Local Schools Send Pesach Packages to Jews in the Military
As the Los Angeles Jewish community prepares for Pesach, local schools and families are reaching out to those Jews who will be spending Pesach away from home, serving the country and ensuring our freedom. In collaboration with Rabbi David Becker, an army chaplain and head of Jewish Friends of American Army, six local organizations collected Pesach supplies and sent packages with everything needed for the seder to Jewish soldiers stationed all over the world.
Rabbi Becker explains that his organization’s mission is to provide support for approximately 30,000 Jews currently serving in different branches of the U.S. military. They organize yom tov programs and send shluchim to remote army bases to conduct these programs. Some of these army bases are located in actual war zones, far away from any Jewish community. When a seder or another Jewish event is announced, “Jews come out of the woodwork,” says Rabbi Becker. “They are excited to participate. It brings extremely warm feelings of home. Those Jews become our family and feel a part of family.”
Usually, between 15 and 60 Jews attend each seder. At times, sedarim are interrupted by air raid sirens. “You need to stay where you are or run to the bunker,” says Rabbi Becker. He recalls a seder in Bahrain, where an air raid siren sounded, and all the participants had to stay in place until the all clear siren. In his experience as a chaplain, Rabbi Becker saw that Jewish soldiers need the community’s support, both with practical supplies for Jewish life, such as kosher food, and with emotional support in challenging circumstances.
Five years ago, Rabbi Becker founded the Jewish Friends of American Army to provide such support. The organization brings community members to army bases, facilitating relationships between the Jewish members of the U. S. military and American Jewish communities.
This year, the Jewish Friends of the American Army invited local Jewish schools to partner with them in providing Pesach supplies for Jews stationed in Baghdad, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bavaria, and Japan. The participating schools—YULA Boys High School, YULA Girls High School, Gindi Maimonides Academy, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Emek Hebrew Academy, as well as Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities—were thrilled at the opportunity to help.
“The essence of a Torah education is the realization that ‘Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh,’ ‘All Jews are co-signers for one another,’” says Rabbi Moshe Tropper of Emek Hebrew Academy. “At Emek, we teach this constantly, consistently, and with opportunities to live it. Clearly, the Emek parent body has integrated this into their family life.” Since many students at Emek are quite young, the project required active parent participation. The parents gladly contributed the necessary items and money to complete the Pesach kits. The older children wrote letters to the Jewish troops, which were included in the packages.
At Maimonides, the parent body also responded enthusiastically to the request for supplies. Students from all the grades brought in their contributions, and the middle school students wrote letters of support to the troops and assembled the Pesach packages. “The kids found it fascinating to send letters to different locations,” says Malkie Hametz, a middle school Judaic teacher and Student Activity Director at Maimonides. She says that the students were very excited to participate, with the Student Council championing the cause.
At YULA, the high school students themselves took charge of the project. “I feel really privileged to do this with Rabbi Becker,” says Yael Glick, an 11th grader at YULA Girls. She describes the excitement as students offered to run errands to different kosher stores to collect the necessary supplies. “It was a nice bonding experience,” she says.
Yael’s grade got together to pack the Pesach kits. It was especially exciting to send these packages to Kuwait, so close to Egypt, where the story of Pesach took place. Yael’s vision is to share the warmth of the Jewish community with all the Jews in the U.S. military.
The participating schools hope to continue their partnership with Jewish Friends of the American Army in the future.