10 April 2006, Monday
Heidelberg, Germany

Again this year I have two kitchens to clean and prepare for Pesach; mine and the one at the Chapel that we use for our community Seder. Add to that a full-time job, a business trip, and my family—you might say that I am becoming a little bit stressed about what I have to have in hand before that date. But it will be worth it when we gather on the 12th for the First Seder.

We did this last year 2005, close to 40 of us related to the US Military in Heidelberg, local Germans, and immigrants from various countries; celebrating our freedom as our ancestors did from slavery those many centuries before, sharing knowledge, histories, stories, foods, and songs around the table.

In 2004 I was still stationed in Kuwait at Camp Doha, separated from my family by several thousand kilometers and an on-going war. I was safe, but as the local layleader had been involved with the local Chapel staff and the great senior Rabbi for the theater to make sure that we would have Seders in Kuwait.

As a member of the military, I have been away from home before on Pesach. In fact, we were en route to our first duty assignment in Germany in 1981 when a family in Charleston SC welcomed us into their home for a Seder and we attended a community Seder for the other. Early in the Balkan conflict I was in transit, attending a minimal Seder with the bare essentials to make the meal—almost more non-Jews than Jews in attendance. In 1998 it was Budapest, a two hour detour from Taszar, on my way to a six-month tour in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But Kuwait was fundamentally different. There we were, gathered to celebrate the Seder, the story of our liberation out of Egypt, in the middle of a Muslim country. There were several present that first night who had traveled farther in their own lifetimes than did those ancestors out of slavery. Of the 30 at the table, telling the story, the journey for many has been long. Of the US citizens, their origin points ranged from New York to Florida to California, with stops in the Midwest. For the rest, at one point Romania, Hungary, or the Ukraine had been home. Some of the group was Army, but there were also Navy, civilians, contractors, and unrelated Jews—for this is a night that to include us all.

Not so unlike our ancestors, we put out matzoh. We opened the wine; we lounged in chairs, and held our service. No Maxwell House Haggadahs for us (distributed by Maxwell House Coffee, for years they were provided free with Kosher for Passover Coffee. Many of us in the US grew up using these for the Seder, faithfully following the service, reading the stories, singing the songs). We had the shiny, soft cover updated version printed by Art Scroll (from the MREs–Meals-Ready-to-Eat and the Aleph Institute).

To actually conduct the Seder, we had individual Seder kits from the Defense Logistics Agency; plus a lot of goodies donated by various friends and families across the US. The kit is good; two kosher for Passover MREs, two cans of gefilte fish, two containers of applesauce, onion for maror, condiment package, plate, box of matzoh, eight containers of grape juice, a kippah, and Hagaddah: actually enough for both nights.

Evan, at 19 was the youngest and sang the four questions with ease. Why is this night different than all other nights? We took turns doing the readings, and the group was rather reticent in singing, not with Dayenu (it would have been enough), but most of the rest of the music, I am afraid. We conversed as we went, bringing up points and questions. We washed, we read the service, recited the prayers, tasted the symbolic foods; the bitter herbs, the maror (the mortar for the building bricks), the matzoh, because there was no time to let the bread rise. We got dinner started around 2115, after beginning at 1930. There were hard-boiled eggs, gefilte fish, and matzoh ball soup. Then we had beef stew, followed by three varieties of macaroons for desert.

Military deployments are alcohol free unless there is a religious exception. For Pesach there were full glasses of wine. I did mention the wine? Yes, I thought I did. This is legal drinking of wine for those who just have to have wine. Me? I am on call so sticking with the grape juice.

In the middle of the holiday, the military life continued, one of my Physician’s Assistants headed the next day to Baghdad and was lucky enough to arrive in time to make second Seder. Four others had a 0600 convoy departure the next morning.

The second night we had about 20 with an age range from 19 to 62. The group from Camp Arifjan was able to bring our civilian attendees ensuring that no one was left out. My clinic stayed quite until 2200; we had had the afikomen, before I was called back to see a patient.

This year like last, I am home and planning for a community Seder. Instead of service members in uniforms and some with weapons around our table it will be the familiar faces of community members along with all those who are in transit, need a place to celebrate, or are far from home.

Again we will get kosher turkey from the commissary, make matzoh ball soup and put our seder plates on each table. I talk with the new members about what they will contribute to the meal. I offer information and references on kashering kitchens and simple parve recipes that are chometz free. There will be choices for the vegetarians and foods for the observant. There will be plenty of hands helping prepare food, strengthening all of our connection. At the Oneg last Shabbos several seem stunned at the idea that I keep kosher for the entire duration of Passover (they never did ask the follow on question). But the seed of thought, the possibility of observance has been planted. Perhaps this year for Passover, perhaps next year beyond for them.

As we celebrate this year and read the words “Next year in Jerusalem” for me it is enough that this I am with my family and community.


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