Pesach

March 31st, 2008

Pesach

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.

We will purchase 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.

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.

-=Holly=-

5-6 April 04 — Seders
Camp Doha, Kuwait

5 April 04, First Seder. As we have over the centuries, we came together to celebrate the Seder; Passover, the story of our liberation out of Egypt.

There are several present tonight who have 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 us are army; we do have navy, civilians, contractors, and a straphanger or two. But we were all there to celebrate freedom, in the middle of a Muslim country.

Not so unlike our ancestors, we setout matzoh, the unleavened bread. We opened wine; we lounged around in chairs, and held our service. No Maxwell House Haggadahs for us (printed by Maxwell House Coffee, 1950s and 1960s, it was 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. They are actually not bad, if you can wade through the orthodoxy, and but don’t contain enough transliterations for those of us who need it.

To actually conduct the Seder, we have 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. Ok, enough for two Seders.

Evan, at 19 is the youngest and sings the four questions with ease. (Why is this night different than all other nights?) We take turns doing the readings, and the group is rather reticent to sing. It is not a problem with Dayenu (it would have been enough), but most of the rest of the music has little entertainment value I am afraid. We converse as we go, bringing up points and questions. Since this is turning into an orthodox version, we wash, and we read everything, every prayer.

And of course, 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 sticking with the grape juice, thank you very much. It takes forever; it seems, to get through 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). Dinner started around 2115, following the 1930 start. There are hard-boiled eggs, gefilte fish, and matzoh ball soup. We have beef stew, followed by three varieties of macaroons for desert. Me? I ate a lot of egg whites with my horseradish.

At 2200, several of us called it quits. I had gone to the gate and signed in a civilian from downtown so I have to sign him back out. One of the contractors from Arifjan will drop him off, so he doesn’t have to take a cab home, but they all have to be at work early. Four of the guys are leaving on an 0600 convoy. I have no idea how long the rest of the crew stayed.

6 April 04, Second Seder. Services are not me, I am at work. 0700 staff meeting followed by sick call. I would bag the PDHA teleconference, but can’t come up with a good reason. One of my PA s calls from the APOD. There is a flight to Baghdad and he night arrive in time for the second Seder.

1930–We have about 20 tonight. The Arifjan group signs in our civilian attendees, including our Romanian.

The Rabbi is still a LT. He is still as orthodox as ever. I am reminded of Labrador Retrievers. Large, friendly, and completely focused on “this, right in front of me, right now.” I am still a woman, and a Colonel. Don’t ask my opinion if you don’t want my answer, or if you are not going to act on what I tell you.

Evan is still the youngest. As our 62 year old dentist shows up, I am not the oldest either night. We are finally at the last section around 2200, and again, several of us make our excuses. But there was not that much left in the service. We’d had the afikomen (the remaining portion of the middle matzoh). I did not recite the last blessing for the fourth cup. It seems inappropriate in this day and age. A long discussion for another time, and perhaps for later thought, I am not going to think about retribution or enemies.

Off to walk in the dark, staring at the storm clouds heading our way.

19th April 2000 – Departure, the Longest Day and Seder
Tel Aviv

Since 0500 was wake up time, none of us had much sleep. Everything was packed, ready to go and sitting at the door. One mild crisis – one could not find her shoes. Swore that she had not seen them in weeks and had absolutely no idea of where they were or where they could be. Right. Her brother found them in the bathroom where she had taken them off the night before. So much for someone having done the dreaded “something” with her shoes.

Our house guest gave us a ride to the airport, and I hope that he was able to find his way back to the house. Directions are not that hard, but he claims to be navigationally challenged. We left him a map. The rest of his family did not get up and the dog did not howl.

At the airport we discovered that changing planes in Switzerland on Swiss Air means domestic rather than international check-in. Takes an hour less. An hour longer that we could have slept. Growl. There is plenty of time to look for books, to feed kids breakfast. The backpacks: Miriam’s is small, containing almost nothing; Nina has books; Noah looks to have brought a large supply of small stuffed animals which rarely leave the backpack for fear that sisters might touch them!.

The connecting flight from Zürich is packed. Each seat has a small built in LCD. The kid’s music channel has something called teen.com. Soon I have a couple of girls bopping in their chairs with head phones and a boy playing the free games.

Tel Aviv – we head down ramps – cram on to buses, stand in long lines for passport control. Most of the people on the plane are from somewhere else. As a friend later says – all Israeli’s who can leave – do. Turn the country over to the tourists and book! We get luggage, change some money.

The hotel is clean. Doesn’t smell. Otherwise, it is like the one in London where we stayed in 1997. Turns out we are the only hotel on this street that does NOT sell rooms by the hour……

Seder – through various assorted email connections we are invited to Ellen’s for the Seder. The buses are no longer running. Getting taxis is close to impossible. Her son and brother-in-law come to pick us up.

There are around 20 of us. Ellen made Aliyah in the early 70’s later meeting and marrying an Israeli. They have two sons, one finishing his military service in August, and a daughter. Her parents have wintered in Israel for the last several years. Her father died this Feb, and her mother has decided to
stay. An active early eighties, she has recently given up her weaving but still knits like mad. Present also were her brother in law and family, two pairs of friends and us. Six pretty obligate English speakers + the rest. It was lovely.

No, every last word was not read, nor every song sung. The kids kept it reasonably together. Once the meal started, they went outside on a regular basis or talked to one of the four cats wandering around. The kids still think finding the Afikomen is about the best part of the meal.

