Story and photo by Paul Long, FLEACT, Yokosuka Public Affairs
Jewish Sailors and their family members gathered at the Chapel of Hope, on board Fleet Activities (FLEACT), Yokosuka to commemorate Passover, April 18.
Chaplain (Lt.) Yonina Creditor, assigned to Headquarters and Services Battalion at Camp Butler on Okinawa, is one of eight Jewish chaplains in the Navy. She traveled to Yokosuka to preside over the Passover seder and meal for the first time.
“There aren’t a whole lot of us and it’s very hard to get us to every single location for all of the religious holidays,” Creditor said. “I’m here to celebrate the second half of Passover.”
Passover commemorates the Israelites departure from Egypt. The highlight of the Passover celebration is a dinner called seder, where the family gathers to retell the Passover story using the Haggadah, a religious text, as a guide. Seder means “order” in Hebrew, which is why the dinner is carried out in 15 parts and in a specific order as written in the Haggadah.
Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, usually falls in March or April. The story tells how God, through Moses, sent ten plagues to the Egyptian people in order to make the Pharaoh change his mind and release the Israelites from slavery. Though the Israelites lived among the Egyptians, they were not affected by the plagues. The tenth and worst plague, where God sent an angel to kill all first born in the land, Moses instructs the Israelites to mark the doorposts of their homes with lamb’s blood. When the angel saw the mark, he “passed over” the house and spared the first born living in it, hence the name.
“We go through a ritualized service where we re-enact some aspects of the exodus from Egypt, whether it’s holding up something in place of the paschal lamb; it’s eating matzo, it’s eating bitter herbs, it’s doing all of the things our ancestor’s went through, so we can connect with our history,” said Creditor.
“Outside of the land Israel, it’s customary to have two seders, one on the first night, one on the second night,” she said. “In those communities, one of those nights is a huge communal seder, and the next night, you’re on your own. In the military community, when the Jewish community can get together, during the week of Passover, that’s when you have the seder, because (of operational commitments) it’s really hard to have a seder. We do the best we can to be able to observe when we can.”
Creditor brought with her donated kosher food from Jewish communities in the States, to ensure the right food was available to celebrate Passover. Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Zachary Rosen, assigned to the USS George Washington (CVN-73), is a Jewish lay-leader for his command, and one of the 15 participants who attended the ceremony.
“We didn’t have a rabbi last year. It was the lay-leader for the base and I, who put the ceremony together,” said Rosen. “We don’t have the knowledge and the background that a rabbi can bring. We can go through the motions of what the seder is, but to actually teach,especially to children, it’s definitely a big deal (to have a rabbi).”