NEW YORK — All sides agree that a beating last month left a Jewish U.S. Army trainee, Pvt. Michael Handman, with facial wounds, severe oral injuries and a concussion. What’s in dispute is whether multiple attackers carried out the assault at Fort Benning, Ga., and if it was the product of an anti-Semitic campaign waged by Handman’s
The military has charged just one person, a fellow trainee, and insists that anti-Semitism did not motivate him. Handman’s supporters, on the other hand, believe multiple attackers were involved and feel the incident was connected to anti-Jewish slurs dished out to Handman by two company drill sergeants.
Military officials declined to make Handman available for comment, and separate efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. His mother, Randi Handman, told JTA that her son only remembers being called into the laundry room to retrieve clothing, then being struck and spun on his back, Handman covering his head to shield it from blows before drifting into the blackness of a concussion.
He says several recruits were in the room before the beating commenced, his mother added.
Just days before the Sept. 24 assault, the two drill sergeants were issued letters of reprimand, in which they were accused by the military of addressing Handman with anti-Jewish slurs, including “Juden.” In the base’s mess hall, one of the drill sergeants also demanded that he remove his yarmulke, which he had begun to wear in the few weeks following his induction.
Though army regulation allows for individuals to wear a yarmulke, praying while on guard duty — which Handman was rebuked for — is against regulations. According to his mother, Handman says that he was not praying, but merely reading Jewish canon — 3 feet from where another guard had been reading the New Testament undisturbed.
She also said that prior to the assault, she received a foreboding letter from her son, warning her that he would be attacked.
“I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion,” he wrote, adding: “I just feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder. Like my battle buddy heard some of the guys in my platoon talking about how they wanted to beat the shit out of me tonight when I’m sleeping. It just sucks. And the only justification they have is [because] I’m Jewish. Maybe your dad was right. ... The Army is not the place for a Jew.”