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By CH (COL) Jacob Goldstein, NY ARNG (RET)

The US invasion of Grenada is an oft-forgotten slice of the Cold War; its mission accomplished rather quickly, and its place in history not one of massive significance. But it was the first of several wars that I participated in over my 38 year Army career.

The invasion began on October 25, 1983. Chanukah that year began on November 30. The fighting had long stopped by that point, but we stayed in the area for a little longer, acting as a peacekeeping force to allow democratic elections to take place. I was deployed to the region in time to provide Chanukah services.

Things were still tense as Chanukah approached. Somehow, the menorah I had brought along with me was misplaced. I was quite upset, but this was nothing too difficult to rectify—according to Jewish law, menorahs can be made out of virtually anything. The “anything” we had in abundance were spent 105mm artillery shells. I made wicks from an old t-shirt, and diesel oil burned just as well as olive oil. Our ad-hoc menorah, such as it was, attracted great attention.

In any case, less than a week after I arrived in Grenada, I was flying in a helicopter on a routine mission together with other soldiers. Suddenly, mid-flight, the pilot instructed me to put on the headphones. Over the radio, I heard a voice telling me that the Army, via the Pentagon, had just received a call from Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, instructing me to call Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s aides.

As soon as we landed, I called Rabbi Krinsky, who relayed to me that out of the blue, the Rebbe asked him if he had heard anything from Chaplain Goldstein. Rabbi Krinsky responded in the negative. The Rebbe told him, “If you do hear from him, please convey three requests: He should find out how the Jewish residents of Grenada are; make an effort to wrap tefillin on every Jewish soldier; and if possible, give the customary Chanukah gelt (gifts of money) to the soldiers.” Rabbi Krinsky told me that the Rebbe would reimburse me for all the money I would distribute. I was quite surprised by the missions thrust on me, but resolved to do what I could to fulfill them successfully.

That day, I happened to be jogging alongside the invasion commander, Major General Jack Farris, who asked me if I was planning any Chanukah events. I answered that I was planning a big party. General Farris was visibly pleased, and he said, “I’m going to issue an order that every single Jewish soldier on the island of Granada is excused from duty to attend the Chanukah party.” With this kind of top cover, I was able to expeditiously take care of all three of the Rebbe’s directives.

We hosted the Chanukah party on the fifth night of the holiday. At the celebration, we lit our mortar shell menorah in the presence of General Farris, and distributed the Rebbe’s gift of Chanukah gelt to everyone. (When I told General Farris that I would return the artillery cartridges to the artillery unit after the holiday, he responded, “Chaplain, absolutely not! Those shells are now a consecrated religious item!” I proudly brought them back with me to the United States, and CH (CPT p) Mendy Stern currently uses that menorah.)

During the party, I struck up a conversation with one of the soldiers. I asked him about his work, and discovered that he was responsible for printing leaflets that the army was distributing to the locals. At that time, the Rebbe was actively encouraging a project that consisted of publishing the Tanya, the fundamental text of Chabad Lubavitch philosophy, in every possible locale. Seizing the opportunity, I asked this soldier if he would assist me in printing some copies of the Tanya on the island of Grenada. He agreed, so I immediately contacted Lubavitch World Headquarters and asked them to send the printing plates and paper. When they arrived, we printed two hundred copies of the holy work. We made sure to study part of the book with the soldiers there too.

Following the successful Chanukah party and Tanya printing, I tried to find out if any Jews were living on the island. I arranged an appointment with a local Anglican bishop, who explained that for some reason Jews had never settled in Grenada, inhabiting only the surrounding islands. I now had a response for the Rebbe on that subject.

Then I encountered one more surprise. A group of us were on our way to the airport for a helicopter flight when our jeep got a flat tire. We were in a non-secure area, so my chaplain’s assistant fired a pen flare to attract attention and elicit some assistance. While we waited in the brutal heat for someone to come help, I took off my helmet. All of a sudden I saw someone running down the hill, yelling, “Shalom, Rabbi! What are you doing here?!” It was a Jewish soldier, and he had noticed my yarmulke with his binoculars!

I explained that I was an army chaplain, and had been deployed to Grenada to help the Jewish troops celebrate Chanukah. “Didn’t you receive the General’s message asking all Jews to come to the main base for a Chanukah party?” I asked him. He explained that as a military policeman, he never leaves his post.

We discussed his Jewish background, and I asked if he would like to put on tefillin. He told me that this would be his first time ever doing so. On the spot, I showed him how to put on tefillin, and explained that this will be considered his bar mitzvah. He became emotional and thanked me many times for giving him this opportunity. I continued to the airport for my helicopter flight, satisfied in the knowledge that I’d fulfilled another of the Rebbe’s directives.

After arriving back in New York a few weeks later, I wrote a report of my activities and delivered it to the Rebbe. I included most of the Tanyas I had printed, which had been bound in camouflage colors, and were embossed with the US Army seal. The Rebbe responded warmly to my report, and compensated me for the Chanukah gelt I distributed to the soldiers. At the next chassidic gathering on Shabbat, the Rebbe looked around for me, and sent me his entire bowl of cake in appreciation of my efforts.

It was unquestionably a Chanukah to remember.

Originally published in the Chanukah 5782 Jewish-American Warrior