After my son and another soldier (were) volunteered to run the seder on the two neighboring bases, they got to attend a hishtalmut in a nearby city for supplementary education—training in how to effectively lead the event. One of the other soldiers pointed out that my son got a good deal. Not only did he get off part of the day last week for the hishtalmut, he won’t get guard duty during the seder. But my son said he won’t be exempt from a shift later the same night.
The army takes the Passover seder seriously. Every base holds a seder and gets a trained leader. The army publishes its own haggadah (text and instructions). According to regulations, even bases without Jewish soldiers get assigned a seder leader. There are rules about giving each soldier time off from his duties to make a seder.
The most senior officer at each base attends the seder, while the second-in-command goes home to his or her family. The RaMaTKa”l (army chief of staff) invites all of the lone soldiers, whose families are abroad, to the army’s central seder.
My son and his friend arrived at the hishtalmut just as the instructor was explaining Kadesh, the opening of the seder. They hadn’t been given enough time to travel by bus and only happened to get a ride.
Everyone running an army seder receives this training and below are some of the rules:
- Complete the seder within two hours, taking an hour to get to the meal and moving quickly through Hallel (Psalms) to get to the songs.
- Sing every traditional song, because some participants will feel cheated if they don’t hear something familiar.
- No dead time allowed. Don’t insist on eating two kezeytim of matza (more than the minimum required by Jewish law), because the soldiers will get bored and leave. Do chumras (stringencies) on your own time.
- No wine, only grape juice. This has nothing to do with the seder—all alcohol is prohibited on army bases.
- Include the participants, by asking questions and inviting them to read aloud.
- Watch the faces of participants to gauge their level of interest.
- It’s okay to talk about the haggadah, but don’t include political opinions or criticism of groups including “people who don’t bear the burden of the nation’s security.”
- The army provided a pamphlet with short explanations or lessons for different sections of the seder.
My son also got tips on handling technical details like encouraging people get up for hand-washing and making sure they say the critical parts. And he and his friend got a chance to taste the local shwarma before catching their ride back to the base. Sounds like a good deal to me.
- I hope your own Passover preparations are coming along nicely.
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