Rabbi Bonnie Koppell of Mesa, a colonel and chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves since 1978, offered the opening prayer on Monday at a meeting of President George W. Bush and a small group of Jews representing the international Jewish community. At the meeting in Washington, D.C., she presented Bush with a prayer book that is typically given to U.S. military troops.
Koppell said she had marked off the prayers for Hanukkah, and “for our country and for travel.”
In her prayer, she called for blessings on those in government, that they would have “strength of character, enabling the United States of America to be an ongoing force for good in the world and a source of pride for its citizens.” She noted that Hanukkah was the only Jewish holiday that celebrates a military victory” and that it is “the holiday of miracles.”
But Koppell cautioned, in the prayer, against a reliance on miracles. “We cannot merely hope for divine intervention in the face of suffering,” she said. “Ultimately, it is we who are responsible to be agents for freedom and justice for all.” She also asked prayer for those in the military and for a time when all humans can worship freely and “when religious freedom will be a right, not just a dream, for all humankind.”
Koppell listed these observations from the meeting from those who spoke:
• In Cuba, going to a synagogue is no longer illegal, and the Fidel Castro government has made it mandatory so it can show tourists that Jews can freely practice their religion.
• Under the regime of strongman Idi Amin in Uganda, 85 percent of Jews there were forced to renounce their faith.
• An Iranian Jew told how his children were forced to “curse Israel and America following the revolution in 1979.”
• Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Russia.
“At the conclusion of the meeting, we were ushered into the White House where the president offered some historical perspective on the office and posed for a photo with each of us,” said Koppell, who was the first female rabbi commissioned in the U.S. Army and the first to reach the rank of colonel.