A team of volunteers started the Passover season earlier this month packing goods for delivery to Jewish soldiers around the country and serving overseas. From Afghanistan to Kuwait and Qatar to Germany and Japan, priority mail is delivering boxes assembled at a warehouse in New Jersey that include everything men and women in uniform need for a Passover Seder, including kosher grape juice, special handmade matzah, Haggadahs and a complete Seder plate.

That’s more than 800 bottles of grape juice and 150 pounds of handmade matzah, plus 500 pounds of regular matzah paid for by donation that in the space of a week, travelled through an assembly line before heading to submarines, ships and bases around the globe.

Rabbi Menachem Katz, director of outreach programs for the Aleph Institute, a Chabad-Lubavitch run organization that provides for the spiritual and physical needs of Jewish prisoners and soldiers at home and abroad, detailed the sometimes hard-to-find items that recipients urgently wait for every year.

“There’s hardboiled eggs, karpas with maror, and everything else that comes with it,” he said, using the terms for a vegetable dipped in salt water during a Seder and a bitter herb used to evoke the bitterness of the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt. “When you’re in Afghanistan, you can’t exactly find all these items kosher, so we take care of it.”

It can take two to three weeks for the boxes to arrive, depending on where they’re headed, so they get started early.

“Aleph is honored to go above and beyond to make sure that soldiers receive exactly what they need to take part in all of the Seder’s traditions without having to cut any corners,” said Katz.

“We’re proud that we’re able to help our fellow Jews out there who are serving our country,” said Katz. “We’re proud to be able to get into the details, to get them the best.”

Soldiers like Jamie Krakofsky, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, are eagerly awaiting the boxes, which are packed carefully with bags upon bags of Styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap to ensure safe transit. “I was interested in learning more about resources that are available to me while I am here. With Passover soon approaching, I was concerned that I would not have the resources for the holiday.”

Boxes of Passover supplies make their way to a military installation overseas. (File photo)
Boxes of Passover supplies make their way to a military installation overseas. (File photo)

According to Katz, Chabad has been working with the military since the 1940s, and the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would personally send out boxes of handmade matzah to members of the military. Aleph’s care package program started in 1995.

A few months ago, the organization put the word out, as it does every year, that the Passover for the Troops service was again available. It developed its recipient list from the thousands of emails collected over the years from Jewish personnel, family and friends. Many Passover recipients also benefit from Aleph’s other holiday programs during Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Purim.

The initiative got the attention of Holly Colla, whose son Keith is stationed abroad.

“I am unsure about how to go about this,” she wrote in last month, explaining that her son asked for Seder items and she found Aleph’s information through a web search. “I can send you his address and I am hoping he can have something for Passover. Any help would be much appreciated.”

Katz said he hopes Aleph’s efforts help military personnel not only fulfill the legal requirements for the holiday but also highlight Passover’s message of spiritual freedom.

“These are the people fighting for us, putting their lives on the line so that we could be free to celebrate,” he explained. “The first people that need to be taken care of are the soldiers; it’s because of their self-sacrifice that we are able to have freedom.”