There is a photograph taken in Kuwait of Lance Cpl. Joshua Fine, 23, a Marine reservist, wearing a Notre Dame shirt and holding his rifle. The photo, taken shortly before his unit moved into Iraq, is a curious paradox of college and war: the student as a military man.
From his perspective as a military man now serving in Iraq, Fine has provided some insights into what he and many of the those in the war zone have undergone and are experiencing by detailing them through a series of letters home, which his mother, Sheryl Rabinovich, is sharing with The Jewish Journal.
For Fine, who is serving with the 6th Marine Division’s 6th Engineering Support Battalion in Iraq, paradoxes are not unusual. As a teenager, he was friends with both gang members and honor students at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. At Notre Dame Law School, he was a Jew in a Catholic institution.
After graduating UCLA in 2000, Fine went to Israel to join a special program for foreign nationals seeking to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. However, he lacked the required Hebrew language skills and returned home after three months. He then enlisted in the Marine Reserves in South Bend, Ind., the home of Notre Dame.
In February, after completing nearly a year and half of law school studies at Notre Dame, Fine was called up by the Marines and shipped off to Kuwait in preparation for the Iraq War.
The law student grew up in Tarzana, and his parents divorced when he was 6. His mother, who is the dean of education at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in Los Angeles, said her son had a 4.0 grade-point average and was on the student council in high school.
However, Rabinovich said, he did not fare as well at UCLA, and while there had a minor scrape with the law. It was through the help of Chabad, she continued, that her son turned his life around, graduated and set his sights on law school as the base for a career in politics.
Fine saw the military as a way to both gain the discipline that he believed he lacked and help him get into law school. The decision proved right and he was accepted at Notre Dame.
Fine joined the Marines for two reasons: "I figured that the United States is Israel’s biggest ally. Who would be there if something happened? The Marines," he told Fred Dodd, a South Bend Tribune reporter embedded with Fine’s unit in Iraq. "Second, it’s the longest, toughest boot camp. I wanted a disciplined, hard program that would improve my work ethic."
On Feb. 7, Fine’s unit was sent to Kuwait, and by March 23, he was inside Iraq. The marine was only able to communicate with his family through letters, which often took as long as six weeks to be delivered.
Fine’s letters were not censored. As the war progressed, he became disillusioned with some of the U.S. actions in Iraq. According to the Tribune dispatches, Fine’s unit witnessed "death, pain and destruction," but the Marine omits discussion of these details in his letters home.
Fine’s letters reveal that while in Iraq, his faith in God and Judaism was strengthened. His missives also underscore the fact that Judaism has been an important factor for him in the war zone.
Although not formally religious, Fine attended services, attempted to get kosher food and celebrated Passover while on duty. His mother sent him a Passover box that included three bottles of kosher wine, matzah and Passover cookies, which he shared with the 12 other Jews in his company.
"Josh asked me to send him a Torah, but I was afraid to do so in case he would be captured," Rabinovich said. "A friend at work gave me a mezuzah to give to him, but I did not send it to him for the same reason. Instead, I put it on my keychain, and I rub it every time I pray for his safety."
Fine remains in Iraq. At this time, he does not know when his unit will return to the United States.
Joshua Fine’s Letters
Feb. 12, 2003
I’m fine and doing OK. Mail is extremely slow around here, so you won’t get this for a while. We arrived here in Kuwait a few days ago on Sunday the 9th. We flew from Pendleton to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Kuwait.
We are located at Camp Coyote, which is a large camp housing thousands of Marines. It’s not bad here, but it is far inferior to the Army’s facility at Doha, Qatar. They are spoiled compared to us.
March shall prove a pivotal and hopefully decisive month in modern American history, but who knows?
I have completed two days of a total of three in getting my Hummer [Humvee] license. The daylight hours are not very long, and we have no electricity right now, so I’m writing by flashlight. Hopefully, electricity and running water will be available soon.
We are out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, we may very well be at the epicenter of nowhere. Mostly boredom is the biggest gripe I can come up with….
Right now there are fireworks being lit off miles away [because] of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. We thought it was bombing, but it is a religious celebration.
Take care, I love you, don’t worry and I’ll be home as soon as I can.
Feb. 25, 2003
Everything is going just fine. It looks like Bush’s date for compliance is fast approaching though. We may be very busy soon, but who knows with world pressure what it is.
It’s been about 40 days since my activation. Pretty fast, huh? Hopefully, the duration will go by fast as well. This Monday it will be six weeks. I am going to Jewish services in a few hours. We are holding them at 3:30 or 4 right before sundown. We tried to get Friday night, but Saturday evening is not bad.
