By Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz
Like many Jews, Passover is my favorite holiday. The Seder is a fun family night filled with great food and lively conversation. Preparations for Passover force me to do a good spring cleaning. Though I dislike the process, I love the result. The weeklong celebration, bookended with holy days, gives me time to reflect on the meaning of Passover and the values embedded within it.
Our Celebration of Spring, one of the alternate names of Passover, is aligned with the seasons of the year. The connection between Passover and springtime is further reinforced with this blessing that can first be recited during the month of Nisan, the month in which Passover falls, upon seeing fruit trees blossom. “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made nothing lacking in this world, and created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees for humans to enjoy.”
Also, through the exodus from Egypt, the Passover story, the Israelites become reborn as a free people.
I find the connection between Passover and rebirth inspiring. It encourages me to look around and identify other places where this rejuvenation is taking place. Luckily, in my position as Director of Operations at JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, I don’t have to look far to find Jewish life in the military constantly in a state of renewal and rededication. I will share just a few examples of the new buds of Jewish life popping up around the globe at military installations.
• Every Jewish community knows that educating the next generation through Hebrew schools is a must. Yet service member families expect that dedication to country comes at the cost of Jewish education for their children. JWB is at the forefront of changing this reality. This year, we piloted five Hebrew school classrooms, with a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and an expansion to more installations is planned for this fall. Soon, every Jewish child growing up in an active-duty military family will have access to their Jewish history, culture, and values.
• Military Jewish lay leaders take on the responsibility of leading the Jewish community in the absence of a local Jewish chaplain. While there are more than 60 lay leaders serving around the globe, the recruitment of lay leaders has been sporadic. This spring, two JWB Chaplain candidates, Ensigns Stefanie Gedan and Alex Hamilton, are facilitating a Lay Leadership Training Course. Over 20 new lay leaders are participating. This is the largest influx of JWB lay leaders at one time, since World War II.
• JWB chaplains remain the number one facilitators of meaningful Jewish life throughout the military. As we enter our second year of a COVID Passover, JWB chaplains are reaching out and creating spiritual Passover celebrations for more Jewish service members and their families than in-person gatherings could ever reach. Through video conferencing and recorded Seders, no Jewish military family will miss out on Passover this year.
At each Passover Seder table we place a filled cup for Elijah, in the hope that the prophet will visit our homes, heralding the coming of a brighter tomorrow. At JWB, while we too anticipate Elijah’s visit, we know that JWB chaplains and lay leaders, along with our Hebrew School teachers, are bringing forth the blossoms of Jewish life today.
Rabbi Tracy J. Kaplowitz, Ph.D., is the director of operations of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®, a signature program of JCC Association of North America. Rabbi Kaplowitz served nine years as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. She was attached to Dover AFB, DE, where she supported the Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs in caring for our country’s fallen heroes during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Kaplowitz was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and holds a doctorate in sociology of education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Volume 75. Number 1. 2021