Yosef (Yossie/Joe) Hochheiser and Maysaa Ouza
(Courtesy of Yosef Hochheiser)

Yosef (Yossie/Joe) Hochheiser and Maysaa Ouza are both captains in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of the U.S. Air Force.

He’s a kippah-wearing Jew from Oak Park and she’s a hijab-wearing Muslim from Dearborn — and the friendship they have forged in the U.S. Air Force has a lot to do with religion.

Yosef (Yossie/Joe) Hochheiser and Maysaa Ouza are both captains in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of the U.S. Air Force. For Hochheiser, 38, it’s a part-time gig as a member of the Air Force Reserves. But most of his workweek is spent as a civilian domestic violence magistrate judge in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

In 2016, Hochheiser was doing his reserve duty at Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio when he was asked to research the issue of providing a religious accommodation for a Muslim recruit who wanted to wear a hijab. Hochheiser himself had received a religious accommodation to wear a kippah when he joined up.

Ouza, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was about to graduate from the University of Toledo law school when she applied to be a JAG officer. She requested a religious accommodation to wear the hijab, the headscarf that many Muslim women use to cover their hair. The Air Force told her she could request a religious accommodation only after going through officer training school, which she would have to do without the hijab. This she did not want to do. 

Hochheiser worked on the matter during one of his one-week periods of Reserves duty and submitted a report that said more research was needed on the issue. Then he forgot about it. 

Meanwhile, Ouza turned to the American Civil Liberties Union, which in 2015 had handled a case involving a Sikh man who needed an accommodation to wear a turban in the ROTC. A federal judge ruled that the Army could not deny him the accommodation.

When the ACLU pointed out the similarity of Ouza’s case, the Air Force reconsidered and gave Ouza the religious accommodation before she commissioned. They also implemented a policy that should help them avoid such problems in the future. 

Seeds of Friendship

In 2018, Hochheiser was reassigned to the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. A few months later, he saw a piece produced for NBC’s Left Field about Muslims in the military. It focused on an active-duty Air Force JAG officer whose request to wear the hijab had led to a policy change. He thought it must be the woman whose case he had researched.

He emailed Ouza, who quickly responded. They email chatted about their experiences and their families and realized both had grown up in religious families in Detroit. They became Facebook friends.

About a year ago, Ouza was reassigned to Wright-Patterson; she and Hochheiser were excited to meet at last. But with Hochheiser on base only for short periods totaling about five weeks a year, and Ouza sometimes working away from the base, it took until last May for both to be there at the same time. Hochheiser was determined to record their first in-person meeting with a photo. Ouza went one better, putting a short video of the occasion on her TikTok feed, which has more than 114,000 followers. 

In the short video, Hochheiser gives Ouza his nametape — the strip of cloth with his name on it that the Air Force requires on uniforms and various pieces of equipment. He says he thinks of her as family; he feels Jews and Muslims are “cousins” descended from a common ancestor, Abraham. She addresses him as “my cousin, my brother, my Jewish brother.” Viewer comments on the TikTok have been overwhelmingly favorable, unlike those on the Left Field website, which Hochheiser described as “hateful.”

“We both represent our culture and community within the military, and we represent the military within our community and our cultures,” Hochheiser said. “We were both raised in households where we learned to respect all people. We are more similar than we are different. So, while we don’t always agree, we still stand together.”

Ouza agreed, saying diversity and inclusion builds a better national defense, “We are stronger when we recognize and honor one another’s different needs and experiences,” she said.

Hochheiser, the son of Michael and Bracha Hochheiser, graduated from Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Southfield, Touro College in Brooklyn and the Cleveland Marshall College of Law. He lives in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, with his wife, Rebecca Baum. He has a son, 15, and a daughter, 9.

He says he and Ouza both like to take every opportunity they can to set a good example and to enlighten people about their backgrounds. He is often the first kippah-wearing Jew his colleagues have met. She is often the first Muslim. 

They have been the target of antisemitic and anti-Muslim attacks, but that only strengthens their resolve.

“Diversity and inclusion is the only way to overcome hatred based on religion, creed, gender and sexual orientation,” Hochheiser said. “Such attacks have only motivated us to stand up, stand tall and stand together.”