Each year, in the days leading up to the Passover holiday, the Military Rabbinate launches one of its most complicated operations: cleaning the military’s kitchens and dining halls to rid them of every speck of leavened material, or in Hebrew hametz.
To accomplish this task, the military ordinarily brings in an army of reservists to scrub the kitchens’ myriad industrial cooking appliances, thoroughly cleaning the masses of pots, pans, cutlery and other tools before dunking them in boiling water.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, that just wasn’t possible this year, Lt. Col. Rabbi Gil Gilad, the head of kashrut in the Military Rabbinate, told The Times of Israel.
“In the past two-three weeks, we have had to prepare again,” he said, speaking over the phone last week.
In place of reservists, the military turned to religious soldiers to lead the effort on their own bases, guided by a short training session and a 120-page manual, said Gilad, who is responsible for ensuring the military’s kitchens are kosher.
Gilad is exceedingly proud of this manual, which details the proper way to prepare for Passover, or kosher, every utensil, tool and piece of machinery that exists in military kitchens. (Having freely perused the document in question, this reporter can confirm it is indeed quite helpful.)
“We get people all over the country asking to use our manual,” said Gilad, who helped write it.
On many pages of the manual, there are QR codes that the soldiers can scan to get more information or watch a video clip on the proper methods of koshering that item.
Gilad’s hastily trained troops launched the effort this year first thing Monday morning.
“At 6 a.m. we start to boil the kettles and go through the evening,” he said ahead of the operation.
Though Gilad acknowledged that the lack of access to his normal group of reservists made the effort to convert the military’s kitchens to kosher for Passover more difficult and complicated, he said the hastily recruited conscripts would be able to perform the job fully.
“Most of our manpower is there, but we won’t be at 100 percent,” Gilad said.
“There is no IDF base that won’t be koshered,” he added.
Gilad scoffed at the notion that the military may cut corners, not preparing kitchens that may not be used over the holiday or only preparing parts of the kitchen.
“We always have to prepare as if there’s an emergency,” he said, meaning every base must be prepared throughout the country in case a war were to break out.
“And we can’t kosher part of a kitchen,” he added.
This year, a far larger number of troops than normal will celebrate Passover and its opening Seder meal on the bases, as the military has prevented combat troops and others serving in critical roles from leaving their bases for fear they could contract the coronavirus.
According to Brig. Gen. Meirav Brickman, head of the IDF’s Supply Center, in a normal year “20 to 30 percent of the [military’s] fighting force” is on base for the festive Seder meal, while this year “it’s almost everyone.”
Ironically, one of the troops who will not be participating in a military Seder is Gilad.
“This will be the first time that I do the Seder with my family at home,” he said.
Gilad explained that he for years served as the rabbi of a combat unit and held the meal with his unit.
“I don’t know what it’s like to do a Seder with my family at home,” he said, adding that he was happy to find out.