Shabbat in Southwest Asia

Things are finally starting to pick up around here and I am not talking about the war in Iraq, which is hundreds of miles away from here. I am talking about finding some other Jews to outreach to. I am here at an undisclosed air base in Southwest Asia as part of a volunteer two month deployment. I have been here a little over three weeks now.

Some people asked me before I left Seattle, if I am going to find any other Jews out here? We Jews seem to be everywhere, so I knew I would find a few.

Most of the personnel for the new rotation have now arrived, so I am now able to get an updated personnel roster, which contains everyone’s chosen religious affiliation. Reviewing this roster I found that there are five other airmen here on base who identified themselves as being Jewish. I e-mailed them all, introduced myself and invited them to join me for the Friday night Shabbat service at sunset, 1900 hrs.

Two of the five replied to my invitation and came to the service. At last, this past Shabbat, I was not alone. It really lifted my spirits that I was able to “greet the Sabbath Queen” with two other Jews. Both of the guys are active duty airmen. One is about 20 years old and the other is 25. The younger one, Ben, is from Philadelphia. He is in the Communications Squadron, and runs all the cable here on base. He is “the cable guy”.

The other airman, Roy, works in the Travel Management Office, he is in the Air Force “shipping business.” Roy is a real-life farm boy from somewhere small in Kentucky. Just like that joke about Bucky Goldberg, the Jewish cowboy, well this guy is also a real life Jewish cowboy. He even rode bulls and roped calves on the Armed Forces Rodeo team. Who would have thought that I would meet a Jewish airman/farmer/cowboy out here.

Religious wise, both Ben and Roy, (not Ben & Jerry) grew up celebrating some of the Jewish holidays, but both admitted that they really do not know much about Judaism. Roy has been in the Air Force for about five years now and his current home base is in Turkey. Before deploying over here for four months, he said he went to a few Shabbat services out in town, to a Turkish Synagogue near Incirlik AB, Turkey. Roy’s captain and his Turkish, Jewish wife took him there. Wow, we Jews really are everywhere.

Ben and Roy both enjoyed the beginner service I led, which was half in Hebrew and about 65 percent in English (That was a joke). We said the blessing and each lit a Shabbat candle. I did not have any candle holders or tea lights so I used a diet coke can to make a candle holder. We then said the customary Shabbat prayers and blessings, with me interjecting commentary and explanations in between.

Afterwards, I made Kiddush over real wine, Kedem Concord, which happened to be here in the Chapel refrigerator when I arrived. It was even marked “For Jewish Service” on the bottle. I don’t know how long it has sat in that refrigerator, but it tasted as fine as that sweet stuff can taste. We also made chamotze, the blessing for bread, which we made over matza. I sent myself this matza before deploying, as part of my kosher care package.

I think the boys liked the Kiddush the most, and even though Passover is over, we each chomped up about two whole squares of matza. Maybe it was the holiness of the Sabbath that made that matza particularly tasty. Or maybe it was being in the company of fellow Jews in the middle of Southwest Asia, and being able to celebrate Shabbat here, that made that matza so enjoyable.

Both guys said they would come back next week.

Technical Sergeant Mikhail Ekshtut is a Chaplain Assistant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.


  • Alla Staroseletskaya


    I AM PROUD OF YOU! There few we are proud, and YOU are one of them!!! Let’s write something interesting for Rosh Hashanah.

    Alla Staroseletskaya (you know my email)

  • Wow. Misha…nice going…it is so nice to hear that you did outreach to our Jewish brothers and sisters…is there anything you guys need over there???…please let me know…