Jewish soldier's beating prompts changes - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Jewish soldier's beating prompts changes

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Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 9:54 am | Updated: 2:41 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The beating of Jewish soldier in Army basic training last fall has prompted Fort Benning to make changes aimed at improving conditions for Jewish troops, from adding a rabbi chaplain to offering kosher meals at dining halls.

she said the jail cited prohibitions on internet material and religious material sent from home. "We took a close look at ourselves and saw where we could make some improvements," said Col. Scott Davis, senior chaplain at the Army post in west Georgia. "I wouldn't say we're totally there yet. But I would say we're definitely moving forward."

Religious tolerance became an issue at Fort Benning after Pvt. Michael Handman, 20, suffered a concussion from a beating by a fellow trainee. The attack came days after Handman's parents alerted the Army that he had complained of religious discrimination in letters he had sent home.

The soldier accused of beating Handman was kicked out the Army. Two drill sergeants were also disciplined. One had ordered Handman to remove his yarmulke in a dining hall. The other had called him "Juden" — the German word for Jews. Handman was later allowed to leave the Army.

Davis said that in the months since, other steps have been taken.

Drill sergeants must attend classes on how to accommodate soldiers of varying faiths. Fort Benning plans to hold Jewish worship services on Fridays and observe the holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah on post, rather than busing soldiers to a synagogue in neighboring Columbus.

About two weeks ago, Fort Benning also added a full-time Jewish chaplain, Maj. Carlos Huerta, one of only a few rabbis serving in the Army Chaplain Corps.

"I felt from the start that they were fairly serious about trying to deal with some of this," said Bill Nigut, southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, who met with Fort Benning commanders after Handman was beaten. "It says they are integrating Jewish life into the base activities."

Davis said there aren't many Jewish soldiers in basic training at Fort Benning at any one time. He estimated about 20 or so.

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