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Our family’s journey to the land of the morning calm by Sarah Lessing.

“You are lucky, you are going to South Korea!” proclaimed the assignment officer on the other end of the phone, as my husband and I stared at each other, frozen in shock. I looked to our little kids waiting in our minivan, already buckled and ready to go to the Bronx Zoo for a Chol Hamoed Pesach day trip, and considered what it would mean to them to be so far from everything they know. We do not believe in luck though. We live with something much stronger: emunah and an awareness of Divine Providence. Hashem wanted us in South Korea for our very first tour, and had us jump into this military life right away. Little did we know, it was not a jump but the start of an exciting roller coaster!

Over the summer, my husband headed south in order to complete the three month long Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina while I stayed in New Haven, Connecticut with our three children, ages 5 and under. After his graduation in August, we did not head directly to our new Korean home as the process to transfer from civilian life to overseas military life requires many steps and even more paperwork. Having been born and raised in Paris, making Aliyah and living a few years in Jerusalem and dealing with the Green Card and naturalization process in the US, I thought I had built a solid knowledge base about heavy bureaucratic processes. The Army humbled me and kindly showed me that= my expertise needed some updates, as we were all living in a hotel room on Fort Jackson awaiting final paperwork. Once we finally received all the necessary documents to travel, Tishrei and the High Holidays were upon us, and the only tickets offered on the government chartered flight to Korea were either on Shabbat or chag. We ended up staying all together for a duration of two months in this hotel room, waiting to be able to fly to our exotic duty station. The big day finally arrived and we embarked on our 36 hour journey with excitement, joy, relief and nervousness. Also with ten suitcases, five carry ons, three bags, a pack and play, a stroller and a whole pantry of kosher food to keep the children fed and happy.

Anyoung Haseyo! Camp Humpreys, South Korea, here we are! First things first, we hunted for every single kosher item on post. We could count on dry and canned food from the Commissary, some meat and American Coke which is kosher unlike its Korean counterpart. For cheese and other food which we can easily take for granted in the US, we drive to the shluchim in Seoul and restock our freezer every few weeks. The Litzmans do a truly amazing job at offering a whole variety of kosher products from Israel and America in a store which they have installed in their Chabad House.

When you are pushed into corners, you become creative, so I prepare huge batches of challah for our family and the community, often explore new recipes which are very helpful, and even started to bake fresh handmade baguettes like a proper Parisian.

A few weeks after settling in, the first Jewish holiday we celebrated on Camp Humpreys was Chanukah. The holiday felt like a warm hug as we were already deep into the notoriously cold and windy Korean winter. We had the opportunity to meet more Jewish soldiers who serve here, other chaplains and the Israeli Ambassador in Korea. Chanukah had a very different significance for me this year. After lighting the candles on the first night, I reopened the paper I placed the previous year on my chanukiah, following the segula to write down one request of Hashem. Upon opening the handwritten note, I read the prayer for us to have a clear path to chaplaincy. Sitting in our apartment on Camp Humpreys, staring at the candles and feeling the light, exactly a year after I davened for my family to have the zechut (merit) to be part of the chaplaincy adventure, was simply miraculous. In a short time, Purim arrived on post as a very joyful event celebrated with our Soldiers, Airmen and family members. The community gathered in the warm Jewish sanctuary for the megillah reading, good food and festive music. The following day\ we immediately began to think about Pesach and entered into panic mode because the Commissary offered only four kosher for Passover items. I mean, potatoes are a lot of fun but we have a community to take care of and 8 days to survive! That is when Kosher Troops and the Aleph Institute came to the rescue. We received waves of packages three days before chag and upon opening the multiple boxes we felt so overwhelmed by the love and care behind each box, and quickly restocked the shelves of the chapel’s kosher kitchen. Many soldiers joined our seder from Camp Humpreys, but also from other Army and Air Force bases spread throughout the Peninsula. Lighting candles with female soldiers, some who had never lit before, resonated like Shlichut 101 and felt extraordinarily special. After each of the seders we distributed bags of kosher food to soldiers so they would bring home matzah, macaroons, mashed potatoes and even marshmallows!

While a Jewish life in Korea can be challenging, it is all worth it when we see the results, with soldiers proudly taking on mitzvot. One soldier was motivated to receive his first pair of tefillin and now, thanks to Aleph, fulfills the mitzvah each morning. After learning the importance of kashrut another soldier decided to keep kosher! He renewed all his kitchenware, worked with my husband to tovel them, and kashered his kitchen. It feels so fulfilling and meaningful to see young Jewish soldiers growing and connecting to Judaism in ways they never have before. This is why we are here, so far from home, to be able to support the ones who otherwise would be forgotten.

I consider Camp Humpreys, South Korea to be the boot camp of our chaplaincy, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We learn a lot the hard way, the military way, and though the roller coaster has hit a calmer stretch, we know that many loops are awaiting us and with Hashem’s help, we will be ready for them.

Originally published in the Three Weeks issue of the Jewish American Warrior.