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“On [Yom Tov] we went through the ranger course which is the nearest you can come to actual battle conditions over here. Seven and a half pounds of dynamite are thrown at you successively. You end off by creeping through two barbed wire fences under a hail of machine gun bullets not higher than eighteen inches above your head and dynamite going off all around you. I hope you had a nicer Yom Tov!”

During World War Two, Jewish men all across the country were struggling with their military training and the conflicts it posed on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The excerpt above is from a letter written by US Private Shmuel (Rudy) Tauber in 1943 from Camp Atterbury, Indiana, to Mike Tress, President of the Agudath Israel Youth Council in New York.

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In Camp Fannin, Texas, this dilemma was described by Chaplain Maurice A. Hirshberg: “Since this is a basic training center and all time missed from formations and training must be made up, the Commanding General felt that one full day was all that could be granted and gave us the choice of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur… Of course, we took the latter.”

Being home for the holidays was every GI’s dream. However, eligibility for these furloughs varied in each army camp. Rosh Hashanah of 1943 in particular, was an especially difficult Yom Tov to get permission to travel. Most furloughs required the soldier to return by the day after the holiday. Since Rosh Hashanah was Thursday and Friday that year, religious soldiers were unable to take advantage of the pass.

When servicemen were unable to spend the holidays with their families, the next best option was to attempt to be off duty and leave base. In a lengthy letter, Aviation Cadet Wilfred Mandelbaum described his High Holiday experiences in Amarillo, Texas, in 1942. “All the Jewish boys received a fifty-four hour pass, from 5pm Friday till 11pm Sunday… I got in touch with the only rabbi in town, twelve miles away… He told me that all the soldiers were invited to the temple…

“When I came in the temple Friday evening with the captain, the rabbi took me by the arm and led me up front and sat me alongside of him facing the congregation. He also gave me his own machzor [as] mine arrived a day too late…

“The afternoon and evening services on both days were Orthodox because the Reform people stayed away. During the [morning] services, a large part was in English, a very large part of it was skipped, men and women sat together, and the rabbi’s wife sang some English songs.

“Mr. Wexler, a very wealthy Jew, is about the most Orthodox Jew in Amarillo… [He] blew the shofar. Mr. Levine is the next most Orthodox. I really felt at home in his house. His wife served the meals, noodle soup, the first I’ve had in a long, long time…

“At the rabbi’s house… everyone, including the rabbi, was bareheaded.”

By 1944, many of the draftees were being shipped overseas. Those slated to fight in the European Theater had it somewhat easier when it came to holiday accommodations. Even when stationed on distant continents, Yom Tov was celebrated and often proved to be inspirational. Private Morris Kimmel wrote from India, “Our chaplain, [Abraham] Dubin, conducted very impressive High Holiday services… There are a few Jews in India… They gave our Chaplain Dubin unique ram horns (shofars).”

Private Abraham Lieberman spent the holidays in the Dutch East Indies (today, Indonesia) and wrote, “Our chapel is very big but could not hold all the Jewish personnel on this base, therefore, the services were held in an outdoor theatre in my company base… The attendance was over two thousand men. Due [to] the small percentage of men who could read the Hebrew, the services were held in English… Our chaplain conducted them with the help of a cantor. I had the honor of reading the holy Torah which gave me more courage to obey the commands and to be a Torah-true Jew.

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Rabbi Dovid Reidel is the Collections Currator and Historical Archivist at the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center (KFHEC) located in Brooklyn, New York. To learn more or to donate artifacts, please visit kfhec.org. You can also contact the center at info@kfhec.org or at 718-759-6200.