Inviting all who are hungry
By Deb Silverthorn
The base at Fort Hood takes seriously the part of the Haggadah that says “let all who are hungry, come eat.” Planning for their Passover Seder, the evening of Wednesday, April 5, on the base, is Rabbi Capt. Karyn Berger together with a community of soldiers and civilians who make holidays happen for those serving our country.
“The military supports those of us who serve the country. Sometimes that’s in the field and sometimes it’s back on base,” said Berger, who expects nearly 40 guests to attend the first night’s Seder, open to any member of the military and community.
“The Army and supporting agencies work hard to serve all soldiers and ensure that they have what they need to observe their religious beliefs,” said Berger. She noted that when a large Seder in April 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic, 150 meals were prepared and delivered on base, and to ships in remote regions, within three days.
Berger credits the Defense Logistics Agency working hand-in-hand with chaplains and military units wherever they are. “This only happened because everyone — chaplains of all faiths, at all levels and at many locations, legal, finance and many other military agencies — worked together,” she said.
Because they are commandments of the Torah and not optional traditions, the U.S. military is required to provide to its service men and women whatever tools are necessary to allow them to abstain from eating leavened products for eight days, to eat matzo during the Seder meal, to tell the story of the Exodus, to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice), to eat a measure of bitter herbs alone and with charoset and to dip a vegetable into salt water.
“The Seder and fulfilling all of its parts, the food included, is the commandment and is how the holiday is observed,” said 1st Lt. Yael Diamond of Orlando, Florida. While Berger was deployed, Diamond led services and coordinated all for the Jewish community on base.
“Austin and the grocery stores with Passover products are about an hour away. The rest of the holiday I’ll mostly cook from scratch. Most of us center on protein and vegetables. In the past I have celebrated in the field as the only U.S. soldier on a base in Israel. At the start of COVID-19 with lockdown, I was with 500 Israeli soldiers who also couldn’t leave the base and also at my apartment with a meal from Chabad. “I’m glad to be on base, matzo pizza and bagels with matzo flour and all,” said Diamond.
Fort Hood’s Seder meal is being catered by Miriam and Chaim Goldfeder’s Palate Catering; this is not the first time they’ve created meals for a base celebration. Palate Catering has many times sent holiday and other meals to Fort Hood and also to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“We are honored to send meals to our soldiers and their families. It is important to us that the Jews in the military enjoy a Seder, not so different from how they’d create or share at home,” said Chaim. Palate Kosher’s menu for Fort Hood includes all parts of the Seder plate, matzo ball soup, matzo, braised brisket, honey poblano chicken, tzimmes, cobbler and more.
Earlier this year, Berger returned from a nine-month deployment to Poland; she set up the soldiers there for Seders away from home. Because it takes time to coordinate, plan and order all materials and food, the process begins many months ahead, with provisions of the U. S. military — including kosher for Passover rations if requested — augmented by the Jewish Soldiers Project and the Jewish Welfare Board. Now that Berger is back at Fort Hood, it will be another rabbi, or the community of soldiers themselves, who will lead the evening’s ritual meal.
“Part of my job is to be an ambassador for and of the Jewish community that creates inroads for those who serve. I want them to remember they make an impact on our society because they do every single day,” said Berger, who will host a second Seder at home with her wife, Karen Humphrey.
While all will read with hope, “next year in Jerusalem,” all are honored for this year at Fort Hood.
To join in the first night Passover Seder at Fort Hood, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To provide a donation to the Fort Hood Jewish community, visit tinyurl.com/FORT-HOOD-Jewish-Comm-Support, choose “installation” Fort Hood, TX and “category” JJJC.