Despite efforts by Jewish groups to provide kosher-for-Passover food to as many as 2,000 Jewish troops involved in the Iraq War, several Jewish soldiers and chaplains complained to The Jewish Week that there is not enough for the eight-day holiday that begins Wednesday night.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said he heard some of the same complaints but has been rebuffed in his efforts to get the Air Force to fly more Passover provisions to Kuwait and Iraq.
Nadler explained that the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, which is responsible for sending Passover food to the troops, told the Air Force that supplies were adequate.
"So I have the chaplains telling me they need food and the Air Force saying the JWB says the food there is sufficient," he said.
Nadler said a Manhattan group asked for his help in sending the Jewish service personnel 1,300 pounds of Passover food it had collected after hearing about the shortage.
"Bureaucratic red tape" has provided obstacles, he said, so the congressman said he plans to meet with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to get the goods sent.
A Jewish member of the Air Force in Kuwait, Senior Airman Leah Dunne of Patchogue, L.I., was not sure whom to blame when she complained about the shortage of kosher-for-Passover food.
"It is very unfortunate that the Air Force will not be more supportive," she wrote in an e-mail. "I’m honestly very disappointed."
Told that Jewish organizations had raised tens of thousands of dollars to have the JWB send Passover food, Dunne, 23, wrote: "That amount can buy a lot, where is it all? We don’t have much food for Passover: matzah, matzah ball soup and some tuna fish. We might be able to get some eggs. … Absolutely No Food has reached us; everything we have we purchased. … I don’t think that is enough food to last eight days: and definitely not very nutritious."
Dunne added that she has notified her family about the problem and that "they are going to send a package, and I will share with the others what I receive."
Nadler said the mix-up apparently stems from the fact that no one expected to be in a war during Passover.
Bruce Greenfield, executive director of the New York Metropolitan Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, questioned what happened to the food since his movement raised $10,000 for the JWB to send solo seder kits to the Jewish troops. The kits, which contain enough food for one meal, include a Haggadah, a can of tuna fish, grape juice, matzah and chicken soup with matzah balls.
"If all of the food didnít get there, what about all of the thousands of warm greetings and notes we sent to the JWB that our religious school kids wrote to the soldiers?" he asked. "Just as important as the solo seder kits are the notes" that were supposed to be enclosed in the kits.
Greenfield said he assumed the JWB was handling kosher-for-Passover food for the holiday and was shocked to learn of the complaints.
‘It’s frightening," he said. "There are all of these people who believed they were participating in a very important mitzvah and they are going to be terribly disappointed if the Passover supplies don’t get there, regardless of the reason. … Somebody ought to get together after Pesach to find out what happened here."
Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, the senior Army chaplain, said upon arriving in Kuwait last week he checked with three other Jewish chaplains to find out what Passover food they had on hand. The chaplains received the food from the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council.
"By my reckoning, I count from the JWB approximately 75 pounds of matzah, 60 cans of tuna (3 oz.), four cases of chicken soup (which most of us cannot cook)," he wrote in an e-mail. "There were [also] a total of 50 solo seder kits (13 given out), a dozen cans of macaroons, and three cases of 24, 5-ounce grape juices, of which two cases were unusable [the bottles broke]."
Rabbi Ackerson added that every salami sent by the JWB arrived spoiled.
"I don’t personally call that enough to make a decent seder," he observed. "No one would say they have enough to feed soldiers a real meal for [a] seder, not to mention the rest of the week."
Rabbi David Lapp, director of the Chaplains Council, said chaplains are responsible for ordering sufficient food for their Jewish personnel.
"The chaplain knows how many Jews there are and how many will keep Passover and how many will not," he said. "It is up to him to order food for those who are going to keep the eight days. Every chaplain puts it in [the food requisition] in advance, even if there is no war."
Asked about the reservists who were called to active duty, Rabbi Lapp said it was up to the chaplains to "take a guess" as to how many would be in their area and would want kosher-for-Passover food.
Rabbi Lapp said he had received e-mails from three chaplains who told him they had received enough kosher-for-Passover food to last the eight days.
He added that the military will pay for kosher-for-Passover food, depending upon budgetary considerations. The JWB picks up the cost of the food the government does not provide, the rabbi said.
"The JWB is looking for bureaucratic excuses," said Nadler. "I wish they had not told the Air Force there is enough food."
The JWB receives money from the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of 189 Jewish federations in North America, as well as the Jewish Community Centers Association.
Rabbi Lapp said he arranged for a military transport to send 1,500 solo seder kits in February, as well as cases of such items as matzah, tuna fish and grape juice. He said he was unaware of its destination.
Rabbi Lapp said that if all 2,000 Jews involved in the conflict wanted kosher-for-Passover food, "there is no way" the food provided would be enough. But not everyone wants it, he said, "just like not every Jew goes to synagogue on Yom Kippur."
Marine Maj. David Rosner also sent an e-mail questioning the type of food shipped by the JWB.
"I wonder what type of rabbis are satisfied with the Passover packets from the JWB?" asked Rosner, who cited security reasons for not disclosing his location. "I’ve seen nothing [kosher-for-Passover food] yet, but [Rabbi David] Narrowe [a Jewish chaplain in Kuwait] says he has the JWB packs. Imagine eating that for eight days. [We] want better.
"This is more of an issue of saying, ‘Hey JWB, times have changed. We Jews are not as hated as we used to be. Give us stuff. Don’t just sit back and be thankful for the bare minimum.’"
Rosner added: "The military goes by what the JWB says. It’s a complete joke. … I am so disappointed that the JWB has left us hanging and refuses to understand they are, for now, the final word the military goes to for matters like this."
Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, the chief chaplain for the New York Army National Guard, said he has received numerous calls from the parents of Jewish soldiers in the Iraq War who complain that there is such a paucity of Passover food that "they are worried their children will starve if they observe Passover properly."
"It’s a sad state that when we are concerned (and rightfully so) that captured Iraqis receive [food to conform with] their dietary needs, our soldiers’ dietary needs are not being met at his special time of the year."
Rabbi Lapp pointed out that with temperatures in the Middle East reaching to 117 degrees, he could only send non-perishable food. He said that the troops were meant to supplement the seder kits with regular military rations, such as vegetables.