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Jewish Journal

MY IRAQ

In the Land of Abraham Six Jews, Six Stories of Iraq

May 26, 2005 | 8:00 pm

All talk of Jewish neocons aside, there's nothing innately Jewish about the invasion of Iraq. Among Jews, opinions vary regarding the war, to say the least. But like all U.S. citizens, American Jews have much invested in the enterprise's ultimate success. And those Jews involved "in country" face particular danger if captured by insurgents, because of anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel. In this package of articles, readers will meet six Jews who've been inside post-invasion Iraq. The central story is that of a Marine from Southern California who supports the war effort, but found his faith challenged. There also are anti-war perspectives from a former soldier and a college professor. Other narratives come from a military chaplain, a civilian attorney and a military attorney. If there is a consistent theme, it may be that no one can enter a war zone without being changed or without confronting the sacrifice, trauma and tragedy of armed conflict. And perhaps that anyone expecting easy or consistent answers won't find them in Iraq. These are American stories with a Jewish twist -- indeed, all the persons profiled see their understanding of Judaism expressed in their experience of and reaction to the war. It's not a complete picture, but a mosaic, whose pieces are still falling into place.

War and Faith: Iraq Tests Jewish Marine

by David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Sgt. Kayitz Finley with local Iraqi citizens.

When a Marine finds himself in a ditch or an abandoned house, suddenly under fire, having to decide where to shoot and who to kill, it may not much matter if the Marine is Jewish. It was before and after the firefights in Iraq that Marine Corps Sgt. Kayitz Finley remembered and confronted his belief.

The war in Iraq cost Finley his faith for awhile. It also took away 11 buddies -- including a close friend -- men on whom he'd depended to get home in one piece. Still, for Finley, the conflict was never the wrong war, the wrong place or the wrong time. For him, the Iraq War was as advertised -- a war of liberation, a war keeping faith with the American principle of bringing freedom to those lacking it.

"Every Marine out there was for the cause," said Finley, who served two combat tours in Iraq. "I believe in the cause, and I wanted to continue what I was doing."

About 1.5 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps is Jewish, roughly corresponding to a 2 percent Jewish presence in the entire U.S. military. Finley signed on after graduating in 2000 from Grant High School in Van Nuys. He just wasn't ready for more classes. His ex-Marine father, Rabbi Mordechai Finley of the independent Westside congregation, Ohr Ha Torah, encouraged his son's military interest.

Kayitz Finley's enlistment test scores qualified him for a post in intelligence or logistics, but he preferred infantry, side by side with the grunts, including hillbillies from Appalachia and gangbangers -- people who had never met one Jew before arriving for basic training at Camp Pendleton in north San Diego County.

"I was the only Jew there," said Finley, who spoke with The Journal at his mother's home in Conejo Valley. "People from other parts of the country -- Indiana, Alabama -- never even had met a Jew before. They said, 'Really, you're Jewish?' and started poking me."

Yes, poking -- as in taking an index finger and poking at Finley's chest. "Sometimes it was serious. It was a trip, all those white guys," he said. "For the first year, I sensed a lot of animosity from other Marines -- maybe about half of them. They'd always make jokes."

There were occasional scuffles, too, part of the corps' off-duty roughhouse culture. On occasion, Finley would hear rednecks say things about Jews that they'd never get away with saying about other minorities.

In late 2001, Finley saddled up for the invasion of Afghanistan. His unit never deployed and instead, he spent seven and a half months waiting offshore on an aircraft carrier.

Without seeing action, Finley returned to Camp Pendleton, from where he regularly zoomed up to Los Angeles to visit his folks. A few months later, he got his orders to Iraq.

Finley was in an invasion column, walking on the land of his traditional ancestor, Abraham, on that March day two years ago, when President Bush told the American people: "At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

He remembers the first time he fired his weapon for real, near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, in a blur of a firefight.

"It was early, early in the morning, around 5 a.m.," Finley said. "We had stopped the convoy to get a quick stretch, a smoke break and to glance down at our maps just to make sure everything was set before crossing into the city."

"I remember standing and talking with a buddy of mine, and from the north, we heard a very faint 'crack' sound," he continued. "We saw a little black dot getting larger and larger toward us, and within seconds, we noticed it was a projectile. It was an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] -- and it was flying so closely above our heads that we could actually see the engravings on it. It soared right over us and landed about 200 meters behind us in some field."

