Friday, April 06, 2007

Passover in the IDF

"In every generation each individual must consider himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt."

These words from the Passover 'Haggaddah' demand that every person from the nation of Israel remembers that which came to pass in the history of the nation in Egypt. However, according to the Haggaddah, remembrance alone is insufficient. Every person who this obligation pertains to is required to perform the following acts as well: having the traditional Passover meal, and telling the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Additionally, there is an obligation to ensure that no remnant of leavened flour remains in their possession.

How, then, are these traditions kept in the IDF? The answer is simple, much like at home, but on a slightly different scale. The preparations for the festival demand an incredible amount of manpower, and the process does not begin a number of days before the festival, but almost half a year beforehand. As Regiment Commander Rabbi Shlomo Perets, the Head of Traditional Dietary Issues of the IDF explains. "We require that all military rabbis stay in their units, and orchestrate the traditional Passover meal. In addition to the military rabbis, we bring in soldiers from Jewish studies seminary. They were called up yesterday (Wednesday), and have been trained to organize the meal as well."

The main focus of the Rabbinate's attention was on the kitchens that were to be prepared for the festival. "There are hundreds of kitchens?[from] the largest kitchen which is capable of sitting hundreds of people, to the smallest place where only four soldiers eat-the 'pillbox'," explains Regiment Commander Rabbi Peretz. Aside from the elements vital to the meal, the soldiers and commanders of the army also enjoyed special treats such as the Nile Perch, Cod, and Passover cookies with filling.

In addition to taking part in the preparations directly associated with the festival food, and arrangements for the Passover meal, IDF soldiers also volunteered. A program for refurbishment and painting of houses for the elderly and the needy also took place; helping them with their own Passover needs. However, the lonely soldiers and the new immigrants were not forgotten. This year, as in previous years, there will be a communal Seder for the lonely soldiers who will have no other place to dine aside from their bases. The number of participants in this event ranges from 300-400 soldiers.

However, this year is not identical to its predecessors. Due to the fact that the holiday starts on Monday night, the way in which the festival is prepared for must evolve. In general, the Military Rabbinate ensures that all of the military kitchens are ready for Passover two days before the festival. This year, such an arrangement is rendered impractical by the fact that this would require that the kitchens would be prepared on the Sabbath. Therefore, the units which are distanced from the centers for the distribution of festival goods have permission from the Rabbinate to have their kitchens prepared as of last Thursday.

The combined effort of all departments taking part in this operation is incredible. To make it easier to grasp, Regiment Commander Rabbi Perets noted, "unlike in war, where defeating the enemy by 80% is still considered victory-we do not see things in such a manner. If we prepare 99.9% of the military kitchens for the festival, but have missed an outpost or pillbox, we have failed. There is constant awareness of all aspects [of preparation], in order to ensure that we reach every place needed."

*During the festival, the IDF will open a number of its exercise areas for touring. Please verify that any entries into such areas are coordinated with the IDF and the Environment Protection Society.

Any unverified entry into these areas nationwide is illegal and endangers those touring.

Contact details: Southern Israel - 08-9902926/7, Central Israel - 02-5305511, Northern Israel - 04-6979007.

The IDF wishes all a happy holiday!