War in Iraq Death of Jewish Marine in Iraq Leads to Outpouring of Sympathy
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War in Iraq Death of Jewish Marine in Iraq Leads to Outpouring of Sympathy

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The mother of one Marine from Arizona promised she would plant a tree in Israel every year.

Other women whose sons served in the Israel Defense Force sent words of support.

And old friends of his mother’s, who kept a kosher home with her one summer in the Hamptons on Long Island, called, too.

In death, it seems, Mark Evnin reached Jews everywhere.

The first known Jewish casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Evnin opened an emotional outpouring from Jews around the world.

From Israel to New Jersey, “people have been calling, writing. It has been incredible,” said Evnin’s mother, Mindy Evnin, of South Burlington, Vt.

“I don’t know why it is. Maybe it’s because the war might help Israel,” she said. “Maybe because my father was a rabbi. I don’t know, but it gives me pleasure.”

Mark Asher Evnin, 21, a corporal with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, was shot April 3 in the city of Kut, south of Baghdad, when his unit of 800 soldiers came under Iraqi machine gun fire.

Evnin returned fire but was hit in the stomach and fatally wounded, among the first two dozen U.S. fatalities in the war.

Reaction to his story was so strong that some even contacted JTA to ask where they could write or to whom they could make a donation.

“It means a lot to me,” Mindy Evnin said.

Not only Jews have responded: One woman whose 19-year-old brother was killed in 1983 when Hezbollah terrorists blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut reached out to tell Mindy Evnin of the day the Marines delivered the news to her home.

Kuni Takahashi, a Boston Herald photographer whose picture of the fallen Marine shortly before he died ran in the New York Times, also called.

Though Takahashi only knew Evnin for a few hours, the call meant a lot to Mindy Evnin — as did the final photo of her son, who was seen preparing to join a convoy toward Baghdad.

“He looks like a little boy packing up, like he was playing war — except he was grown and had a real gun,” she said.

As a boy, he would dress as a soldier every Purim, Mindy Evnin said.

Two days before he was killed, Evnin called his mother via a reporter’s satellite phone. U.S. Marine Chaplain Irvin Elson reportedly met with Evnin shortly before the fateful battle, Mindy Evnin said.

Just last Friday, Evnin came home for good. The Marines were due to fly his body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, but when the Evnin family realized that it meant he would arrive on Shabbat, the Marines drove Evnin’s body to Vermont earlier.

Relatives and friends helped with such details as tahara, the ritual washing of the corpse; posting shomrim, or guards, to protect the body; and having people say prayers.

Evnin was given a Jewish memorial service at the Conservative Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, where his grandfather, Max Wall, is rabbi emeritus, followed by a Jewish funeral with full military honors at the city’s Hebrew Holy Society Cemetery.

More than 1,000 people attended, including Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and Bishop Kenneth Angell of the Burlington diocese.

Angell’s brother David, producer of the TV show “Frasier,” was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 that Al Qaeda hijackers crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Local police and firefighters formed an honor guard outside the synagogue, Mindy Evnin said, and townspeople lined the funeral route, saluting and holding their hands on their hearts.

“He is buried with my father’s tallis,” or prayer shawl, which Wall wore at his wedding and hoped would be buried with him, Mindy Evnin said.

She also put a Chumash — the first five books of the Bible — in Evnin’s casket, a memento of a junior year that Mindy Evnin spent at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1965.

Wall was an army chaplain in World War II, and Evnin’s father, Michael, of Rockville, Md., was drafted during the Vietnam War. Still, Evnin’s decision to join the Marines was considered unusual for the family.

“We basically come from a professional Jewish family — all my aunts and uncles are either rabbis or cantors, or married to them,” Mindy Evnin said.

“He marched to his own drummer,” she said of her son. “I did what all Jewish parents do but aren’t always good at, which is letting your child develop in the direction they want to go in, and not the one you want them to go in.”

Mindy Evnin had planned to spend Passover with friends, but now the family will gather at the Walls’ home in Burlington.

Meanwhile, “I’ll be going to shul and saying Kaddish,” she said.

Mindy Evnin asked that anyone wishing to make a contribution to a Jewish cause in her son’s name send a donation either to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem or to Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service.

Other contributions are being accepted in Evnin’s name at the South Burlington High School, where a fund is being established to help the school’s computer imaging lab, where Mark Evnin spent much time, and at the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation in Princeton, N.J.

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