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In My Boots

May 9, 2009 | by Lieutenant Junior Grade Laurie Zimmet, United States Navy

What's a nice Jewish girl like me doing in a place like this?

I'm sitting at my desk in one of the former palaces of Saddam Hussein, well into the fifth month of my second tour of duty in the war in Iraq. What I want to share with you may seem silly at first, but it has hit me like a ton of bricks. This is not easy for me... okay enough stalling, here goes: I have been wearing the same combat boots day in and day out since I was called to active duty in August.

Doesn't sound like much to you? Well it is to me. Allow me to explain.

My boots have walked through the kind of sun and heat most associate with scorpions and death in all those Sahara movies from the 1940's, and my boots have trounced through water and mud, lots of mud. I'm looking at my boots and the one thing I can't shake loose from my mind is how in the world did I end up this way -- still single, no children, serving in a war, again? Why am I wearing these boots?

Please don't misunderstand me. I am honored to serve our country, proud to wear the cloth of our nation, and mine is an exciting job. Once again, as in 2003, I am assigned to an Intelligence unit -- a unit that goes after truly evil people. I do feel like I'm doing good for God, especially since these same people we go after not only harbor a disdain for America and all she holds dear, but not surprisingly, they abhor Israel as well, and most especially the Jews.

I should feel good about that, right? And how about this: I'm able to serve in this war while keeping kosher, and as a side assignment working as an unofficial lay leader to Jews here at my FOB -- Forward Operating Base. I even organized a giant menorah lighting ceremony in Saddam's Palace and made 100% kosher latkes for everyone at the ceremony. Many Jews here are still stunned that we pulled that off.

Still think I should feel good? I would too if I were reading this about someone else. But I'm not. It's me, not someone I've never met that I've labeled "hero" in my mind.

The truth is that I always wanted to be married and have children. Since I was a young girl I've thought it the noblest endeavor of any woman. Sure, I could go into my past, discuss each date with you, explain this and that about why it didn't work, but that would take volumes of writing with chapters and subheadings, perhaps even footnotes. Besides, I'm convinced prior to anyone reading it they would already be of the mindset that I was too picky or had other issues that precluded me from realizing that I'll never find that perfect person. They'll say, see, she used the word "perfect," right there I can tell you that's her problem. I don't want to do that; I don't want my life dissected. I cherish my dignity too much and until someone has actually walked in my shoes, been on my dates, I would appreciate it if they would give me the benefit of the doubt.

I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I didn't want my decisions in life to affect only me. So I joined the United States Navy Reserve.

I'm a teacher by profession and although I felt it such a privilege to teach children in cheder how to read, write, do arithmetic and learn social skills, I never really felt like I was making any sacrifice. My friends have always explained to me that that's a big part of marriage and parenting, your time is not your time, every decision you make is based on the needs of the family. You're part of this grand team, all sharing the same name, like all teams -- you know, the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Goldbergs, the Weinsteins, etc. This team builds a home, a family home, a Jewish home.

I'm human; I've had that need too. I wanted to feel I was sacrificing myself for some grand purpose to redeem our world, to be a part of something bigger than myself, to serve a greater good. I didn't want my decisions in life to affect only me. Thus, I answered a billboard ad and joined the United States Navy Reserve. And I suppose, in some ways, I have found a kind of family, not building a home but saving and protecting our homeland.

Still, I sit here and I stare at my boots. Forgetting already what it was like to feel like me, wearing a skirt and a pretty blouse. Taking out my finest on Shabbos, surrounding myself with menchlich friends who don't use curse words like they better hurry and say as many as possible before they're no longer allowed. I miss hearing the children daven at the cheder, those sweet voices that remind me that God is still hard at work on our behalf. I miss telling that lonely child that they are never alone, that God knows him, that He is always with her, and that I love them too, and that I believe in all that they can be. I miss my rabbis and rebbetzins. Oh, I know they are only a phone call away -- when I can get a line out, but it's not the same. And, I miss my friends, the ones who know me best, who know how much I've ached all these years to be a part of a different team, the one my husband and I would forge into the world praying all the while that we were indeed fulfilling God's goal for our lives.

With eight to nine months still ahead of me in Iraq, I sit and stare at my boots. Where will they go? What will they look like when, God willing, I return to Los Angeles, to my home?

You don't need world travel, adventures, or medals on your chest to feel a life fulfilled. You're already a hero.

Why am I writing this? I guess to vent, and I suppose I have another agenda. If you're reading this and you're married, raising children in a home, a Jewish home, with access to rabbis and rebbetzins, a variety of kosher food, and yes for that matter -- indoor plumbing, I can only share with you this: please don't ever think it is glamorous to go to war, perhaps something more exciting than the life you lead back home. The military, this war is very necessary, but it is anything but glamorous or romantic. I'll allow Hemingway to get away with such a description of war, but only him.

I implore you to appreciate your uniform in God's army -- your kippa and tzitzis, your modest dress, your holy speech, your Shabbos table, your children's cheder, your Jewish life, your yiddishkeit. You don't need world travel, adventures, or medals on your chest to feel a life fulfilled. You're already a hero.

And yes, I do continue to pray that my original goals in life not be forgotten. That God willing, I'll return home soon and that He will grant me the blessing of joining a different team, share a different name, wear pretty shoes.

Please forgive me, I'd like to write more. I have more to vent, to share, but I've just received an order to take my boots on yet another mission, and I wonder -- what will my boots look like tomorrow? Glamorous? Romantic? Nope, not even close.



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