This Orthodox Jewish Family Has Had Two Generations Serving in the U.S. Marine Corps

Corporal Yehuda Aryeh Carlsen with his grandfather, Sergeant Aaron Blumenfeld

To have one generation of an Orthodox Jewish family in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) is pretty amazing, but for the Carlsen family in Chicago, they are honored to have two generations who have served or are currently serving our country. Chaya Leah Carlsen believes that her father’s time in the USMC inspired her son Yehuda Aryeh, aka Corporal Jonathan Carlsen, to pursue the same dream. “He became a Marine because of [my] father…he said ‘I’m gonna be you when I grow up.'”

Sergeant Blumenfeld

Carlsen’s father, Sergeant Aaron Blumenfeld, hailed from a rabbinical family in Detroit and served doing logistics in Japan during Vietnam war. “He did only one tour and came home and married my mother.” But back then, there was not the same robust help for Orthodox Jews in the military that there is today. “He did not have the support system and his parents weren’t happy about [his joining the Marines]. But Bubby davened for him.” While Carlsen grew up in a Shomer Shabbos home, she knows that during his time on tour, “it was very hard for my father. What he did when he was single in the MC, I don’t judge.” Sergeant Blumenfeld did so well at his job that “they never let him go to the front lines. It was a [miracle].”

Her son, a 21-year-old Ida Crown Jewish Academy graduate, is the oldest of seven. He is currently serving in Okinawa, Japan. Working with communications, computers and radar, Corporal Carlsen was recently stationed for six months in South Korea. From the time he was a young child in Cheder, he was “always infatuated with soldiers” and always wanted to play soldiers with other boys, who were all-too-happy to oblige. In high school, “he went to an American program in Israel, Naaleh Elite Academy.” While initially inspired to join Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces), he came home and said “‘this is the country I live in that has been so good to the [Jews] and has allowed us to practice religion.’ He wanted to show hakaras hatov (gratitude).”

Yehuda Aryeh with his sister Nechama.

At Ida Crown, this was not rare. Carlsen knows of three other boys around Yehuda Aryeh’s year at Ida Crown who also joined the Marines. In twelfth grade, her son began to go to poolee, a program where someone who has already signed up to become a Marine but has not yet left for recruit training, can prepare for boot camp. “They teach you how to run uphill, run in the mud. He came home once covered in mud and wet and said ‘Yeah Mommy, this is just what you have to do.’ He did everything and took it seriously.” He shipped out more than two years ago, first spending 13 weeks in San Diego in recruit training, and then onto Twentynine Palms. There they learn “combat shooting and learn how to put a gun together and take it apart – all fieldwork.”

Two years ago, there was no Jewish chaplain stationed in Okinawa. Before he went there for the first time, Yehuda Aryeh said to Carlsen “‘Mommy, I don’t know how I can be frum [in the Marines]. The [influences], the fact that I have to put so many hours into doing what I have to do.’ I said, ‘just daven.'” Yehuda Aryeh left for Japan on Rosh Hashana. “I told him to go to shul and [hear] shofar and then [the USMC] will pick you up. He got there and [immediately] they told him that there was a new rav who just came there.” Okinawa is home to multiple military bases, and Chaplain Levy Pekar is a U.S. Air Force Captain stationed on Kadena Air Base nearby. “He [also] does a lot with the Marines that are Jewish. [Yehuda Aryeh] was able to hear Neilah and be in a Sukkah.” This open miracle was not lost on Carlsen. “You might not see the answer right away, but that’s how [Hashem] works. Sometimes it manifests right there and then. He davened, did his histadlus (made efforts) and the answer was right there.” Chaplain Pekar has been instrumental to Carlsen’s son. “They try very hard for Shabbos to invite all the soldiers to their home. He gets that sense of spirituality that he sought. They also learn Tanya and Gemara.”

The Carlsens

Upon initially hearing that Yehuda Aryeh was joining up, Carlsen says “My father was nervous.” The Carlsens are relieved that in addition to on the ground support, “we have such tremendous organizations that help Jewish soldiers in this day and age.” Kosher Troops sends Corporal Carlsen care packages and Aleph Institute sent him arba minim for Sukkos and prayer books. They even sent him a shofar. “He had to learn how to blow [it for himself]… The chasadim (acts of kindness) that they do is unreal.”

After his tour, Corporal Carlsen would like to go to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and eventually go into software engineering. “He’s capable of it and this has given him training. He attends classes online to obtain college credits.” For now, it is a great time for him to be in the military. “Morale is high and they are motivated. He just loves what he does.” While Carlsen doesn’t recommend this lifestyle to everyone, she says, “you have to have the support system from your family. I told Yehuda Aryeh, You’re like Yosef in Mitzrayim. He saw Yaakov’s face and it held him back. Abba and Mommy love you. We’re proud of you, you have our support. We’re never going to judge you.” While keeping kosher is still tricky as is daily davening, Yehuda Aryeh does it whenever he can. “The fact that he is really motivated to do this says a lot. At a yeshiva, you don’t have to work for it. Here he has to… walk eight miles for a Shabbos meal. To set aside time to learn when he’s been up since 5am. When you have to work for something, you appreciate it more.”

At Yehuda Aryeh’s swearing-in ceremony.

Yehuda Aryeh may not be the only Carlsen child who joins the military. “My 13-year-old would like to do what his brother did.” While by day Carlsen runs a nursery school and her husband is an attorney, they “work very hard to instill in our children hakaras hatov. It makes [people] feel like they matter. We live in a country, Baruch Hashem, that has been so good to us. This is a way to show that it matters.”

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