Local rabbi/mohel brings holiday lights to the desert
Rabbi visits Middle EastHelps service men and women celebrate Chanukah

Local rabbi/mohel brings holiday lights to the desert

Rabbi Elisar Admon visits troops in Kuwait

Rabbi Elisar Admon stands with a sign welcoming Chanukah at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. (Photo provided by Elisar Admon)
Rabbi Elisar Admon stands with a sign welcoming Chanukah at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. (Photo provided by Elisar Admon)

Rabbi Elisar Admon is clearly not one who believes snow is an important element in the celebration of Chanukah.

The Pittsburgh rabbi and mohel is an Army captain and reservist serving as a member of the 80th Training Command Center’s Chaplain Corps in Richmond, Virginia.

Since Nov. 28, the rabbi has been in Kuwait on a special mission to help men and women stationed at Camp Arifjan celebrate Chanukah.

Although he’s been in the Middle East during the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, Admon said his deployment has nothing to do with the war that started on Oct. 7 when the terrorist group invaded Israel.

Rabbi Elisar Admon is spending Chanukah in Kuwait helping service men and women celebrate the holiday. (Photo provided by Elisar Admon)

In fact, he signed up to be a part of the mission more than a year ago.

“I went because we have three major rabbinical missions they were looking for rabbis to go to in Iraq, Kuwait or Poland or Germany on the High Holidays, Passover and Chanukah,” Admon said. “I decided to go for Chanukah.”

Serving on what Admon calls a “joint base,” the rabbi is helping men and women from all branches of the military celebrate Chanukah, including those from other nations.

“Last night, we had a big Chanukah party with 30-some people,” Admon said. “A lot of them were non-Jewish who wanted to see what it was all about.”

The festivities included a dreidel competition, holiday meal and menorah lighting. There was a traditional Chanukah meal on the first night of the holiday, and several non-Jewish chaplains on the base attended. Friday night’s celebration included observing Shabbat, and Saturday’s featured a Havdalah ceremony.

As a rabbi helping troops celebrate a holiday, Admon wears many hats — for the Chanukah dinner he made latkes and doughnuts.
It also means answering questions from the curious, which he did for the non-Jewish participants.

Rabbi Elisar Admon buried sacred texts while in Kuwait. (Photo provided by Elisar Admon)

Unlike most of the other clergy serving on the base who are on a nine-month rotation, Admon’s time will end shortly after Chanukah concludes.

He said that, for many of the soldiers, this is a difficult time to be away from home and family. He offers counseling when needed and creates programming.

“It’s a very emotional time,” Admon said. “It’s very different than being in the States, let’s put it that way.”

And while the rabbi is in Kuwait, he’s also helping with some other duties, as well.

Admon said that when he arrived in Kuwait, one of the soldiers tasked with keeping the Jewish community on the base organized approached him and asked what could be done with their old prayer books.

“I told him we could bury them,” Admon said.

Unlike in the United States, where congregations typically bury their sacred texts in cemeteries or on the grounds of their synagogue, burying the books in Kuwait required extra preparation.

A spot was located on the desert, on the base, which wouldn’t later be used for other purposes or construction. When the burial of the books was completed, a flag was planted to denote the area so that rabbis could bury old books there in the future.

The ceremony, Admon said, drew a crowd.

Have Chanukiah, will travel. (Photo provided by Elisar Admon)

“Other chaplains from different faiths came to see it because they never saw something like that,” he said. “It was like something that was not part of my religious support plan but when I came here, I realized this needs to be done.”

Supporting Admon is another Pittsburgh native, Staff Sgt. Christopher Lewis. He serves as a religious affairs specialist with the 316 Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Lewis, who isn’t Jewish — or, as Admon jokes, isn’t Jewish yet — has worked with Jewish missions since 2015 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Romania. He said he helps to set up missions for the High Holidays and Chanukah.

He said that more than 100 service members have participated in the Chanukah celebrations this year.

“We’ve had services with Jewish and non-Jewish service members wanting to come and experience the festive time,” he said.

Admon said those he’s met and had the privilege to celebrate Chanukah with have been special.

“The people here are amazing, and it’s wonderful to be able to help,” he said. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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