The Jewish Marine whose smile for an Afghan baby went viral
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The Jewish Marine whose smile for an Afghan baby went viral

Matt Jaffe, 27, was handed an infant during the evacuation of Kabul - and the picture was shared widely online

Meryl Jaffe says she is like any Jewish parent keeping track of her kids on social media, except it can be terrifying.

When she heard President Joe Biden deployed 3,000 US Marines to Afghanistan, she had a gut feeling that her son Matt – she calls him Matthew – was among them. 

Her family was tracking the troops on social media to verify their suspicions. “Matthew’s sister, Rebecca, saw it on one of the Marine websites that she follows on Instagram. And she said, ‘I think this is Matthew.’ 

“We enlarged the picture,” Meryl Jaffe, a New York City resident, said in an interview. “And I’m like, ‘That’s him!’ It was the first time we had seen his face in days and days and days. So it was like a relief to see him.”

The photo was of Matt Jaffe, a 27-year-old sergeant, cradling a baby in Afghanistan on 20 August. The soldier’s smile, and the story behind the photo, helped make it go viral.

Matt connected with the infant after another Marine handed the baby to him, according to news reports. The child was later reunited with its father.

“I’m just a Marine, same as the men and women I serve besides, doing a job to try and help people and protect people,” he said in a statement attributed in the media to the Marines. “It’s pretty grim out here and sad. I had an opportunity to show some humility and do something that was good for the soul.”

Meryl said the smile was her son through and through. “He has a really good heart. He’s a good soul.”

She was not surprised to see him bond with a child: Matt Jaffe had spent five years coaching kids at the Manhattan Jewish kids’ camp. There was one family whose boys especially adored him. “He was their go-to babysitter,” his mother recalled, saying both parents were professionals with unpredictable work schedules. Matt would agree to babysit at a moment’s notice. “The boys loved him because he was fun to play with.”

Meryl said she and her husband did not expect a military career for their son. “Matthew was a kid that the only weapon he had was a very small water pistol in the playground, he was not allowed to have a Super Soaker,” she said. “We would not buy a Super Soaker for him.”

Matt got work as a bouncer when he was studying criminology at the University of Maryland. He had made friends with other bouncers, some of whom were former Marines. He enlisted his senior year and was off to boot camp within days of obtaining his degree. He signed on for six years and is due for discharge in May, when he plans to pursue graduate studies.

Having a son in the Marines hasn’t been easy. “We were very, very, very concerned,” Meryl said. “It’s not what we had expected. But we knew we needed to support him and get behind him. And that’s what we’ve done. We had to. We’re his parents, we love him.”

She knew he was in Kuwait when Biden deployed Marines to Afghanistan to help wind down operations. When Biden warned just before the last troops left that a second deadly attack could be imminent, she said it was “very frightening”.

 

Matt Jaffe smiles at the baby, who was later reunited with its father

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