A Sukkah On Saddam's Palace Grounds

by Baila Olidort - BAGHDAD, IRAQ

October 14, 2003

Col. Jacob Goldstein, Chief of Chaplains for New York State Army National Guard, serving in Iraq, wanted to have an etrog sent to Afghanistan in time for the Sukkot holiday. He had brought several along with him to Iraq, and knew that Jewish chaplains in Afghanistan would appreciate an etrog as well. But he was told not to bother. It would ruin in the heat, and arrive useless. Goldstein persisted until a U.S. army airforce transport flew him to Afghanistan, to personally deliver the etrog to the Jewish chaplains there.

In an interview early this morning with Lubavitch.com, Rabbi Goldstein said, “Yesterday I ate in a Sukkah we put up on the grounds of the Palace.” Goldstein, who was speaking by satellite cell phone as he was traveling to an undisclosed location, was referring to Sadam Hussein’s palace. Loud background noises broke in every few minutes. “We are not in a good neighborhood,” he said, explaining that he was in full battle armor and carrying a loaded machine gun because the area “is under constant gunfire.” But Goldstein’s enthusiasm for the opportunity Jewish soldiers were given to participate in the traditions and observances of this month of Jewish holidays, came through loud and clear.

“The Jewish soldiers were stunned to see a Sukkah on the palace grounds,” he admits. This was one of a dozen sukkahs that Goldstein arranged to have shipped through Chabad’s Aleph Institute.

Col. Goldstein is in Iraq to augment the work of the Jewish chaplains there. A chaplain with the U.S. Army for more than 27 years, Goldstein was in Kuwait City for Rosh Hashana, where, he says, there were “well over 100 Jewish soldiers who joined the services.” “Many of the Jewish soldiers here,” he notes, “haven’t been inside a shul in years.”

Making his way north, Goldstein traveled through Talil and then Ur—the birthplace of Abraham. And somewhere halfway between Baghdad and Karbala, explains Goldstein, is the burial place of Ezekiel the prophet.

Here, in Mesopotamia, the cradle of Jewish history and the host region of one of the most vibrant and creative periods of Jewish scholarship--the Babylonian Talmud was compiled in Babylon--Jewish soldiers will dance with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah.

And they will do this, promises Goldstein who has made arrangements, "in the halls of Saddam's palace."

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