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Bonnie Koppell

Rabbi Bonnie Koppell is a rabbi in Arizona and is most widely known as the first female rabbi to serve in the U.S. military.

She described her role as a military chaplain:

Chaplains are noncombatants - we do not carry weapons, we are not trained to fight. We are there to minister to the religious needs of the troops and, as such, we are an essential part of the military force. No one likes war, no one wants war. No one prays for peace with more fervor than the soldier who stands ready to lay down his or her life for our country.

Yet, I am not a pacifist; I believe that there are times when war is justified. War is always a horrible tragedy, but it is not necessarily immoral. I am proud to consider among my many identities as wife, as mother, as rabbi, as teacher, as friend, yet another - as an American soldier. G-d forbid the need should arise, our Jewish soldiers deserve to have rabbis who are trained and ready to deploy alongside them, to be there to offer all the support they will need. I am proud to be among those who stand ready to go with them.

Bonnie Koppell joined the Army Reserves in 1978 while a Rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Bonnie headed to the U.S. Army Chaplain School at Fort Wadsworth/ Fort Hamilton, New York. After graduating from the Reconstructionist College in 1981, Rabbi Koppell became the first female rabbi to serve in the United States military and later was given the title of chaplain.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Rabbi Koppell was placed on active duty and ordered to report to the Academy of Health Sciences, a unit of the 5th Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas. There, preparations were underway to med-evac an anticipated "massive" amount of American casualties resulting from a planned major ground offensive against Iraq. Bonnie was to provide for the spiritual needs of the sick and wounded, as the only rabbi on staff.

After being released from active duty, she was assigned to the 164th Corps Support Group in Mesa, Arizona. In 2001-2002, Rabbi Koppell was in the midst of an expected year-long tour at Fort Huachuca, AZ, in support of Operation Noble Eagle. She subsequently served as Staff Chaplain for the 37th TRANSCOM from May 2003-September 2004 before assuming a similar post with the Fifth Army. Koppell also had a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. She spent Passover in Iraq in 2005 and Chanukkah 2005/2006 with Jewish service members in Kuwait and Afghanistan, and was deployed to Iraq for Passover 2006. She returned to Afghanistan in 2008/2009 and celebrated Passover in Kuwait in 2010.

Rabbi Koppell performs havdalah at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Rabbi Koppell leads soldiers in Chanukkah candle lighting at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan
Rabbi Koppell meets with President George W. Bush and family in the White House (2007)

Rabbi Koppell's many awards include:

  • America's Influential Women Rabbi's - Forward Magazina (2010)
  • Global War on Terrorism Medal (2005)
  • Mesa, Arizona "Woman of the Year" (2004)
  • Meritorious Service Medal w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster (2002)
  • Outstanding Volunteer Service (2000)
  • Honorable Order of Saint Martin, Association of Quartermasters (1999)
  • Army Commendation Medal (1997)
  • Army Achievement Medal w/1 Oak Leaf Cluster (1993)
  • National Defense Service Medal (1992)
  • Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon (1984)
  • Army Service Ribbon (1979)

Koppell is the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler, Arizona. Her current military rank is Colonel.

Sources: Jewish Women's Archives, Jewish War Veterans, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, JTA, Wikipedia, Photos Courtesy AZRabbi