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Fort Hood Jewish congregation linked by faith, connection to Central Texas post

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Posted: Saturday, September 5, 2009 12:00 pm | Updated: 8:12 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Jade Ortego

Killeen Daily Herald

Members of congregation Kol Kehillat Hood are connected by two common bonds – their faith and Fort Hood.

The group, composed of mostly active and retired military and military dependents, children and adults, meets for Hebrew Sunday school classes weekly.

Mahy Fowler, 17, announced that she had chosen her Hebrew name, Seff Aliyah bat Sarah, at last Sunday's meeting.

"Seff is actually a boy's name, but I like it," she said. Converts to Judaism often choose a Hebrew name.

Fowler, who attends Lampasas High School, hopes to finish her conversion soon.

"About two years ago, my mother decided to convert so we've been pretending to be Jews for about two years," Fowler said. "Hopefully this summer I'll finish up my conversion. I've been planning to go to Israel." She is learning Hebrew now, and is preparing for her bat mitzvah, which she hopes will be this summer.

Fowler is joining the National Guard in December after her 18th birthday. Her father is a first sergeant for the 1st Cavalry Division and her family has been at Fort Hood for more than four years.

She said that she loves the community at Kol Kehillat Hood. "No one here judges me because I'm a convert or how I dress," she said.

Fowler is training to be an instructor. She helps teach lessons about Jewish history each Sunday.

"We're helping her learn... When you do something like this you not only help the student, you promote the instructor," said Edith Freyer, a retired major from the medical corps.

Freyer said the Sunday school classes, which begin at 11 a.m. at the West Chapel Annex at Fort Hood, last from one to three hours.

"The groups that take the class really dictate how they want the class to go," Freyer said. "And when we pull out references, it really becomes a much more roundtable discussion group."

"It gives us a chance to ask questions that we normally don't get answers to and we good discussion," said Lt. Col., Linda Weir, a doctor with the Warrior Transition Unit medical corps.

On Sunday the group learned through their workbooks about how God tested Abraham 10 times.

"Many of these are opinions that are not mentioned in the Torah but are known to us through tradition," said Barbara Schwab, who leads the Sunday school lessons.

The discussions often connected stories from the Torah to modern life experiences.

The group learned about Abraham's children, Ishmael and Isaac. According to Islamic and Jewish traditions, Ishmael is the ancestor of the northern Arab nations and Isaac is the father of the Jewish people.

Schwab told the story about how Ishmael, a teenager, was cast out of his father's home, even though he was the oldest son, because he was "playing" with the child Isaac. This word for "play" is ambiguous, but it is used at other parts of the Torah to imply dangerous or sacrilegious activities.

We would do anything to protect our child from a potentially dangerous influence, Schwab said.

Also, "our second or third child might have a strength that the oldest don't," she said.

Schwab, who has a background in teaching, retired with her husband, a Vietnam veteran, to Fort Hood from Massachusetts five years ago. Her son is serving his third tour in Iraq.

Schwab said she always tries to be involved with religious programs wherever she lives.

"I try because we've been assigned to so many locations, and you've got to have some kind of stability. And certainly the military does provide framework but it's nice to have a little bit more personal community," Schwab said.

Crystal Moran, a day care instructor, is the children's Sunday school teacher.

Moran said she teaches the children basic Judaism history, American Jewish history and Israeli history, as well as the holiday structure and traditional Jewish heritage.

"[I] pretty much teach them the things they need to know and what Jewish families would like their children to know and share. Judaism is more than just the whole cultural experience. It's also the heritage and the faith," she said. "We want to bring all of that together and give them a firm foundation so they have a lot to grow on and we can support the Jewish children of our community."

Moran is also the mother of two of her students, Hunter Moran and Gavin Moran, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah next year.

"I wanted to make sure both of my boys are having the teaching that they need. ... They're getting exactly what we believe they should have."

Contact Jade Ortego at jortego@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553.

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