By: FN Yaakov Cruz, USCG
Just before Purim 2020, my Coast Guard unit, based in Valdez, Alaska, received orders to conduct an emergency joint training exercise several hundred miles from our home port. The training was only supposed to be a few days but was changed at the last minute to last longer. There is a wonderful lay leader in Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage by the name of Lt Col (Ret) Matthew Paskin. I called him up and said, “I’m really upset because I’m not going to be around a Jewish community for Purim. We’re not going to have any kind of service, no Megillat Esther, no hamentashen, nothing.” Lt Col Paskin said he’d try to do something, but given the reality of the situation, I had no expectations.
I resigned myself to the thought of a solitary Purim, and we embarked on this big mission on the coast of Kodiak Island. Purim had already started when we were told that there was an actual search and rescue emergency that required immediate support. As we prepared to get to work, we got a call over the radio telling us that it was a false alarm and to stand down. As the excitement started to die down and we were focusing on getting some much-needed rest, there was another call on the radio, “Stand by, you’ve got an incoming helo.” We all looked at each other, wondering what was going on. Why was a fresh helicopter coming out to meet us?
Meanwhile I was lost in my own thoughts. The whole crew was ecstatic to finally get a warm meal and some rest–after all, we had been doing around-the-clock training, sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep, and the temperatures had been between -20°F and -40°F the entire time. While the joy of a decent night’s sleep and a warm meal was satisfactory to everyone else, it wasn’t enough for me. I knew my Jewish brethren throughout the world were preparing to have a day of pure joy that was rooted in some thing deeper than mundane matters like a warm meal after a hard day at work. As those around me celebrated and laughed, I wept in solitude.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, a helicopter came in, as if from heaven. A crew member from the helo was lowered down to the ship with a box in hand. As he touched down on the deck he handed a box to somebody, and the crew got excited, saying, “It must be cookies from Kodiak!” (Occasionally, we get a gift package from Kodiak Island, so that was a logical assumption.) The crew member then got hoisted back into the helo and it disappeared into the night sky.
I remained off to the side as everyone crowded around the box, wanting to know what was in it. At that point, I was still the new guy on the ship, and when they looked at the box they exclaimed, “What?! No… It’s for Cruz, the new guy!” And then they plopped it on the table in front of me, saying, “Here you go, Cruz.” When I opened the package, I saw that it was from Aleph—it contained a Megillat Esther, hamentashen, candy, and more! It was really incredible.
That memory of this story gave me energy to make it through some tough times during the rest of my time in Alaska. Being in the military as a frum Jew is extremely difficult. However, it was actions like this surprise Purim package that motivated me to stay focused on the mission at hand. It’s things like this that confirms my choice to serve as the right one, and helps me serve and protect those around me. More importantly, it allows me to be able to pass energy and moral strength onto my fellow Jews in the military and also allows me to provide them with a support system when I introduce them to Aleph.
Originally published in the Purim 2023 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.