At 45, Rabbi Karyn Berger decided to join the Army again.
“I had to fight to get here,” she said, adding she was bumping up against the military’s age requirements. “I really had to choose to be here, and every day I wake up and I (think), ‘I get to run (physical training) and to be a chaplain solider.”
Capt. Berger originally joined the Army in 1983, where her final rank was a second lieutenant. She rejoined two years ago as a chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
Berger, who is the only female active-duty rabbi at Fort Hood, and one of only two active-duty female rabbis in the Army, said she knew she wanted to be a rabbi since before she could talk and finally started going through the process when she was 36.
“It’s huge,’” she said. “No matter what I do, I’m making history. If I get it right, I’m making history. If I get it wrong, I’m making history. Nobody is ever going to do what I do.”
Retired Maj. Edith S. Freyer, Jewish activities coordinator for the congregation at Fort Hood, said Berger is intelligent and intuitive to those around her.
“Chaplain Berger is caring and extremely sympathetic to the needs of all soldiers and the special needs of the Jewish soldiers and their families,” Freyer said. “We are fortunate to have her at Fort Hood and the congregation is looking forward to many of the exciting programs she would like to initiate.”
Berger said she serves God, the country and the soldiers who protect both of those things.
“That’s got to be, for me, the ultimate privilege. I’m honored to do it every single day,” she said. “I love the men and women I serve. I love my job. I love doing what I do. There are hard parts, it is all about serving.”
Berger said her role in the world as a Jew is to make it a better place, not just by believing or saying it’s the right thing to do, but by pursuing ways to help others.
“In Judaism, we really believe that we are active players in the world and creation and that creation is ongoing,” Berger said. “I have an obligation to make the world a better place than when I came into it, and this is how I choose to do it.”
Beyond serving the men and women in the military, Berger said her goal is to be the best spiritual guide she can as she serves.
“My job is actually about how soldiers and other people find the God that’s already in them,” she said. “I don’t bring God to them; it’s already there.”
Berger said she had many influences throughout her life, but the biggest ones were her parents.
“My dad is a retired Army chaplain, too,” she said. “Sometimes when they call me Rabbi Berger, I think they’re talking to my dad. I’m pretty amazed that I get to (follow his footsteps).”
Berger said she’s living her dream.
“I do what I love to do with people I like and love to do it with and how many people get to do that? I can’t think of anything better than that,” she said. “A lot of people give up on that dream and I didn’t have to give up on it. I get to live it.”