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By CH (MAJ) David Ruderman, USA

Back in Purim 2015 I found myself at the cozy Edelweiss Lodge in Bavaria, Germany, leading a Strong Bonds retreat. For me, the holidays are always better when spent together with other Jews. This holds true even more so on Purim, because one of the special mitzvot is Mishloach Manot, giving gifts of food to at least one other Jew. I scanned the participant list for Jewish looking names with no luck. Feeling a bit deflated about being alone for Purim, I began the seminar. 

In between sessions about communication skills and anger management, I mentioned to the group that today is a Jewish holiday called Purim. I briefly told the story of Queen Esther’s courageous confrontation of Haman’s wicked scheme, the wars that followed, and the idea that even though G-d is not mentioned in the Book of Esther he was undoubtedly present behind the scenes, influencing events. In the same way, we don’t always feel God’s presence in our lives but He surely is here behind the curtains, providing opportunities and guiding our way. 

As I spoke, a female soldier beamed a smile at me from ear to ear. “Chaplain,” she later called out to me, “I’m Jewish too and Purim is my favorite holiday!” Excellent! Now I had one Jew to share Purim with! But who knew that in Bavaria I would find one more? A couple hours later, that question was still on my mind as I began to end our session. 

At this point in the program I told the MFLC (Military and Family Life Counselor) counselor, Lori, that she could introduce herself. As Lori and I made small talk she said offhandedly, “You know, I’ve been stationed out here almost a year and this is the first time I have seen a Jewish chaplain. It’s nice to see something familiar…” It turned out that Lori is Jewish too! I sensed the words of the Book of Esther encouraging us to observe and enjoy the holiday wherever we may be for all generations, and this certainly came to life in that far-flung corner of Eastern Germany. I was able to read the megillah and celebrate Purim with two other members of my Jewish-military family. It was a small group, and not exactly the same as how we do it back home, but if you are anything like me you’ll agree that those experiences can be the most memorable and meaningful.

Article originally published in the Purim 5782 Jewish-American Warrior.