For Jewish soldiers in the combat zone, the Days of Awe have replaced shock and awe.
Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chief chaplain of the New York National Guard, arrived in Kuwait from New York this week bringing with him four Torahs, five lulav and etrog sets for Sukkot, challahs, honey cake and other supplies to enhance the High Holy Days that begin this weekend.
Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson in Iraq ordered sukkahs from the military for the Feast of Tabernacles, a holiday that begins the evening of Oct. 10. In an e-mail, he said there was a "long process of getting them approved." He ended up with three large sukkahs and seven portable ones for use by hundreds of Jewish troops scattered throughout Iraq and Kuwait.
"To the credit of the Department of Defense," Rabbi Goldstein said, "it has spared no expense to try to ensure that the religious needs of Jewish soldiers are met."
Rabbi Ackerson said he also received 500 High Holy Day prayer books that were donated by Adath Jeshurun in Cincinnati. And Rabbi Goldstein said the Aleph Institute in Florida shipped more than 100 tallises, chaplains’ kitels, 500 packets of honey and other supplies. He said he also has countless numbers of dried beef salamis.
"We have the food and the spirit," he said by phone before he left. "I’ll be leading [Rosh HaShanah] services for all of the Jewish troops in Kuwait."
"There should be a nice congregation of soldiers," Rabbi Goldstein added, noting that there is a fixed chapel in the Army compound.
He said the reason he was activated is because there is a shortage of active duty Jewish chaplains. As a result, in Iraq and Iran there will be three reservists and two active duty Jewish chaplains to help lead services during the High Holy Days for the estimated 1,200 Jews there, he said.
The Torahs he brought with him were lent by New York area congregations: Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, L.I.; Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn; Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan, and the Lubavitcher movement. Sen. Hillary Clinton was credited with helping to expedite their transport.
Asked about leaving his family right before the holidays, Rabbi Goldstein said: "They’re proud of what I do and concerned for my safety. But it’s not the first time I’ve been deployed in a combat zone. I was in Afghanistan for Passover of 2002 and in Operation Desert Storm."