Army’s First Female Rabbi Visits Iraq

This past January, Ch. (Col.) Bonnie Koppell received an invitation she could not turn down. She was asked to travel to Iraq to conduct Passover seders for Jewish service members. After two weeks of refresher training in Soldiering/Surviving 101 in Fort Bliss, Texas, Rabbi Koppell left the U.S. just in time for the first Seder. With the help of many fellow soldiers along the way, she was able to make it to both seders and provide the Jewish troops with what they considered Dayenu (enough for them), “Good food, good wine, and a day off.”

Along her journey, Rabbi Koppell spent a lot of time visiting and talking with soldiers in different units from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to Saddam’s presidential palace in Baghdad. She went from a place which one Jewish soldier refered to as the “suburbs of hell” to swimming in Saddam’s pool and smoking Cuban cigars on his lawn.

In a recent article she wrote for Jewish News of Greater Phoenix Online, Rabbi Koppell talks about her amazing experience and what she learned from the soldiers she spoke with. One thing she gained a better understanding of is the complexity of building a new Iraq from scratch.

I read a report on the status and needs of women, which used the term “social literacy.” That term summarized and expressed the issue that the engineers explained – we can clean up the streets, but if people don’t have the ability to keep them clean or the understanding of why that’s important, then we’ve wasted our time.

Rabbi Koppell was also moved by the positive attitudes of the soldiers.

Many soldiers complain about missing their spouses and children back home. It is an unbelievably challenging environment for families, especially when some soldiers cannot get out when they were promised. On the other hand, there is tremendous pride and enthusiasm regarding what has been accomplished. One Jewish soldier who works in civil affairs described his great feeling of comfort and support from the Iraqi people. He was deeply moved on election day to see people with disabilities walking miles to vote.

To read more about Rabbi Koppell’s Iraq experience, check the full article. To contact Rabbi Koppell for speaking engagements, email her at .

One comment