing through the base where Shulman is stationed, Camp Striker, one of the several heavily guarded military installations that ring Baghdad International Airport, where roads have names and road signs (I notice "Red Sock Rd.," named, I guess, for an unnamed Red Sox player), souvenir shops peddle gold jewelry and bootleg DVDs, the dining facility serves made-to-order stir fry, among other things, and most soldiers have never had to put on their flak jackets. I shoot him an email, wondering if he's in town.

Lo and behold, Shulman is here. We agree to meet by the chapel—the one with the "illegal cross" on the baptistery out front, Shulman remarks, wryly. Military chapels are supposed to be non-denominational; the chapel with the cross is where Shulman holds Shabbat services for a handful of Jews deployed here.

We walk together to get lunch at the dining facility; Shulman gets fresh vegetables, pickles (kosher), mayo (kosher), and mustard (ditto). He is tanner than I remember him, and clean shaven. But something else has changed.

If I were to interview him about his deployment today, Shulman tells me, our conversation wouldn't be as light-hearted as last fall.

On Passover, he explains, two Jewish majors were killed. The families wanted some form of rabbinic oversight over the way the bodies were handled, and Shulman went to the morgue.

"Blood on the floor," he recalls. "Lots of dust. They try to make it nice, but you know, it's Iraq."

The trip to the morgue had a sobering effect on Shulman's thoughts about the war in Iraq.

"If everyone saw that," Shulman says, "I think [we’d] all be out of here in a second."

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