A Filmmaker, a Rabbi, and Iraq

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by JL

This week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored the first Iranian Jew with an Emmy. She also happens to a woman—Lila Yomtoob. The Forward profiles Lila today, noting that her award is for working as a sound editor on the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER." The film follows the daily lives of doctors, nurses, soldiers, medics, and chaplains working in the U.S. Army's Baghdad medical facility in Iraq's Green Zone.

Reading about Lila's accomplishment this week reminded me of Rabbi Bonnie Koppell. She is the first female rabbi to serve in the US military, including completing a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005. Sixteen years ago this week , she was profiled by the Omaha Nebraska Jewish Press as she was called up for reservist duty for the Persian Gulf War. In her career with the army, Rabbi Koppell has served as the chaplain for the 112th Military Intelligence Brigade in Arizona and traveled to Germany in 2003 to work in the United States Army’s Europe headquarters.

Rabbi Koppell isn't featured in Lila Yomtoob's "Baghdad ER," but I wonder what it was like for each of these Jewish women to work from a religious perspective during a war in a predominantly Muslim country. While it was Bonnie's job to counsel soldiers through religion as a chaplain, it was Lila's job to chronicle the role of chaplains, among medics, nurses, and doctors, in the war. Religion is a part of Bonnie's day job, but not for Lila, a sound editor in the film industry. As an Iranian Jew, what was it like for Lila to work on a project about Iraq, a country which her native home was once at war with? The Forward does not tell us how Lila felt, but if you were in her shoes, what would you be thinking about as you worked on this project? And what will Bonnie think about as she watches the present version of her past experiences on the big screen?

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