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A Rabbi Reflects on the Baptist Funeral of Soldier

Recently a fellow rabbi and I attended the funeral of LCPL Andrew David Russoli, 21. The service took place at College Park Baptist Church in our city of Greensboro, N.C.

We thought we were going for two reasons. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The first reason was to be a Jewish presence, (we were wearing yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish head covering) representing our congregation at this funeral.
 
The second reason was to show solidarity with our friend, the Rev. Michael Usey, who is the minister there.
 
We quickly realized however that there was an additional reason for attending this very sad funeral, and that was to make an impact on our own neshamot, our own souls.
 
Andrew Russoli grew up in a middle class family in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Greensboro. He had friends in our congregation. He was very active in his church youth group. This was his second tour of duty in Iraq. He and two other men who were with him were on their way to investigate a report of an explosive that had been found in a residential/civilian area. The three were killed instantly by the roadside bomb. Previously and during his service Andrew had been awarded a purple heart for bravery.
 
Here are a few thoughts:
 
1. I suggest to clergy colleagues that when there are funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq in your community that you go and make an appearance. We were very warmly received.
 
In our community, there have now been six men killed in Iraq. I realize that this is a very high number. Our county in the last election voted 56 percent Democrat. In this community there is a lot of debate about the war in Iraq. There is however no debate about the courage and bravery of the American Armed Forces who are serving there. My disagreement is with the administration, not with the United States Armed Forces. The percentage of soldiers there who have not behaved admirably is indeed miniscule.
 
2. I am also concerned about a misconception that primarily minorities and poor are serving in Iraq.
 
It is true in my opinion that the poor have been targeted for recruitment. However such efforts have not always been successful. The casualties from our community represent racial diversity (two of the six were African Americans) as well as wider economic diversity than we would expect.
 
3. I came away with an incredible sadness in my heart. I find myself asking questions, why did this have to happen? Was this death worthwhile or was it another tragedy of what I feel is a misguided and mismanaged war?
 
I find myself remembering the rabbinic statement, “The person who saves a life, saves the world.”
 
I am concerned that the current administration has no plan of exit for leaving Iraq.
 
I am very proud that two North Carolina Congressmen, David Price and Brad Miller have introduced a resolution in Congress calling on the administration to begin a withdrawal from Iraq as a response to the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections on Dec. 15. You can read the resolution on Representative Price’s Web site.
 
4. Finally, I walked away feeling really glad that Rabbi Andy Koren and I had attended the funeral. It was not only a sign of solidarity for a family, a church and a colleague in this community, but it was also an incredible growth experience for the two of us.
 
Rabbi Fred Guttman serves at Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.