"Everybody just stopped what they were doing for a second ... and wondered, 'Did we just get fired at?'" Finley said. "And just like this, like the flick of a switch, we went into combat mode -- jumped into our vehicles, got off the main road, sent platoons forward from all sides."

"It was a rush," he said. "When you go in, of course, you're scared at first. You got bullets flying by your head, and you don't know what to do for a second. But you just re-group, and you breathe in, take a deep breath. You just wipe the sweat off your brow, and you just go for it. You'll be all right. Use all the training that you've learned. Keep calm."

The firefight was over in 15 minutes, Finley said. But it took more than an hour to check for wounded civilians or still-living insurgents. With practice, they got faster at replenishing ammunition, refilling gas tanks and sending out Marines to check combat zones for living Iraqis -- enemy or friendly.

Finley does not talk about the first time -- in a different battle -- that he was certain he'd killed someone, someone who might otherwise have killed him.

On April 2, 2003, Finley became part of the Marines' historic Tigris River crossing into Baghdad, cutting off the escape route of an Iraqi Republican Guard division.

Passover found him in Baghdad, but the young soldier knew of only two other Jews in his battalion landing team in the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the Marine Expeditionary Force, 1st Division.

Navy Cmdr. Irving Elson (See page 13), the only rabbi assigned to the entire Marine Corps, found Finley's unit camped at an old headquarters building for Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party.

"It was the first day of Pesach, so we had a Passover seder, him and I and two other Marines in the lobby of the theater of the compound," Elson said. "We didn't have much, but I had matzahs. And we had horseradish, and we had grape juice. And the four of us had a wonderful time."

After staying in Baghdad until late April 2003 -- where Finley's battalion occupied a building that was home to Iraq's Sumer cigarette company, "equivalent to our Marlboro," he said, the unit went to Al Hillah. In the sleepy city, 60 miles to the south, Finley's unit found restaurants and homes that welcomed the Marines as liberators and called them honored guests. Finley made friends with an Iraqi policeman, Mohammed, and he told Mohammed that he was Jewish. Photos of Finley with Iraqis show Finley's unloaded rifle resting nearby.

Finley and the other young Marines oversaw the creation of Al Hillah's new fire department, plus the opening of Hussein-free public schools. He helped teach Iraqis the basics of police work: arrests, takedowns and how to handle prisoners humanely. Because Hebrew is linguistically close to Arabic, Finley quickly picked up Arabic phrases to help his squad communicate.

Finley was in Iraq from January to September 2003. He volunteered for a second stint that lasted from May to December of 2004. He went back, he said, because "all my buddies were still over there."

All told, he endured a t least nine weeks of combat

It was on that second Iraq tour that his unit took the most casualties -- Finley knew 11 Marines who lost their lives. August 2004 saw the peak fighting in Najaf between U.S. forces and insurgents.

"The whole month was a complete firefight," Finley said. "The whole place was chaotic."

The routine was two days on the frontline, then four or five days to recuperate, but "sometimes I was out for four days and came back for one, or just 12 hours."

During house-to-house fighting, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded about five feet away from him.

"The whole area just shook for 15 minutes." he recalled, "It was just nuts. You couldn't see anything. You couldn't do anything. Everything was dust, rocks -- everywhere."

His ear felt the explosive charge. His mouth tasted it. However, he escaped unharmed.

By now, there were no anti-Semites among his fellow Marines; Finley's comrades included all races, religions and backgrounds. He formed an especially strong bond with Sgt. Moses Rocha, a Latino from East Los Angeles, who bunked beside Finley. They were both Lakers fans, and Rocha had a Jewish fiance back home.

Rocha, at 33, was the oldest of the young guys, and he looked after them. Rocha got his men good food, decent bedding and made sure that officers doled out guard duty fairly; sometimes Rocha would pull a shift to give his men more downtime.

On the Aug, 5, 2004, the unit was transporting supplies when snipers struck. The Marines returned fire. Rocha, the unit's senior sergeant, headed up to the Humvee's mounted machine gun. He paused to reload, instantly making himself vulnerable.

"He got shot, took a round to the chest from a sniper," Finley said. "It's like -- it happens, just like that. He was a leader amongst leaders. He always stuck up for the guys. He always defended the guys no matter what."

