Dan Berkovitz’s experiences serving as a Marine have colored his whole life.
He joined the Marine Corps shortly before 9/11, spent time serving abroad in Iraq and was given the rank of sergeant for his work. And while he has not been an active-duty Marine since 2005, he continues to engage with Baltimore’s community of Jewish military veterans. Most recently, he organized Jewish War Veterans Post 167’s participation in the Baltimore City Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 10.
“It’s important for us to show that we exist, that Jewish veterans serve in the military,” Berkovitz said. “It’s important for us to teach both the Jewish community and the veteran community.”
Berkovitz, 41, currently lives in Baltimore’s Greenspring Avenue area with his wife and three children. His family belongs to the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, and Berkovitz works as a contract specialist with a focus on centers for Medicare and Medicaid services for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Berkovitz’s parents, secular Jews from Israel, immigrated to Miami before he was born. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., they became more observant. Berkovitz said he went through a “religious rebellious” phase as a teenager where he started attending public school and paid less attention to his religious obligations.
He was inspired to join the military by his parents’ time serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Seeing pictures of my parents from when they were in the IDF … I wanted to go into the military, and I wanted to be with the best of the best, so I joined the Marines,” he said.
The 9/11 attack had a massive impact on his time as a Marine, as he was still in boot camp when it happened. The Marine Corps, Berkovitz noted, are considered the most difficult military service and boast the longest boot camp training period.
“After 9/11, the drill instructor had a different look in his eyes,” Berkovitz said. “I could tell he was going to have fun training us for the next couple of weeks.”
In 2003, Berkovitz and many of his fellow Marines were sent to Kuwait to be deployed in Iraq. He found himself doing a wide variety of work while he was there because of his enthusiasm.
“Back in those days, I was crazy. I would volunteer for everything,” he recalled. “They say that the No. 1 rule in the military is to not volunteer for things, but I used to volunteer for anything … any mission, any duty. I was really gung-ho.”
In 2005, shortly before the end of his military service, he was also deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, which he described as being especially intense. Once his active-duty service ended, Berkovitz spent four years in the Marines’ Individual Ready Reserve with the possibility of being called to replace an active-duty soldier. He never was, but he was awarded the rank of sergeant during his time in the IRR.
While Berkovitz was not particularly religious during his time in the Marines, he later connected with the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland and became involved with the Department of Maryland Jewish War Veterans.
He noted that Jewish Marines were not particularly common during his time in the corps, and he recalled a few instances of casual antisemitism that he experienced. In his eyes, this is why the creation of spaces for Jewish veterans is especially important.
“While I don’t think anything that happened to me was deliberate, it’s still important that the JVW exists,” he said.
Berkovitz noted a recent experience he had when he took his son to the National Museum of Jewish American Military History in Washington, D.C. He and his wife homeschool their children, so it was essential that his children be educated about Jewish contributions to the military.
“It’s important for people to be aware of that,” he said. “Veterans see each other as family. Other people may not understand our stories, but I believe veterans and Jews combine the best of both worlds.”