We get ride home about 2230 or so. The kids are wiped, the one hour time difference is not enough to make up for a 0500 wake-up.

31 March 1999- Community Seder
Würzburg, Germany

The challenge this morning was to round up all the cats and get them going in the same direction. When the alarm went off at 0605 I decided was a little to early, so all of a sudden it was 0630. Last night had been the usual challenge of putting three children in three separate rooms to make them quiet. All three surprisingly got up. and dressed. and came down to the table.

The girls were willing to eat, the boy was the odd man out. Finally decided that he would eat oatmeal. There was one packet in the box that was acceptable. Paussen Brot was going to be challenging; all the bread and crackers were used up and I was not going to break open matzoh, so Miriam got the last piece of angel food cake and a container full of sticky bears . .

Got the three in the van, and included a bakery for a morning snack. The two bigger walked Miriam to kindergarten. They also dropped off a bag of clothes; the school has new families in without much of anything.

Got Miriam at the end of the day and blew through the commissary. Got rice, yogurt, fruit, vegies, more matzoh. and dairy. We unloaded the car and stuffed the kids back in to head to the Seder.

There were about 60 there tonght. Age range from Cecilia who was born last week to Israel in his 60’s. Lots of kids, a new Russian family, various assorted military strays and those from Schweinfurt, Giebelstadt, Vilseck and Ansbach in addition to the locals. It is a good group, and we are able to come up a minyan most service weeks no matter how you count it. Harvey is the lay leader, usually runs the services and lead the seder. In his spare time, he is also the urologist, my surgery department chief and the mohel.

This year we used the Art Scroll Haggadah. Amazing – the Maxwell House Haggadah is no longer the choice. Commentary, comments, translations on nice paper, instructions. Language still suitable for orthodoxy. No political correctness or gender neutral for this publisher. Nina sat with the other 10 year old, and I corralled the two younger along with a couple of the LTs, one of the DoDds teachers, a dietitian and a teacher/family member from Schweinfurt.

After the initial couple of prayers, we ran a round robbin reading. Your part is determined by what ever 3×5 card listing one of the readings you happened to get from Harvey on your way in the door. All four of “children” [the wise one, foolish one,angry one, simple one] were at my table. I altered the words in mine, Bonnie did it in Hebrew then translated, and the two Lts just did theirs straight up.

The kids were starving. Noah discovered I was right about how much horseradish is enough and got several extra cups of grape juice as a result. Miriam refused to try haroseths at all, Noah liked doing the plagues. All in all, they liked the play room and the other kids the best, but did participate more than I expected.

The food … Matzoh ball soup, turkey, 3 vegie side dishes, salads, fresh fruit, rice. More than enough food, great company for the meal. After finishing up, Nina came up with the Afikomen and traded it in for a “present”. She was really pleased with the book on holiday celebrations with idea, crafts and recipes.

As with many other things – there were lots of ways to sing the songs. Since we had three members who knew the same Jewish Day Camp Version, the rest of the room came around to our method for Dayenu and Echaud. We did not prevail in Chad Gad’yah which is really too bad – those songs are some of the first ones that the non-Hebrew speakers learn.

Last year in Budapest, the year before in Bosnia. Not next year in Kosovo.

-Holly

On the Road – Hungary. 10 April 1998

This afternoon for the group ran smoothly – all training got done – crew fed, exercised, went to the beer tent, went over to Taszar Main, otherwise entertained themselves.

Chaplain Hall and I joined the planned trip up to Budapest to the Seder with the Hungarian congregation at the Main Synagogue.

We took the shuttle bus over to Taszar main – an interesting ride – 20km – hits every last back corner of the post – stops at all bus stops and takes 30 minutes to go 4 km.

The base has a “wonderful” fleet of Ford 9 pax that they leased a couple of years ago. rough ride is putting it mildly. The chaplain’s office had two for the trip. We loaded up and drove through a number of small towns, across a lot of narrow roads, passing horse drawn carts with truck tire wheels, kids on bicycles, old people walking and dozens of slow, “eastie beasties”.

Unsurprisingly, it took an hour to get the 70km to the autobahn, and another 1 1/2 hours for the 120 km to Budapest. After driving around lost and making a couple of stops, we got to the synagogue. It is still under renovation – not looking a whole lot different from the outside than it did when I saw it in several years ago.

One courtyard has a memorial. another has a collection of grave markers and tomb stones – a number of which look like they have been moved from other locations (Each Leaf of the Willow is inscribed with the name of someone who perished; the tombstones mark the 7000 who were executed behind the synagogue and mass buried in the courtyard.)

The Seder was held upstairs in the building attached to the synagogue. Head table with Rabbi, Cantor, important guests. Dozens of small four people tables plus a larger table for a bunch of us near the rear. Rather than passing things around – there was a small Seder plate at each place. Interesting trying to follow – Hebrew accented with Hungarian does not sound like Hebrew accented with German or English. The Hungarian I could not follow at all. It was a “bring your own Haggadah event,” a fact that none of us knew a head of time making the whole evening a real challenge.

For those of you whose Seders include kids shouting and running around – this was tame, mostly adults, many elderly, one group with a sign translator. But Dayenu and Chad Gadya still sound the same.

We left about 22:00. Budapest was full of lights and people, with heavy traffic. Once 50km out of town – the roads were empty, the houses dark, few cars, no people out. Small towns everywhere are the same.

Arriving back in came at 00:30 I crashed.

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