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By Ch, Maj Elie Estrin, USAFR

My favorite military Purim experience was not my 14.5-minute Megillah reading rattled off for a colonel in a rush. In fact, not only was I not in uniform for this particular event; I wasn’t even within half a continent of where it occurred!

The story in question began about two months before Purim. I got a call from a soldier in AIT at Fort Sill. PVT M. wanted to know if there would be a Purim celebration nearby on her base. I put her in touch with the DRGL on base, a very capable civilian whom I knew would be hosting a holiday event. But PVT M. called me back a few days later with disheartening news. “The Lay Leader told me that he doesn’t have someone who knows how to read the Megillah in Hebrew. 

He’s planning on reading it in English… Is there any way you can find someone to read the Megillah properly for me?” I promised to do what I could. 

The closest Chabad in the area is located 100 miles away in Oklahoma City. I called Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of Chabad OKC, and asked if he could work something out with the DRGL. He promised to do what he could, but a fruitless game of phone tag ensued between him and the DRGL. A few more days passed, and another WhatsApp message came in from PVT M. with more bad news—she’d been informed that the base Purim party was scheduled for Friday night, after the conclusion of the holiday. “Rabbi,” she pleaded, “If there is any chance you can arrange someone to read the Megillah for me at the proper time, I would be very grateful.” 

So I got back on the horn with the DRGL. Was there any way to change the timing of the party? No. Any chance to bring a rabbi to the base Thursday night or Friday morning? Probably not. I had struck out again.

I tried explaining to PVT M. that if things didn’t work out, she could read the Megillah herself. And in fact, we sent her a copy of the Megillah in preparation for that probable eventuality. But she wasn’t having any of it, and every few days, I received a reminder text message: “Any updates re Purim?” Putting in a bit more effort, I called Chabad of Oklahoma again and sent another email to the DRGL. But those minimal efforts led nowhere, and to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to happen in any case. 

Three days before Purim, she sent me another reminder. This time, a little voice went off in my head: “A Jewish soldier wants to celebrate Purim properly. Have you done EVERYTHING you can for her?!” The answer was no… and my inborn Jewish guilt had lit a fire in me. Working from desperation, and despite the fact that office hours were long over, I called the only chaplain in our Aleph database that I knew at Fort Sill. He was PCSing, but he knew one of the chaplains at AIT, so he sent me another number to call. I called that number and left a message, not expecting to hear back.

But that chaplain called me back within an hour, and this time, I finally hit paydirt. “I know we have less than 48 hours to work with, but if I can get a rabbi to drive to Fort Sill, can you arrange permission for him to come on base to read the scroll to this soldier?” The chaplain promised me he’d do everything he could, so I quickly called Rabbi Goldman to see if he had extra rabbinical students who could do the 1.5-hour drive to the base. The response was invigorating: “Rabbi Estrin, that’s what these boys are here for!” But would they get the necessary permission to come on base in that short timeframe?

24 hours passed. I checked in with the chaplain hesitantly on the morning of Taanit Esther— nothing yet. But that afternoon, a call came in just a scant few hours before the onset of the holiday—permission was granted! I called the rabbinical students with the exciting news. “What about permission to come again on Friday?” they inquired. I told them to take it one request at a time, and to see if that was a possibility only once they concluded the Megillah reading that night. The boys then hopped in the car, Megillah and graggers in hand, and sped off, and I turned back to the drama of my own family’s Purim celebration. 

Early the following week, I heard back from everyone involved: After reading the Megillah to PVT M. on Thursday evening, the boys were indeed given permission to return to base on Friday. They came back early in the morning to read the Megillah again, bearing Mishloach Manot. PVT M. even found a few other Jewish soldiers to join her for the joyous little Purim party. A party that only happened as a result of one tenacious Jewish soldier who wanted to do things right.

Originally published in the Purim 5782 issue of the Jewish-American Warrior.