When 25-year-old Dovi Meles completes his training with the U.S. Army, he could called upon to serve anywhere in the world.
He won’t be fighting — in fact, he won’t even be enlisted in the military — but he will be tasked with explaining the complexities of the U.S. Army to the outside world as a civilian public affairs specialist.
“There won’t be any physical training, thank God — though I could probably benefit from it,” joked Meles, who grew up in a modern Orthodox household in the Rhawnhurst section of Philadelphia.
The grandson of Julius Meles — an Orthodox rabbi who led Young Israel of Oxford Circle for more than 50 years — is a graduate of Yeshiva University in New York and also hold’s a master’s degree in social work from Temple University. He recently landed a coveted U.S. Army Public Affairs Fellowship and has been told he’s the first Orthodox Jew to enter the program, which requires a four-year commitment.
He’ll spend the first year working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia. The second year will be split between Fort Meade in Maryland, where he plans to study at the Army’s school for broadcasting and journalism, and then he’ll be slated to move on to the Pentagon for several more months of course work, learning the ins and outs of the Army.
Here’s the catch: Once the course work is done, Meles is committed to working for the military for two years, anywhere in the world. Potentially, he could be sent to any number of places without an Orthodox or even a Jewish community to speak of.
“All efforts will be made to find me a suitable location where I can continue to live as an Orthodox Jew comfortably. But at the end of the day, I will have to go depending on the needs of the Army, not my needs,” he said.
So, why would someone with no military experience make such a commitment?
Some of it has to do with what’s best for his career and some of it has to do with how he views the world.
Meles graduated college in 2009, a year he calls “the worst possible time” as far as finding a job was concerned.
In many ways, the difficulties he’s faced really getting his career under way is indictive of the experiences of thousands of recent college graduates, who have had their expectations dashed or at least dampened.
Being Orthodox, he said, presents additional challenges to finding the right place to be because he thinks there are only really a handful of locales — like New York’s Upper West Side or Baltimore — that have a vibrant, Orthodox singles scene. (Philadelphia, he said, doesn’t have much going on for modern Orthodox singles.)
After finishing his master’s, he interned for the U.S. Army, which is how he heard about the fellowship, held a development job at a Jewish nonprofit and devoted plenty of time to volunteering for several political campaigns, as well as the Republican Jewish Coalition.
As he made his way, he felt that doors weren’t opening and he wasn’t getting anywhere professionally.
“A piece of it is, this is a great job opportunity, and you just look outside at the job market and the economy and I am not going to let a job like this slip by,” he acknowledged. “I grew up in a post 9/11 world. My generation grew up with a heightened military presence in our lives.”
Meles added that he has tremendous respect and gratitude for what the Army does. “ I would hope that other young religious Jews appreciate what kind of country we live in. Now, more than ever, we need religious people involved in government and public affairs.”