Frum Optometrist Heads to US Military Base in Afghanistan


warren-grossWarren Gross is 56 years old, an Orthodox Jew, a father of four, and a semi-retired optometrist living in Miami Beach. When he signed up for a U.S. army program for health care professionals in 2009 – the Officer Accession Pilot Program – he expected to spend about a month a year volunteering his medical services at local military bases. He certainly was not expecting the phone call he received on an erev Shabbos two months ago. Speaking to The Jewish Press, Gross recalled the conversation that changed everything: “They said, ‘Captain Gross, we want to go over your deployment orders.’ I said, ‘What deployment orders?’ They said, ‘Some unit picked you up to deploy to Afghanistan.’ ”

And so, next week, Gross is heading off to Kandahar, Afghanistan to run an eye clinic in a NATO hospital on a U.S. air force base.

“It’s shocking. People in the community can’t believe it,” said Gary Yarus, a close friend of Gross’s. “Everyone is just amazed. I mean, here’s a mild-mannered guy doing his job, doing it for many years, raising his four kids, and suddenly he’s off to Kandahar. It’s amazing. And he’s going to keep Shabbos all the way, too, and he did it in basic training.”

Keeping Shabbos and kosher in the army may seem like no big deal, but even in 2011, living a traditional observant Jewish life in the army is not always easy. According to the website,, “remaining completely observant is impossible” until one graduates from basic training. Shabbos, for instance, “is a work day in boot camp. There is little getting around this and [recruits] will likely have to break this throughout,” warns the website’s author, a Jewish army officer.

As a middle-aged optometrist, however, Gross is not your traditional recruit, and so far, he says, in his experience, “the army could not be more accommodating to frum Jews. It’s unbelievable.”

When he spent a week at Fort Gillem in Georgia last year, the army ordered food for him daily from a kosher restaurant in Atlanta. When he went through a month of basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio a short while later, he never once had a problem taking off for Shabbos. When he learned recently that the army planned on flying him out to Afghanistan on Shabbos, Gross e-mailed a commander requesting that his flight be changed “and within 10 minutes,” he recalled, “I got a reply: Dear Captain Gross, we’re accustomed to working with observant Jews. We’ll try to get you on a flight on Sunday or Monday. Don’t worry.”


As far as kosher food is concerned, Gross said the army provides Orthodox Jews with kosher ready-to-eat-meals, otherwise known as MREs. “The army is tremendous with kosher,” Gross said. “The kosher MREs are phenomenal. They’re out of Rav Soloveichik’s hashgacha from Chicago, and they’re fantastic. They have self-contained heating elements, so they’re good for the field.”

Of course, there’s more to being an observant Jew than keeping Shabbos and kosher, and Gross has already had some interesting experiences due to the visible, conspicuous nature of his observance – the yarmulke on his head and the tallis and tefillin he prays with daily. For example, at Fort Gillem last year, Gross met a man, who, noticing Gross’s yarmulke, wished him a “Shanah tovah.” The two struck up a conversation, and on Gross’s invitation, the man began coming to Gross’s room every morning to put on tefillin. “I believe in kiruv,” Gross said. At Fort Sam Houston, Gross’s yarmulke also attracted attention, inspiring an intermarried Jew to ask Gross one Shabbos if he could join him for Kiddush and Havdalah on Friday and Saturday night.

And yet, despite the army’s accommodating attitude toward Gross’s religious practices, observing Judaism in the military and in Afghanistan is surely more difficult than in Miami Beach. Why then go through the trouble? Answers Gross: “Well, I think it is important for frum Jews to give something back to America because America has been so great to Jews. I’m semi-retired, my kids are all in college, and my father was in World War II.”

And so, although his wife was a bit anxious when he received that phone call two months ago informing him of his deployment to Afghanistan, Gross was actually pretty happy. “I mean, that’s why I joined. I wanted to contribute.”

{The Jewish Press/ Newscenter}


  1. Kol Hakovod.
    Stay safe, we’ll miss you on the block!
    Can’t wai to hear your rstories when you get back!

  2. while it is wonderful that kosher food is given and the Dr can wear tallis and tefillin, I don’t think matzav should advocate such behavior from frum yidden , No tifilah bitzibur and ceartinly it is questionable because of sakanos nefashos I hope he goes and comes back safely

  3. He is serving his country and is making a Kiddush HaShem. Kol ha Kavod. All Americans, especially Jews, owe their gratitude to the good doctor, for reminding us that freedom is not free. Thank you, Dr. Gross.

  4. @Verby – that is a shailoh to be asked on an individual basis to one’s rav.

    What an amazing kiddush hashem.