The Marines made a small patch of Najaf into a chapel -- one without walls, bimah or seats, but not without Kaddish (a prayer for the dead).

"A few of us close buds were together, and we're all kind of saying a few words, prayers," Finley recalled. "And I said, 'Listen guys, you know I'm Jewish and everything. I'm gonna say a quick prayer.' And I said it real quick, and they listened, bowed their heads. And that was that."

In the middle of all this bloody combat, Finley lost his longtime link to God: "I felt a little disconnected. It was tough. It hurt me. It was very tough for me."

He turned to his father, Rabbi Finley. Through e-mail exchanges, Finley said his father advised: "Stay calm, be cool, have faith. It'll come back to you. Don't worry about it. It happens to a lot of people."

A clogged 101 Freeway is Finley's biggest danger these days. He's doing a little construction work this spring, while preparing for a summer-long trip to Israel -- his first. Next fall, he plans to attend a local community college, then transfer to a UC campus. He wants to become a physical therapist -- or return to the Marines as a pilot.

The war medals are stashed in his bedroom along with his uniform. He's got two Marine Corps bumper stickers on his black Toyota Corolla, and he's still got his Marine physique.

He looks back on his service in Iraq as tikkun olam, his personal attempt to heal and free a country from a tyrant and his rape squads: "Forget about the weapons of mass destruction -- we got rid of Saddam Hussein."

Finley knows there's another way to look at this war, but those questions are not for a Marine -- not now at least, not at 23 with life, Israel, a girlfriend and college waiting for him.

"If I started to question," he said. "I don't know what kind of thoughts I'd come up with."

A few months at home have begun to restore his faith. "Just now, being out of the Marine Corps," Finley said, "it's finally coming back to me, which I'm very thankful for, because for awhile there it was missing."

Soldier for Peace Haunted by War

by Stanley David, Contributing Writer

Alex Ryabov of Iraq Veterans Against The War. Photo by Jeff Patterson, Not In Our Name

Before deploying for the U.S. invasion of Iraq with his Marine artillery unit in 2003, Alex Ryabov was relatively untouched by religious observance. He'd been given a Star of David in his bar mitzvah year, but rarely wore it. And he had little use for prayer.

Iraq changed all that.

Today Ryabov, 22, holds closely to the small Jewish star that, he believes, kept him out of harm's way. He prays before most meals and tries to observe Jewish dietary laws.

He also travels throughout the United States speaking against American policies on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group he co-founded.

"The war is a complete waste for both sides," asserted the man who went there and came home changed. "There is absolutely no reason for Iraqis and Americans to be dying."

Ryabov didn't always feel so strongly. Back in Brooklyn, where he went to high school, in fact, he didn't think much about anything at all; the main attraction of the military, he says, was that of a well-paying job.

"I saw most adults working at jobs they hated because they had to," he recalled. "Here were all these benefits and a uniform. I figured: Cool -- you get to blow things up and get paid for it."

Two weeks after graduation he was in boot camp. And three years after that, he was in Iraq.

Ryabov's unit -- for which he served as ammunition chief -- miraculously never got into major firefights. And, he added, it came home without casualties.

But along the way he saw things that disturbed him, such as obliterated vehicles with charred bodies inside.

"That made me feel very uneasy," Ryabov said, given that any one of those bodies could be his. And once he came within six inches of being decapitated by the barrel of a big gun that came crashing through his truck's windshield.

Wearing the once-forgotten Star of David close to his heart "definitely made me feel safer and more protected," he said.

He believes that what may have saved him from that gun barrel was a silent prayer he'd sent up to God an hour earlier.

Mostly, he kept his head low.

"Our job was to kill Iraqis or they would kill us," Ryabov said. "You don't have time to stop and deal with things as they occur, so you end up blocking the stuff out and you just keep on going."

Few things, however, can be blocked out forever.

When Ryabov returned stateside, he seemed OK for a while -- then the nightmares began. He couldn't sleep. He experienced anxiety, stress and flashes of uncontrolled anger. He felt depressed. The diagnosis: post traumatic stress disorder, for which he remains in therapy and on medication.

"I can pretty much function," said the former soldier, who attends Brooklyn College with an undeclared major. "Some days are worse than others -- it's not predictable."

His return to the religion of his parents has helped. "I definitely feel that God protected me," Ryabov said.

