For the first time, the U.S. military is providing Jewish servicemen and women with complete kosher-for-Passover meals for all eight days of Passover.
“This year the military has gone way above anything it had done before to make sure that Passover and its religious components will be observed by anyone who wishes to observe them,” said Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chief chaplain of the New York National Guard. “The Jewish community should not feel that Jewish service members” are being neglected.
“This is the first time in the history of warfare that this is being done,” Rabbi Goldstein noted, adding that he was on the team that developed the kosher-for-Passover ready-to-eat meals, or MREs. “It is being done for [Jewish troops] worldwide, with an emphasis on troops in combat.”
Frank Bankoff, chief of the operational rational supply division, said that although there were kosher-for-Passover rations last year for all eight days, they consisted simply of an 8-ounce pouch of beef stew.
“Now we are providing a complete meal of 1,200 calories that meets all the requirements for a full military ration,” he said. “Each soldier will get two cases, each containing 12 meals.” Eight of the meals will be meat and the other four will be fish.
“We went to Kosherfest to try to find as much variety for the soldiers, and we’ll work with the Kosherfest people to try to develop more and more domestic sources” of kosher-for-Passover food, Bankoff said, speaking about the kosher food trade show held at the Javits Center. A total of 800 cases were bought by the military, enough for 400 soldiers. Each case costs $153, compared with $83 for normal MREs. In addition, the military is providing a separate seder kit.
Bankoff said that to make sure the cases arrived on time, they were sent by air rather than ship. He said ships take months to deliver supplies and that the Passover industry “does not get going until January.”
A total of 686 cases were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rest to troops stationed in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
“You shouldn’t need it stateside, but because the different services couldn’t identify their Jewish population or how much any installation might need, it had to be sent,” Bankoff said. Mordechai Schwab, 39, an Orthodox rabbi stationed with his wife and son in Wiesbaden, Germany, said there are 24 Jews stationed with him and that they are buying kosher food for the seders from a “kosher store in Frankfurt.” But to ensure that there is adequate food for the rest of the holiday, Rabbi Schwab said he asked the Aleph Institute in Surfside, Fla., to send Passover supplies, including boxes of shmura and regular matzah and Haggadahs.
“I think the military would like us to get supplies from the military only, but sometimes it comes late,” he said. “Aleph sends it right away.”
The Aleph Institute is an Orthodox group affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch. Rabbi Mendy Katz, Aleph’s director of prison and military programming, said he sent e-mails to Jewish chaplains worldwide several weeks ago asking if they needed a donation of Passover supplies for their troops, and more than 50 responded they did.
“I’m sure there are people in the military who are getting Passover supplies from the military, but not everyone knows how to go about it,” Rabbi Katz said. “When you have an individual on a ship, he may have no clue how to get kosher food. The same for troops in Iraq — they might not know who to talk to or how to sign up.”
“I got one e-mail saying that a seder would be conducted in the [American] Embassy compound in Baghdad for 200,” he said. “All of these people responded to me asking for [Passover] material. I’m sure if they were getting it from the military they would not be asking me.”
Rabbi Katz said that if the military could accommodate the Passover needs of all soldiers, his organization would gladly bow out.“I’m more than happy to have less work,” he said. “I also send to [Jewish inmates in] 5,000 prisons.”
Mary Anne Jackson, president of My Own Meals in Chicago, with which the military contracted to make the kosher-for-Passover meals, said this year “the government created a Pesach ration,” whereas it used to ask a private vendor to develop the product.
“They have given it a stock number and made it part of the system,” she said. “The volume [of meals] is the highest it will ever be this year because a lot of [Jewish] reserves are overseas.”