They are also trying to get kosher MREs [meals ready to eat] for me, Roth, Berman and my Islamic buddy, Chaban. They are still working on it, and who knows how long it will take.
I’ve decided not to eat any of the MREs except vegetarian ones. We receive hot food twice daily in our makeshift chow hall. I only eat fish or chicken there.
When I come home, I am going kosher….
Eating out will be hit and miss. I will go to unkosher restaurants, but I will only eat select foods. We’ll see.
I get hot tea twice a day, as well. That really helps. Chaban and I always drink our tea together in the evenings and often in the morning as well. We usually go together to eat, but if we do not, still I must have my tea while it is available.
When and if this U.S. offensive begins, there will be no more tea and no more hot food. I just want it to start already so we can bomb, attack, conquer, eject and then go home.
You be good and stay fit. I’ll be fine, so don’t worry, but prayers help.
March 27, 2003
I am only writing you because I only have one envelope. I will send two postcards out as well. One to Liz and one to, well, don’t know yet. Point being, let everyone interested know the contents of this letter.
I am in Iraq, about 50 miles or so in. Tomorrow, we are moving forward even more….The Army went around all this area and are at or near Baghdad (we know nothing). I get no intel at all. Anyone with a TV knows infinitely more than us. The Corps has been held up with a lot of fighting but has blown past a lot of hostile troops without actually handling them. These roads are way, way behind where our troops are currently at.
Hopefully this is just some dumb Army mission, but who knows. I think the government just wants some use out of us because they spent so much activating us. The reality is they are throwing good money after bad….
Ego is the disaster and the biggest murderer in this "war." Hopefully, we will be sent home after this mission and the bureaucrats will be satisfied. The money spent on our activation will be justifiable on paper, and we do whatever retarded task we do.
Tell everyone I’m doing fine. Probably lost some weight. Miss them all. Give everyone hugs and kisses. I hate sand, miss intelligence, love Judaism and need, desperately need, a vacation and lots of spa treatment.
I am not scared. I have complete faith in God, though none in the Corps. The one good thing to come from this is my tentmate. He is Jewish, from Chicago, from a wealthy family. He is Navy, and we will probably be friends for years to come.
Love for all, peace for Israel and blessings on all our households.
April 2, 2003
Dear Sonny and Roseanne [an aunt and uncle],
We finally got mail call last night, and so I received three of your letters at once. Out here we have no access to news, current events, the status of the war effort, nothing. You know much more back at home than we do, and we are dead stuck in the middle of it.
I am now about 240 miles in Iraq and 110 miles from Baghdad. I truly believe we will make it to the city. I do not know what the command is thinking, but whatever it is, it’s not planned out with logic, reason or intelligence.
We entered Iraq four days after the first bomb hit Iraq on Sunday, March 23. We had been at four different locations/camps, but it is just dirt and sometimes an enclosed berm as well.
The rumor is that we will be here for a full week. Today is day two before leaving forward to a camp 50 miles inside Baghdad. Every other place we have slept at has only been a two- to three-day camp, and then we load up and move.
We haven’t taken any direct fire yet, and hopefully we never will, but artillery is always at risk. Other than the boredom and the low probability threat, I’m fine.
I have 63 pages done of my journal book, so that’s good. I am currently starting to read "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevsky, but am at a pause because of inane busy work. Today I may be able to pick up again.
I read Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" and found it rather vague and plagued by repetition. The placement of certain principles did not match or fit with … chapter topics throughout the book. It had some good principles, but I still much prefer "The Prince" by Machiavelli. Maybe it’s just my Western sensibilities.
I hope you’re doing well, and I received a few letters from friends of yours. Please thank everyone who wrote.
April 24, 2003
Dear Marienne [a friend of the family],
Thank you so much for the kind words, encouragement and the psalm. I never truly believed in the power of effectiveness of prayer until I fully delved into its embrace and made it a ritual. I have, for the past two years, recited the first line of the "Shema" before going to sleep each night, but not until this experience have I gone further.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but while I was in Israel a Rabbi told me that prayer, asking of God, is not selfish; rather, it is a way of affirming our belief in His existence and His omnipotence.
I celebrated Passover as best I could, here in the Iraqi desert. There were three of us and my mother’s package, complete with kosher wine, arrived three hours before sundown of the first night. God had a hand in that, I’m sure.
Take care if my mother for me. I know she’s strong but a little help couldn’t hurt.