The Jewish holiday of Passover is observed yearly, falling roughly at the end of March to mid-April. The holiday commemorates the liberation of Hebrew slaves from generations of servitude in Egypt around the year 1300 BCE, and Moses’ leadership of a new nation.
It’s a solemn and joyous holiday filled with traditions, even amongst the sadness and tragedy it commemorates, from ancient Egypt, through to this past century with Jews attempting to celebrate even in European Ghettoes, concentration and death camps, during the Warsaw Uprising, and in the Russian Gulags.
As we remember the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in “The Great War,” we honor those American soldiers who brought peace and liberty to Europe in the victory of World War I and again 30 years later. Those soldiers, like many through the years, took time to celebrate the holidays, including Passover.
Thanks to the National Archives, we can take a look back at two Passover Seder dinners from 1919. Army Private L. Cohen took these images at a dinner, according to the Archives, “given by Jewish Welfare Board to men of Jewish Faith in the A.E.F. in order that they may observe the Passover Holidays. Paris, France. April 1919.” In the photo below, the soldiers are singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
My father, Army Veteran Joseph Turtil was a Holocaust refugee. He served with World War II occupation forces in Korea during Passover 1947. He recalls a Warrant Officer with the 7th Division who wanted to make certain that all Jewish soldiers in Korea would have a Seder. “He got the Jewish Welfare Board to send haggadas, matzos, gefillte fish and manischewitz wine to him,” Turtil recalls. “He then insisted that our company of less than 200 men, miles from other Army Units, host the Jewish Soldiers invited from all over Korea.”
“Approximately 80 Jewish soldiers appeared in our company for two days to observe both Seders,” Turtil said.
Sharing a holiday away from family can be difficult. But the men and women of America’s military have a long tradition of making holidays their own, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.