For Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz, April 1967 was filled with anticipation.
Between running services at the synagogue he founded on Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, he conscientiously checked his mailbox for the inevitable Temporary Duty Order, which would advise where he’d be spending the upcoming holiday. The prior year’s order appeared only six days before Passover—along with a winter parka, because he was being sent to run the Seder at Goose Bay Air Force Base in northern Canada. Schwartz wound up asking “What Makes This Night Different?” before hundreds of soldiers and military brass in a frozen wasteland where the lone Jewish civilians were the mayor of nearby Happy Valley and his daughter.
In 1967, Schwartz was still hoping for the best (Hawaii) but prepared for the worst (Vietnam). What he did not expect was to receive no orders at all—but that’s precisely what happened: After nearly two years of service and a promotion to first lieutenant, Schwartz would be on leave for a Jewish holiday.
Though home-cooked matzo brei would be waiting less than two hours away in Brookline, Schwartz instead contacted Lt. Col. Rabbi Mordechai Piron, deputy chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces, whom Schwartz had met at a chaplain’s conference a few months earlier in Lakewood, New Jersey. At that conference, Piron had extended an invitation (whether in passing or otherwise) to visit with him in Israel “anytime.” Certainly, thought Schwartz, Passover was “anytime.” The response from Piron was warm and enthusiastic; after all, Schwartz was a decorated officer serving in the military of Israel’s most essential ally. Within a few days, accommodation arrangements were made and Schwartz was scheduled to be Piron’s guest at a massive public Seder for Israeli soldiers. Schwartz would later tell his congregants in Westover that, though he was sorry to leave them, he was honored and thrilled to spend Passover with “modern-day Maccabees.”
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