In Baghdad, 40 people attended the first of two seders held in the heavily protected Green Zone, according to Kelly McGrew, a civilian contractor doing computer work who attended the seders.
He said the first seder was held in an office building. The space was arranged by the chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Zambia, who is Jewish and joined them at the seder. And the food was arranged by Commander Anthony Grow of Long Island. His sister-in-law, Linda Stopsky, is a member of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, L.I., and she worked with Sheila Silberhartz, chair of its social action committee, to run a Passover food drive there.
“The wonderful people at Temple Isaiah provided us with care packages that included gefilte fish and real horseradish, and matzah, matzah, matzah, as well as handmade shmurah matzah for the seder,” McGrew said. “Somebody sent a box of horseradish root and an army captain spent a day-and-a-half grinding it so that we had good maror with the matzah. The Jewish Welfare Board sent us packages and multiple Jewish War Veterans posts sent packages.”
Temple Sinai also sent a special package for an Iraqi Jewish woman — one of nine Jews still living in Iraq — whose husband was kidnapped and murdered in 2006 “for the crime of being a Jew,” McGrew said. “She was here for Shabbos and both seders. It was really joyous and everyone had lots of fun. Captain Andy Shulman led the seders.”
McGrew, 54, of Land O’ Lakes, Fla., said 12 of the Jewish personnel attended services last Friday night in a chapel whose crosses were covered with a table cloth sent by a synagogue in Chicago and several tallises.
The main courses for the second seder were chicken and a beef casserole that Rabbi Shulman brought. .
“The army has a rule that prohibits consumption of alcohol except for liturgical purposes and many soldiers were grateful that the liturgy called for not one but four cups of wine,” McGrew said. “And a few people got an extra cup.”
The wine, both red and white, was shipped in from Australia.
“It was delicious,” McGrew said. “A highlight of the meal. … There was also some singing. Beth was a camp counselor and she could carry a tune.”
He was referring to Major Elizabeth Robbins, who said in an e-mail that the seders were a “lovely event. … We celebrated the blessings of our own freedom, and renewed our commitment to ensure others remain liberated as well.”
Seder On the USS Harry S. Truman
At the invitation of Capt. Herman Shelanski, commanding officer of the USS Harry S. Truman, about 90 officers aboard the ship — about a dozen of whom were Jewish — attended a seder on the first night of Passover in Wardroom Three.
Capt. Irving Elson traveled from his home station in San Diego to lead the seder. The next morning, he conducted Passover services in the ship’s Truman chapel. Because only seven Jewish sailors attended, there was no minyan and the Torah could not be read. The Torah — one of the last recovered from the Holocaust — and one of the few to survive from Lithuania — was dedicated last year in honor of President Truman in appreciation of his decision to recognize Israel 11 minutes after it was declared a state.
Capt. Shelanski invited Jewish service members to another seder on the second night of Passover. Held in the Captain’s Mess, the meal featured homemade matzah and kugel that was prepared by the captain’s staff. Rabbi Elson again led the seder.
“We had an opportunity to share stories of our experiences as Jewish service members and recalled the seders we traditionally enjoyed with our families,” said one of those in attendance, Commander Scott Moran, commanding officer of the Electronic Attack Squadron 130.
“Being a Jewish service member inevitably results in separations from family members on holidays,” he added in an e-mail. “Although we would have preferred to have been at home, gathering as a community onboard the Truman made Passover meaningful and rewarding. We felt especially blessed that Rabbi Elson could join us this year. His presence enriched the seder in a way that few of us have experienced before as deployed Jewish sailors.”
Seder Aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
There was also a seder this year aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, an event that required a real team effort, according to Lt. Commander Josh Taylor of Mahwah, N.J.
“It requires the full support of the Religious Ministries and Supply Departments,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We work weeks in advance with Religious Ministries to coordinate the time and location of the seder and to order the necessary seder supplies. Many Passover items are included in the Leader and Participant Seder kits available through the Department of Defense supply system, but they must be ordered weeks in advance to ensure their arrival in time for Passover. There is no such thing as next day mail when deployed on a carrier!
”This year’s Seder was held in the Command Master Chief’s conference room, which provided a measure of privacy that is a luxury on a warship. The food was a combination of pre-packaged specialty items, like canned matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, and horse radish, and freshly prepared items such as charoset and the main course of steak, potatoes, and mixed vegetables. While it wasn’t quite like the seders at grandma and grandpa’s house — no family recipes, no brisket, no family — it was truly a blessing to be able to gather together as Jewish shipmates to observe Passover.”
Taylor noted that celebrating Passover “while in uniform and deployed takes on an immediacy not often found at seders back home. The
message of securing freedom through sacrifice, preparedness, and hope, as symbolized by pesach, matzo, and moror (as explained by “The Family Seder: A Traditional Passover Haggadah for the Modern Home” by Rabbi Alfred J. Kolatch), speaks to directly to us. These are not just values that we hold as Jews and are reminded of yearly at Pesach, but values that we live every
day as American sailors. As the answer to the naïve son states, ‘This holiday of freedom is being celebrated by each of us because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’ As Jewish Sailors, we not only fully feel the personal experience of the Exodus, but have taken an oath to defend the freedom of our nation and its citizens as well.” ”For all of these reasons, Passover at sea, while uniquely challenging, is unmatched in its resonance and meaning,” Taylor added.
“Felt Like Home”
Among the Jewish sailors with him were Lt. Mike Kuhne of Long Island and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, Handler First Class Alen Prieto of Bethpage, L.I. In an e-mail, Prieto wrote: “While it’s hard to be a sailor in general, as a Jewish sailor there are different holidays that we celebrate. Normally those holidays aren’t understood as well due to the small community that we have here, but the command really did a good job trying to understand and assist us with the seder. While I couldn’t be home it had a very good ‘home feel’ to it.”
Circulating at the seders in Iraq and Afghanistan were three Haggadahs personally signed by President George W. Bush; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee. One of the Haggadahs arrived for the seder in the Green Zone.
“It was very meaningful,” he said. “It was inscribed, `To our troops, may God bless you. …You make such a difference.”