Even on the phone, within minutes of starting to chat, you can hear what enables Becky Sternglass to endure her husband’s service in Afghanistan.
She is forthright about how tough it is having him away for the year and how much help she needs, but she is also determinedly upbeat. “I have a really good support system, and my friends are totally awesome,” she told NJ Jewish News.
Much of that support comes from the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, where the diminutive mother of three works as a clerical assistant in the elementary school office.
Her 50-year-old husband, Warrant Officer 2nd Class Adam Sternglass, normally a computer technician at Hunter College in Manhattan, is a reservist with the United States Army.
For a long time, his reserve duties entailed no more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year, with some time away in places like Crete and Puerto Rico. After 9/11, everything changed. He was stationed in Kuwait for 17 months, with a brief spell in Iraq, and later was sent to Germany. And then, last October, came this one-year posting to Afghanistan. He is stationed on the military side of Kabul’s airport, with United Nations personnel.
Becky is staunchly supportive of Adam’s service. A Navy veteran, he joined the army reserve soon after they had their first child. “He is fastidious — which I am so not, and he enjoys the military orderliness,” Becky said. Some of his motivation to serve, she suggested, stems from gratitude to this country for taking in his father when he emigrated with his parents from Germany in 1938 at the age of 13.
“It really is cool with me. I totally back him up,” she said of his service. They e-mail one another, and get to talk on the phone quite frequently. There was only one stretch of two and a half weeks when he wasn’t able to communicate with his family, for reasons he wouldn’t divulge.
That doesn’t mean life without him is a breeze. For a start, Becky is partially blind and cannot drive. She is well now, but only two years ago she was diagnosed with cancer and had a bone marrow transplant. Their older daughter, Abi, 14, is autistic; Joseph, 12, has some learning issues.
Her support system starts with her younger daughter, Elisheva, 13, a student at the JEC’s Bruriah High School for Girls, who helps her mother — as do the other two — with laundry and cooking. “She makes an awesome macaroni and cheese,” said Becky, who also loves to cook.
Then there are friends and fellow members of their shul, Congregation Bais Yitzchok in Elizabeth, who drive her to work and take her shopping. There are men who bring Joseph with them to father-son activities. “I’m really, really blessed,” Becky said.
She also has a tremendously supportive family. They are in Iowa, where she grew up. Becky, who was raised as a Lutheran, began her conversion to Judaism after coming to New York and working for 10 years as a nanny with Jewish families. She was part of her way through the process when she met Adam, who was Jewish.
“I was 20 before I met a Jew,” she said, “but my family was totally fine with my conversion.”
Adam is due home for a two-week leave in July, when he, Becky, and the kids will visit her mother. And then they will start counting the weeks till his return in October — if all goes according to plan.
The girls don’t say much about their dad’s absence. “You know — they’re teenagers; they don’t like to get mushy,” Becky said. Joseph shows his feelings a little more. “He likes to walk around in an old army helmet,” she said.
As for Becky, she stays positive, enjoying Adam’s accounts of his adventures but focusing on the day-to-day activities closer to home and treats like Purim festivities this past weekend. She plans to celebrate Passover with friends. “It’s all fun all the time,” she declared, reaching again for that positive note.