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Army Reserve chaplain leads Passover in Afghanistan

By Story by Capt. Jeku Arce | 361st Civil Affairs Brigade | April 11, 2018

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The crackling of unleavened bread, the bitterness of horseradish and the pouring of grape juice; these are not typical of an average meal at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, but for Passover this is an exception.

Maj. Jonathan Zagdanski, 361st Civil Affairs Brigade chaplain based out of Kaiserslautern, Germany, with assistance from Sgt. James Dusenberry III, Tennessee Army National Guard religious affairs specialist, conducted Passover Seders for approximately 30 Army and Department of Defense personnel of the Jewish and Christian faiths, March 30 to 31, in support of U.S. Army Central.

Religious events give a chance to lift up a Soldier’s spirit, says Zagdanski.

“The [operation tempo] is quite busy in Afghanistan and Soldiers welcome religious events like [the Passover Seder]. It’s like ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul.’”

Approximately 0.01% of the Army officially identifies as Jewish, but unofficially it is 10-times that number as some Soldiers do not officially declare their religion says Zagdanski.

Army Reserve chaplains can be activated to support units who need specific religious support, especially units who are in deployed areas.

There are approximately 17 Jewish chaplains in the Army active and reserve component combined, says Zagdanski.

“Command does not always realize the impact of religious support, but I believe it is vital to the mission. A Soldier who feels spiritually connected is a strong Soldier who will much less likely engage in self-destructive behavior. Spiritually healthy Soldiers are the basis for competence and high motivation.”

A Passover Seder is a Jewish ritual that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Customs include the retelling of the Israelites’ freedom of slavery in ancient Egypt, eating unleavened bread, partaking of symbolic foods, singing and reading of scripture.