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A Taste of Yidishkayt In Iraq

One Jewish organization is hoping to spread a little Purim cheer in the region where the holiday’s ancient story began.

The National Council of Young Israel is sending more than 450 mishloach manot packages to Jewish American soldiers stationed in Iraq — part of the present-day geographic site of the Persian kingdom, where the celebrated story of Queen Esther took place more than 2,000 years ago.

“We want to send a message to the Jewish soldiers that your friends and coreligionists in America appreciate what you do,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive director of Young Israel.

The council solicited sponsorships for the campaign from across the United States for $34 or $54, depending on the size of the basket.

According to Jewish law, one must send a friend two food items for the festive Purim meal, yet in recent years mishloach manot packages have exploded into elaborate baskets overflowing with food and goodies, sent to all friends, acquaintances and even friends of friends.

The packages Young Israel is sending to Iraq are not logistically easy to ship, forced to endure incredible heat and weeks of travel.

“Everything we sent had to have these factors in mind,” said Lerner. “Nothing is perishable.”

Repacked into larger cylinders conducive to shipping, the packages include the Purim staples of junk food, hamantashen and grape juice in juice packets (Army regulations forbid wine), and the more eclectic Chapstik, hand sanitizers and breath strips. A grogger, the Purim story and personal notes also were included.

The packages were sent last month to ensure their arrival in time for the holiday. They first arrived at a domestic base and then were sent to five chaplains out in the field, who will divvy them up to the Jewish soldiers under their care. The packages will be distributed at Army bases in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, and on a submarine.

“It’s a wonderful feeling for someone to know that someone else is thinking about me,” said Rabbi David Lapp, director of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, the organization representing Jewish military chaplains that served as the middleman between Young Israel and the field chaplains. “These are very lonely people. If we can give them some taste of yidishkayt, it’s a big mitzvah.”

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