What's helped even more, though, is his activism.

Last year, Ryabov was among war veterans who staged protests at the Republican National Convention. In January, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inaugural procession, during which "a lot of us turned our backs on Bush and Cheney as they passed by." And whenever he can, the anti-warrior said, he speaks to high school students, does local television shows and gives interviews.

Is any of this informed by his newfound Judaism? Ryabov said simply: "I've just realized how precious and important life is."

Professor Sees Iraq War as 'Disaster'

by David Finnigan, Contributing Writerr

Iraqi citizens Marching to anti-US and anti-Jewish chants, Baghdad, March 19, 2004.

The words, "utter disaster," leave the lips of professor Mark Levine with all deliberate speed when discussing his absolute opposition to the war in Iraq, which he visited last year.

But during that visit, when a virulent anti-U.S./anti-Israel protest played out in front of him, his thoughts contracted to a foxhole mentality.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my God, how do I get out of here alive?'" said Levine, 38. "I wasn't thinking, 'I'm here in the land where Abraham walked.' I didn't tell anybody I was Jewish. I'm not Jewish if anyone asks. I'm Buddhist if almost anyone asks."

The friendly, long-haired, bespectacled Levine is associate professor of Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic studies at UC Irvine. The father of a preschool son and infant daughter, he also played guitar on Mick Jagger's 1993 solo album, "Wandering Spirit."

He toured Iraq in March 2004 with academics and journalists brought together by the anti-war Occupation Watch Information Center. Levine's an advisory board member.

"I went to Iraq because I grew up reading the Prophets," said Levine, who researched a book while there and met with religious leaders, officials from nongovernmental agencies and local Iraqis.

A concern for social justice runs in the family. His Conservative father worked to desegregate schools in Patterson, N.J.

At the tense street protest, U.S. soldiers were on hand to keep order.

"They were not happy to be there," Levine recalled. "They were not happy I was there. They figured if I'm there, I'm there against them. And if I'm there, they have to worry about me."

Levine compared the Iraqi lawlessness to what he saw five months earlier in the West Bank town of Nablus.

"I was struck by how some major Palestinian towns have been descending into this kind of level of chaos," Levine said. "Young people running around with guns ... ordering people around. And then in Iraq, it was like Nablus on steroids."

"People are doing these car bombings, because they think they're achieving some kind of strategic goal with it," he said.

He thinks the best course for the United States in Iraq is to "first of all, apologize for invading; second, agree to pay reparations for the damage done by the invasion and occupation; third, help organize a U.N.-administered international peace-building force to replace U.S. forces; and fourth, leave."

Levine, who's unaffiliated but raising his children as Jews, does not keep company with the far-left, pro-North Korea/anti-Israel group, International ANSWER, which he said does more harm than good to the anti-war movement. The ANSWER group makes it easy for the Bush administration to ridicule the antiwar movement, Levine implied.

"How can someone sitting in America or the U.K. call for divestment from Israel, when the occupation of Iraq has killed far more Iraqis and done far more damage to that society in two years than Israel has done to Palestinian society in more than a century? Or China: How horrific the occupation and the genocide of Tibet has been. Sudan? Hello!

The radical anti-Israel, anti-war groups "can't look holistically, so they blame everything on Israel and the U.S. And you're just handing the U.S. or mainstream society a gift, because they don't have to take you seriously."

Luxury, Fear Mix in Posting to Baghdad

by Paula Amann, Washington Jewish Week

District lawyer Linda Lourie, left, in a military vehicle in Iraq, with an unidentified member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Photo courtesy of Linda Lourie/Washington Jewish Week

Linda Lourie had a palace of an office, yet slept in a trailer at night. She had access to a gym, a swimming pool and a half-dozen restaurants, but could not travel safely outside her neighborhood.

The daily soundtrack of mortars reminded her that she lived in the middle of war.

Lourie, a Washington, D.C., attorney in her late 30s, spent several months last year living in Baghdad's Green Zone, where U.S. officials and their allies make their headquarters.

On detail to the Pentagon from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Lourie was part of a team that revised Iraq's legal code.

"A modern Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors is good for the world and certainly good for Israel -- and I like adventure," Lourie said.

Fronting the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad, the four-mile-square compound where she lived comprises the Republican Palace, a convention center, ad hoc trailer parks and even a residential Iraqi neighborhood, all secured by 15-foot concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints at entrances.

