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COMMENTARY: Loneliness in the military

By Senior Airman Stuart Bright 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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September has come and gone, and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have passed. If I were at home with my family, we would have honored our faith together by sharing what has happened in our lives over the past year. However, I’m 2,000 miles away from my nearest relatives and I have never felt more alone. 

Every year, I would enjoy spending time with my family during Rosh Hashana, eating dinner, lighting candles and dipping apples in honey to symbolize a sweet new year. However, spending time with my family and feeling like I belong is what I’ll miss most this year during the holidays.

For each one of us who serve, the next four months can be difficult whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslims or any number of faiths especially if you are away from family.

Since joining the Air Force, I have felt like I have lost my Jewish family. Though I am in Louisiana, my family nucleus and synagogue have remained in Washington state.

Yes, there are synagogues here and they are supportive during Shabbat and other holidays, but it wasn’t home and I often feel like an outsider. People would say hello and then find their friends as I continued to sit by myself. I did not feel warm and part of a community like I did back home. The Jewish community I found in Shreveport, is nice… but they are not family.

To add salt to an open wound, if I did not go to the local synagogue, I would end up celebrating holidays alone. I would light candles, make a nice dinner and sit down at the table, but when I would look up, there would be an empty chair across the table. How can I choose between feeling like I don’t belong and being lonely for the important days of my religion?

The worst I have ever felt was at the end of basic military training. I missed all eight days of Hannukah, which for my family and I is important. For the first time in my life, I was away from family during the holidays. I started questioning joining the Air Force. I thought I joined a large team, but it felt like no one was in my corner, and I fell into a dark hole of isolation.

However, I soon found a light to climb toward. While I may not have found a Jewish family in Louisiana, I have found one just as good.

The Airmen I work with are a family; we just do things differently than back home. We go to the movies and Mudbugs games instead of having Passover Seder together.

My girlfriend and her family have also welcomed me with open arms. While not being Jewish, my girlfriend has taken to trying to learn about Judaism, and has celebrated Shabbat multiple times with me. While this may not heal my wounds, it is pain relief. I finally feel like I belong somewhere.

With everyone that I have come to know since arriving in Louisiana, I feel a little less lonely. I may no longer celebrate the Jewish holidays according to tradition, but I celebrate them my way now. While I miss my family back home, my new family makes sure I never go at life alone anymore.