It was the first time in twenty-two years that our youngest child, Yisrael Meir would not be participating in our Pesach seder. Actually, he was supposed to have been home, but instructions from on high altered Yisrael Meir’s plans.
As part of his year and a half of army service, our son was sent for several months to an army camp on Mount Sagi near the Egyptian border. Although he was trained as a loader in a tank, his current role is not in tanks. Due to the peace treaty with Egypt, Israeli soldiers on the Egyptian border are rarely involved in preventing terrorist infiltration. Their main task is attempting to prevent drug smuggling.
Usually, the soldiers go home every other week, and so Yisrael Meir told us that he would be home for the seder. Unexpectedly, some of the soldiers on the army base were transferred to a different base and new soldiers took their place. The calculation as to when the soldiers would be allowed to leave the base for Shabbat changed, since the new soldiers would get their first Shabbat off.
Of course our son was disappointed, but he dealt with it. The soldiers on the base would participate in the seder in the dining room. The army would provide the haggadot, the seder plates, the grape juice, matzot and a festive meal. Several hours before the end of Shabbat, a fellow soldier approached Yisrael Meir and told him that they had received the command that they would have to go out on a mission.
Yisrael Meir told us, “My friend was devastated at the news. I was quite disappointed, but I was O.K. If we were sent out on the mission while it was still Shabbat, we wouldn’t be able to carry any of the seder foods outside of the base, since there is no eruv where we would be going.”
Fortunately, their mission began on Yom Tov, so they were able to take the seder items with them. The army provided them with a box that contained items that would not spoil: maror mixed with vinegar; matzot; charoset; a bottle of grape juice; cookies; disposable cups, plates and cutlery; and haggadot. Our son went into the kitchen to obtain parsley and lettuce. Yisrael Meir is well liked by the cook, who knows him from his many work shifts in the kitchen, and provided him with some meat as well.
At approximately 8:00 p.m., they left the base. Our son and his friend were accompanied on the mission by a twenty-year-old commander. The first leg of the journey was by army vehicle. After a few minutes of traveling, the army vehicle stopped, and the three of them got out.
The entire way, the other soldier complained about their poor luck in not being on the base for the Pesach seder. They walked on a dirt road for about 20 minutes. By the light of the full moon, they made their way to a good hiding place below a mountain peak. From there, they could see the Israeli-Egyptian border, without being seen by smugglers. The soldier who had been complaining said, “O.K. I will stop complaining.”
They set up camp as the very cold winds blew. Yisrael Meir and his friend set up for the seder. Unfortunately, the commander, who was not religious, chose to forego the experience of the Pesach seder, and he crawled into his sleeping bag to avoid the cold and to get some shut eye before it would be his turn to do guard duty. Perhaps some of the words of the haggadah played in the commander’s dreams.
To avoid being detected, the soldiers could not stand. They had to assume a slouching position – you might call it mesubin! The two soldiers started recitation of the haggadah. When their “meal” was finished, one soldier went to sleep. Yisrael Meir continued with the seder. He consumed the last two cups of grape juice (If his fellow soldier had been awake, they would have had only half a cup of grape juice each for the last two cups). Yisrael Meir quietly sang the songs. He thought about how they were near the country that, in biblical times had made the Israelites into slaves and who had enslaved them for 210 years. Here he is, in a Jewish country where he is able to freely be Jewish as a servant of Hashem!
In order to get somewhat warmed up, he crawled into his sleeping bag. Suddenly, he realized that he had not davened maariv. He extricated himself from the sleeping bag and descended the mountain to a place where he could stand up and not be seen by potential smugglers.
During all of these proceedings, Yisrael Meir kept his eye on the cell phone, that the commander had given him, to see if it was lit up with a message. Since noise traveled, and they needed to escape detection, the phone was on silent. At one point the phone flashed, and Yisrael Meir read that smugglers were about 500 meters (546 yards) from the border. Time passed, but the smugglers did not advance, and they eventually retreated. It could be that they feared detection by the IDF and decided to postpone their drug smuggling attempt.
After about an hour and a half of guard duty, Yisrael Meir woke up his friend. It was now Yisrael Meir’s turn to sleep. He did not sleep so well because it was very cold, and they were on a rocky surface. The front of his vest held bullets, a grenade with tear gas and a grenade, which when thrown, makes a huge racket. The back of the vest held a canteen with water, a bottle of water and clothes. No position was comfortable for sleeping. Eventually it was the commander’s turn to do guard duty.
At about 8:00 a.m. the three of them made their way back to the point where the driver had dropped them off. An army vehicle, which the commander had requested, awaited them.
Not all smuggling attempts end this way. Yisrael Meir told us about how, a number of times since he has been stationed at the current army base, the Bedouins on the Egyptian side manage to throw over bags of drugs onto the Israeli side. Sometimes soldiers succeed in grabbing the bags before the Bedouins arrive. Sometimes the Bedouins, who arrive by car, are too fast for the IDF.
Our son told us about how a soldier had almost been badly injured or killed during a smuggling operation. A smuggler in a car was driving at high speed on the road which separates the Israeli fence and the Egyptian fence. He smashed into a gate in the Israeli fence, causing the gate to fly and almost land on an Israeli soldier. Baruch Hashem, the soldier escaped physical harm!
Then there was the time that a Bedouin smuggler thought that a gate was open, and he drove into it. He was captured and the car and its contents were confiscated by the IDF.
Our son certainly did not experience a run-of-the-mill Pesach seder! It was a memorable, but challenging experience, and he had made the best of being in a location that was not of his choice. It had been His choice!