Lourie, an intellectual property specialist, resided in a trailer. Her workplace, an office of some 15 people, was inside a Saddam Hussein palace, a gaudy hodgepodge of Italian marble in red, gray and black.

"He had more money than taste," said Lourie, citing chandeliers with plastic crystals and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. "Everything has the appearance of luxury, but in fact, it's all a fake."

Lourie took part in a Friday-night minyan of 12 to 20 people in the former palace of a dictator known for his persecution of Jews, among other ethnic and religious groups. When Lourie attended Friday night services, she said, she would peer nervously over her shoulder to make sure nobody was watching.

Her pride in her heritage notwithstanding, Lourie went to great lengths to hide her Judaism from most people. She said she feared becoming a kidnapping target or worse. That's why she never told her Iraqi translator she was Jewish, although, she said, "I trusted him with my life."

Keeping kosher in Baghdad was another challenge, Lourie said.

"Nobody has ever seen vegetarians before," she said, noting that her diet consisted of salad, tuna and military-issue MREs (meal ready to eat).

During her stay, Lourie had the satisfaction of removing legal language requiring compliance with the Arab economic boycott of Israel.

"In order to apply for a patent, you had to sign an affidavit that you were respecting the boycott against Israel" under the old regime, she said.

Lourie said she has profound respect for the Iraqi lawyers who have served as translators.

"They are risking not only their lives, but the lives of their families in coming to work for us, and we couldn't do it without them," Lourie said.

Asked about polls suggesting that most Iraqis want the United States to leave their country, she attributes the hostility to "a nationalistic interest in having complete control of their country."

She knows Americans who organized sports activities and obtained textbooks for universities, but she fears the average Iraqi knows little of these efforts.

"There are thousands of stories about people doing really good things for Iraqis, but they don't get into the newspapers," Lourie lamented.

Despite her New York University master's degree in medieval Islamic art, she didn't see much art, with travel so dangerous.

Meanwhile, places of Jewish interest, like Ur, Abraham's birthplace, and Nineveh, noted in the biblical book of Jonah, also were off limits, as U.S. forces coped with the continuing insurgency.

The "biggest frustration" is that she wasn't able to see "the biblical and archeological sites in the country," Lourie said.

Reprinted from Washington Jewish Week. Additional reporting by Journal senior writer Marc Ballon.

Rabbi Feels Most Useful in Combat

by David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Navy Comdr. Irving Elson holding services for troops in Iraq.

Navy Cmdr. Irving Elson is the only Mexican American rabbi in the U.S. armed forces. That background came in handy when he hunched his shoulders, bent his head and walked low across a runway to meet an arriving medevac aircraft bringing home a wounded Marine from Iraq.

It was in early March at San Diego's Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, not long after the rabbi's own service in Iraq. The wounded soldier was Venezuelan American and Jewish. His parents spoke little English, but he really wanted them to know he was OK.

Shouting over the loud whine of the jet engines, the Mexico City-born-and-reared chaplain said: "Son, this is your lucky day."

Elson spent eight months in Iraq with the Marines during and after the U.S.-led invasion. He was a ship's chaplain in the first Gulf War and also ministered to Marines in Bosnia.

In Iraq, "for the first couple of months that I was out there, I was the only rabbi in country," said Elson, whose service included a three-week stretch during which he was under fire almost constantly.

"You're always hungry," said Elson, 44. "You're always tired."

"You're scared," he added, "but in a strange sort of way it's wonderful, because you're really doing what you're trained to do as a chaplain, and you're there when people are asking the hard questions of life. You're there when people are ready to interact with their faith. It's the time that I felt the most useful."

Elson said one of the big existential questions that Marines asked him was, "Why did my buddy die?"

His part in the actual fighting was to, "get my head down and stay the hell out of the way." Beside Elson during the firefights was an armed naval chaplain's aide charged with protecting him, a young man from Northern California described by Elson as, "a very, very devout evangelical Christian and a strong supporter of Israel."

His service at home at Miramar was perhaps more difficult than his ministry under fire. Elson was tasked with visiting several families, including one in Orange County, with a Marine Corps casualty assistance officer -- telling parents that their son or daughter had been killed in combat.

"Combat is a little more predictable," he said. "As far as how civilians react, you never know how people are going to react."

