Tales of A Jewish Marine: What the Hell is Halvah?!
There aren’t a whole lot of Jews in the Marine Corps. I would venture to say I may have met more in Provo than I did in six years with the Corps. I guess Jewish mothers just don’t enjoy telling their friends that little Jacob just picked up Staff Sergeant as much as they would talking about his Med boards. When I told my mom I was enlisting she went in the hospital for a week. That is not an exaggeration. Becasue there are so few of the Chosen People in my blessed Corps, most Marines don't know much about Jews. This became quite obvious to me as I arrived on the Yellow Footprints in San Diego to begin my career as a United States Marine.
Since I was to be in Boot Camp over the holidays, and MCRD San Diego made no celebratory plans for the 9 or so Jewish recruits there at the time, we were actually permitted to do something almost no recruit is ever allowed to do: Leave the depot and interact with civilians. We were taken to a Hannukah party at
“Milton’s Deli in Del Mar, Sir,” I replied.
“Milton’s Deli in Del Mar?!” He made a face as if I told him I had spent the evening at Chuck-E-Cheese’s and somehow thought that was appropriate behavior for a Marine Corps Recruit. “And what did they let you eat?” God forbid I eat anything that was discernable as food. Marine recruits are kept on a strict diet of cardboard, gruel, and the occasional banana. And Chili Mac, lest I forget the Chili Mac.
“Lacka? What the Hell is a lacka?”
“Potato pancakes, huh?” he said. From his tone it seemed that Captain Cook thought the good folks at Milton’s Deli in Del Mar had figured out how to lace potato pancakes with cocaine. He sneered. “What else?”
“Some bris…roast beef,” I figured I wouldn’t tempt fate again just in case he thought “brisket” was Jewish slang for cigarettes, “carrots, a Diet Coke and some Halvah.”
Now, how on earth is a scared, 18-year-old recruit supposed to explain to an irate officer who has probably not seen a Jew outside of his television, what Halvah is? I had to stop and think for a minute, since nobody had really ever bothered asking me to explain this choice Jewish delicacy to them before. My hesitation seemed to irk the officer. “I asked you a fricking question, recruit!”
“Sir, it’s, it’s well, it’s kind of like a combination of peanut butter and chalk.”This was the best I could come up with. It was at this point that I realized the Jewish tradition of humor was not appreciated by the Corps either.
“Is that supposed to be funny, recruit? You trying to make some kinda joke at me ‘cuz I don’t know what your fricking Hav-la-vah is? You think I’m stupid, recruit? Do you?” he screamed. It was painfully obvious that Captain Cook had never eaten Halvah before, as any Jew knows that a mixture of peanut butter and chalk is about the most apt description one can come up with that is not spoken in Yiddish.
“Shut up, recruit! I’m not gonna waste my night sitting here and discussing some crap you ate at some party you shouldn’t have been at. I don’t fricking care! But you bet your ass I’m telling your Drill Instructors and I’m personally seeing to it that you have firewatch for the next week!”
Stupid Halvah. Why couldn’t we just have normal desserts like normal people that some hick Captain from
I returned to the squadbay and somehow managed to hide my souvenir T-shirt from the Drill Instructors, concealing it in my foot locker until I graduated in February. To this day, it is the oldest T-shirt I own and every time I look at it I think of Captain Cook and how I should have known, at that very moment, that nobody in the Corps knew a whole lot about Jews.