July 23, 2014   25 Tamuz 5774
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Jewish Troops Program
Mar. 10, 2011
Weekly Jewish prayer service, education classes and oneg hosted by congregation at a local army training post.

Community Contact Information:

Temple Israel
Columbus, GA
http://columbusjudaism.org

Goals:

  • Provide a weekly Jewish prayer service, oneg and Jewish educational classes for troops at a nearby U.S. Army post
  • Provide synagogue members with a tangible way to thank soldiers for their service
  • Build stronger alliances between the local Jewish community and the Army base

Overview:
Every Sunday, when soldiers receive time off for worship, synagogue volunteers lead a Jewish prayer service, host Jewish education classes and provide an oneg for Jewish soliders in the U.S. Army Infantry Training Brigades at Fort Benning, a local Army post. Synagogue members also coordinate Jewish holiday celebrations at the base and encourage soliders and their families to participate in other Temple Israel programs free of charge.

Preparation:
A retired U.S. Navy Captain and synagogue member noticed that the U.S. Army post conducted no regular Jewish worship service, holiday celebrations or education classes. In 2001, he organized his congregation to begin providing these services. The program gradually expanded to involve many of the synagogue’s 106 families.

Project Implementation: 
To run the program, volunteers make a weekly visit to a local supermarket to pick up the store’s day-old baked goods, which are then stored at the synagogue. Synagogue members load up their cars with the food each Sunday morning and drive to the Army post. The weekly festivities are held in the post’s chapel.

After the program grew to serve more than 200 Army trainees, the U.S. Army decided to assign one of its nine Jewish chaplains to the Army post. Now, the Jewish chaplain or synagogue lay leader conducts the service while other volunteers hand out prayer books, socialize with the soldiers and set up the tables and food for the oneg. Educational classes are conducted during and after the oneg, as time allows.

Results:
The Jewish Troops Program has helped introduce non-Jews to the Jewish faith and culture in a friendly and welcoming way. The program also has strengthened the identities of Jewish soldiers who otherwise would be lost in a non-Jewish environment.

Temple Israel's children have used this program to connect with soldiers. They make holiday cards and care packages, lead the soldiers in song and work alongside the soliders to build a sukkah. This program has been replicated in at least one other military community in Illinois.

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