While Army Chaplain Shmuel Felzenberg received the insignia formally promoting him to the rank of major at an airbase in Afghanistan, his family cheered him on from Fort Dix, N.J., thousands of miles away. Dini Felzenberg and the couple's six children, along with his parents, in-laws and other relatives from the Tri-State area watched the ceremony via a satellite hookup in a communications room on the stateside base.

"I can't think of a better man to take this position for us," said Lt. Col. Brian McFadden, the acting commander of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade – otherwise known as Task Force Pegasus – from Bagram Airfield. "He has done an outstanding job."

In presenting the insignia to the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, McFadden quoted from Psalm 75: "He lowers this one and raises another," said the commander. "So we are only confirming what has already been given to you [by G‑d] because of your devotion, your service and your professionalism as an officer."


A native of Elizabeth, N.J., Felzenberg attended the local Jewish Educational Center for high school before earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies at the Lubavitch-run Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J. He earned his rabbinical ordination in Kfar Chabad, Israel and was commissioned as a U.S. Army officer in 1999.

Felzenberg served in Iraq throughout 2004, while his family lived at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, home of the 25th Infantry Division. During that time, President George W. Bush invited Dini Felzenberg and their children to kindle the White House's Chanukah Menorah.

During his current deployment, Felzenberg's family lives at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division. His wife participates in a host of community programs, including the Family Readiness Group, which supports families of deployed service members, and Care Teams, which helps grieving families following the loss of a parent or spouse.

"When I see pictures of my husband and other American soldiers distributing care packages to the Afghani people," said Dini Felzenberg, "gifts from family members back home in the U.S., it gives me great hope that not only are we making great strides in the war on terror, but we are also changing the hearts and minds of the next generation of Afghanis."

Even as some aspects of American military activities in Afghanistan turn south, Rabbi Felzenberg spoke highly of his and his compatriots' morale. It was fitting for a soldier who is fond of saying that "there are no atheists in foxholes, and here, even though you might not find any foxholes, everyone's heart is in the right place."

"The job that is being performed by [our soldiers] is absolutely outstanding. The overwhelming majority are maintaining a very good and coherent embodiment of Army values and U.S. values, and the operations that are now ongoing are overwhelmingly supported by the troops," he said. "They have high morale; [they] are highly motivated and proud to serve."

Following his promotion ceremony, Felzenberg thanked his wife and children for their great sacrifice.