With kids in the Gulf, Passover comes second to angst

NEW YORK — As Passover approaches, Judy Ledger of Atlanta is sure about one thing.

"We're not doing seder — I just can't see doing it without them," she says, referring to her son and daughter and their fiances, all of whom serve in the military.

Ledger spends much of her time worrying.

"It takes up a lot of my time," she says.

Her son, Matthew Boyer, 24, is a field artillery specialist with the 101st Airborne, 3rd Brigade, and is now in Iraq. His fiancee is a chemical and biological trainer with another unit of the 101st Airborne in Kuwait.

Ledger's daughter, Ilana Boyer, 21, an Army medic, remains stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., but Ilana's fiance, is with the 82nd Airborne in Kuwait.

Not only does she worry about her son's safety, but the images of allied POWs in Iraqi hands has not escaped her Jewish radar.

When Matthew was inducted, he originally did not list any religion on his dog tag, but before going to Iraq, he changed the listing to Jewish.

"I yelled at him, 'it's bad enough you're in a dangerous position,' but I felt that was even worse," she recalls. "But he said that if he dies, he does not want a priest standing over him."

Trying to glean information about their loved ones is excruciating for these families.

Ledger was buoyed late last week by a "cute" postcard she received from her son, just a few lines scrawled on a torn piece of cardboard.

Allan Rubin of Dallas has even less insight into his son's condition. Every day, Rubin and his wife, Linda, send their son Daniel, 21, a postcard that includes the phrase, "another day, no word."

That's because they have not heard from Daniel since January, when he shipped out from Camp Pendleton with the Light Armored Vehicle 1st Battalion of the 1st Marine Division to Kuwait and points beyond.

"It's a little hard," Rubin says, his voice breaking. "He's just a wonderful young man."

Daniel, a mechanic and technician, is very likely near Basra in southern Iraq, from what Rubin has gleaned from news reports and an ABC News reporter who is embedded with what he thinks is his son's unit.

While he's worried, Rubin says, "I know he's trained well and I know he's doing all the right things, so in that respect, my heart is settled with him."

The Rubins also feel buoyed by the support of friends and family. Their synagogue, Tiferet Israel in Dallas, says a Mishebeirach (prayer for good health) for Daniel every Shabbat.

All of these families have turned to the Brave, a listserv — kind of an e-mail bulletin board — that the Conservative movement's United Synagogue is sponsoring to help Jewish military families connect.

Jewish military officials and their families sometimes have different perspectives on the war.

One member of the Brave listserv who has not yet been deployed is Philip, 40, a member of the Army reserve in Massachusetts, who declined to give his last name.

Philip fully supports the war's aims and sees no small irony in that U.S. troops are battling Iraqi soldiers in a brigade with the name Nebuchadnezzer, the ruler of ancient Babylonia, part of modern-day Iraq.

For Philip, it's all about Sept. 11.

"People had a choice of jumping out of that building or being incinerated," he says. "Did we forget what we're fighting for?"

Meanwhile, he still dreads leaving his wife and children behind.

"I don't mind going — I mind leaving," he says.

Unlike many whose kin are in the military, Becky O'Brien, of Lafayette, Colo., opposes the war.

Her husband, Chris, 37, who is not Jewish, is with the Air National Guard somewhere in the war theater.

To find solace, O'Brien attended a recent peace service at her synagogue, Congregation Har HaShem.

"Judaism teaches you to question God, your rabbi, it's the rabbinic tradition. You can have one text and 30 interpretations," she says. "You should be able to question the president.''