Hanukkah in Camp Sendai, Japan
December 10, 2012
CAMP SENDAI, Japan - Chag Sameach is a common saying heard during the holiday months, it's Hebrew for "joyous festival," and is being uttered in abundance in Jewish households all over the world as we enter into the Hanukkah season. It's a saying also being heard around Camp Sendai, Japan. It is spouting from the joyous mouths of American service members, Jewish and Christian alike, who are here in support of the bi-lateral training exercise known as Yama Sakura 63, and who are also taking part in the Hanukkah celebrations.
Hanukkah, also known as "The Festival of Lights," spans eight days. The start date of the holiday is based on the Hebrew calendar and usually begins around the first week of December. The multi-day celebration is derived from a miracle, which is an integral part of the Jewish faith and culture. As the story goes, King Antiochus of Syria and his soldiers invaded Judea and took over its land from the rightful owners, the Israelites. It wasn't long before the King and his solders were expelled from the region by the Israelites who demanded their city and their freedom back.
After the expulsion, the Jews rejoiced by ceremoniously cleaning the Temple and erecting a new altar to replace the one that was defiled by the Syrians. According to the account, a menorah was used to light the temple, it was fueled by olive oil and a shortage was on hand. It takes eight days to produce the golden liquid and the Jews found themselves with only a one-day supply. The miracle began in that 24th hour, the olive oil should have run out, the candle should have burnt out but it lasted... for eight days. Just long enough for the fresh batch to be complete. From then on, the festival of Hanukkah was celebrated for eight days each year to commemorate the miracle.
Lt. Col. Jerrold Grodin, a cardiologist and Army reservist assigned to the 94th Combat Support Hospital in Seagoville, Texas, celebrated the Jewish festivities here at Camp Sendai with nearly a dozen soldiers. They gathered together in the medical office and fittingly Dr. Grodin led the events. He began the second celebratory night by commending his fellow soldiers, "You are a soldier who has invited other soldiers to celebrate tonight," he said with a smile on his face.
The good doctor then donned his yarmulke, the traditional headgear worn by Jewish men, and began the celebration by lighting the central candle, the shamash, and reading a blessing from the Torah. He read the Hebrew words aloud, translated in English, he said, "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights."
Lt. Col. Robert Nay, deputy command chaplain for U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward) was invited by Grodin to light the first candle on the menorah, a task of high regard. Sgt. Derek Wolske, a combat medic stationed at U.S. Army Medical Department Activity-Japan, from Waukesha, Wis., lit the second.
As the new light flickered, Grodin looked out to the audience and said, "And that ends the formal part of the celebration."
The rest of the evening was informal and filled with historical stories that mesmerized the soldiers present. Over the next half hour, Dr. Grodin gave the soldiers a glimpse into his and his family's storied pasts.
"Most all of my family died during the Holocaust at Auschwitz," he said. "My ancestors who survived went to one of the two T's - Tel Aviv or Texas. My family went to West Texas."
"After I joined the Army, I went to Germany," he continued. "I wanted to visit the place where 250,000 Jews died. I wanted to wear my dress uniform and pay my respects," he said solemnly.
"I went and I stood there and I said the Kaddish, the Prayer for the Dead. There was a makeshift museum there. I found a photo of Patton's 3rd Army breaking through the gates and liberating the Jews. That photo, this uniform and this night is about freedom."
"I enlisted in the Army on 9/12/2001. I didn't tell my wife. I just did it," he said. Grodin and his wife of 38 years have three children and two grandchildren. He practices medicine at the Dallas VA Hospital, further illustrating the importance of the military to him.
"If I live 100 years and I am able to wear a uniform, and if my children and grandchildren live to be 100 and can wear this uniform, we could not repay the debt we owe this country."