In June, Elson finishes his Marine Corps tour and becomes deputy command chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He'll be on hand for the September opening of the privately funded, $12 million Uriah P. Levy Center, the Naval Academy's first dedicated Jewish chapel for midshipmen.

"We were the last service academy not to have a dedicated Jewish chapel," Elson said.

The Navy chaplain extols the Marines he knew for being "willing to put himself or herself in harm's way for some esoteric concept like freedom."

"If you give people a little taste of freedom," he added, "that taste stays with them. It's really a matter of justice: feeding the hungry and liberating the oppressed. What can be more Jewish than that?"

"My only regret is that people are continuing to die. Little by little, I'm waiting for the Iraqi people to start stepping up to the plate."

Palace Event Brings War Zone Revelation

by Stanley David, Contributing Writer

Elan Carr lighting a Chanukiah in Saddam Hussain's palace in Baghdad.

lan S. Carr experienced a revelation while observing Chanukah in 2003.

The place was Baghdad, where 1st Lt. Carr, 37, an Army reservist, was assigned to anticipate and frustrate terrorist attacks, as well as to prosecute those who carried them out.

In a former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein, Carr was leading a holiday candle-lighting ceremony, what he describes as the "the first Jewish event ever to take place in that place."

The revelation: That, as an American Jew, he was exactly where he needed to be.

"This was the very building in which unspeakable terror was perpetrated on the people of Iraq," the officer recently explained. "We felt that to express ourselves Jewishly in a place like that -- a place that had been so unspeakably evil -- was profoundly moving, and none of us will ever forget it."

There's a lot about Iraq that Carr won't forget.

Born to an Iraqi Jewish family that had immigrated to the United States in the pre-Saddam era, the Hebrew-speaking Carr is fluent in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic that is the language of that country's court and street. A commercial litigator by profession, he was sent to Iraq initially as part of an anti-terrorism assessment team assigned to travel throughout the country to prevent terrorist attacks. Later, as a military judge advocate, his job was to prosecute insurgents and other "unlawful combatants" in their own language before the Iraqi court.

"I was awed even to be there," Carr said of his time in the ancestral homeland that once had a thriving Jewish community. "I very deeply believe in what we are doing in Iraq."

"I believe we are changing the Middle East by helping Iraqis create a free, democratic, pluralistic, tolerant, Arab polity in the heart of the Middle East," he continued. "And that will change the world, I have no doubt."

What he will remember most, though, are the people -- children on the corner and policeman on the beat -- Iraqis, he said, ranging from powerful administrators to the humblest street cleaners.

"These are people who've been broken by oppression and subjected to decades of the most virulent anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda we can imagine," he said. "It's going to take some time before they shed the baggage of the Saddam and pre-Saddam eras."

Most didn't know Carr's faith -- a secret that for security reasons he kept from all but his closest friends and co-workers. When, by chance, the subject of Israel came up, Carr said, many ordinary Iraqis expressed the surprising view that "this hatred of Israel has got to go." And when, as sometimes happened, they discovered he was Jewish, some took pains to reassure him that, though they'd never met one before, they'd been told that "Jews are the nicest people."

Never having met a Jew is hardly unusual in a city with a Jewish population of 27. That number has dwindled through emigration to about 13.

Carr came to view his service in Iraq as an elemental expression of his Judaism, saying, "I believe in what we're doing there in large part, because of Jewish teachings about the human soul and human nature. Those views -- which form the Jewish world view -- lead me to believe that all people are capable of wondrous goodness."

And so his mind drifted back to that Chanukah -- a celebration of freedom and light -- in Saddam's former palace, which once epitomized darkness and oppression. By the time he left Iraq, Carr said, he and other Jews in uniform were celebrating Shabbat and Pesach there as well -- a practice, he's told, that continues.

"It's all about the battle between good and evil, the nature of the human soul and the proper role of a citizen in a society that works," he said from his Los Angeles home. "So much of the story of the Exodus involves creating a society. It's not just about liberation, but about nation building."

While it's one thing to read Exodus or celebrate the Passover story, it's quite another to do such work in the present, with the outcome in doubt and lives always at risk.

"The seder I attended a year ago was in the presidential palace, where we sat around talking about wonders and miracles," the Jewish soldier recalled.

One day, Carr believes, the story of Iraq, too, will be told with reverence.

 

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