And Rabbi Irving Elson, JWB Jewish Chaplain Council’s director, knows where they are. With the United States on the brink of war, Elson buried the books that contain the Purim story in the moonlight, as Marines were about to cross the line of departure into Iraq.
The second Iraq war, fought to topple Saddam Hussein, began on March 20, 2003. Only three days earlier, Elson, a chaplain with the first battalion, 11th Marines, had just celebrated Purim with Jewish troops positioned at Camp Matilda, on the Kuwait-Iraq border. They had celebrated the raucous holiday with some hamentashen—a bit squished from transit—and graggers, or noisemakers, provided by JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. These offered a bit of fun, he says, as they told the story of the Jewish Esther and Mordechai, vanquishing the evil Haman, even with the threat of battle in the air.
As word came that the ground war would begin, Elson, who had been deployed to Kuwait for four months, knew there was no room for 50 megillot where they were going, but he didn’t want to just leave the books behind, So he and his chaplains assistant, or “RP” as they call them in the Navy, dressed in MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture), a chemical warfare suit, in case the Iraqis used chemical weapons, buried them in the dessert.
More than a decade later, Elson recalls being scared as he covered the books over with sand. But sitting in his JWB office, Elson can be a little more lighthearted about it today.
“I figure if JWB is ever short of megillot, I know where we can find 50 of them.”