Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Surgeon recalls Passover in war zone

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

One year ago, U.S. Army reservist and surgeon Dr. Solon Rosenblatt was among a handful of Jews who celebrated Passover in hostile territory amid the sandstorms of Afghanistan. This week, he'll celebrate the holiday in peace in Cincinnati with his sister, Racelle Weiman, director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at Hebrew Union College, and their parents.

Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation.

The holiday, which begins at sundown Wednesday and lasts eight days, marks both the physical liberation of Jews from bondage and the foundation of their spiritual freedom.

Rosenblatt, who is 50 and lives in a San Francisco suburb, was sent to Afghanistan in January 2002 as part of a "forward surgical team" supporting the 101st Airborne Division and all special operation missions in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rosenblatt's 20-member team stayed on to support the 82nd Airborne Division, serving nine months - more than any other reserve unit.

Just before the holiday last year, Rosenblatt was sent a box containing Passover essentials: matzo, gefilte fish and a seder book. He shared them with a friend, one of a handful of Jews he knew of serving with him.

He said the experience gave him perspective.

"It made Passover a little more real for me, thinking back several thousand years to what the exodus from Egypt must have been like," Rosenblatt said.

"It kind of gave me a sense of what it was like for them, in the middle of desert without a lot of water or anything, going through those same sandstorms. It was a definite eye-opener."

Rosenblatt's unit operated on members of a Canadian division that was hit by friendly fire from U.S. bombers. They also operated regularly on native Afghans injured by land mines.

"It was rewarding," he said. "We saved a lot of lives and a lot of limbs. We took care of a lot of civilians. Every day there were land mine injuries. Literally, every single day."

This year's Passover will be the first time Rosenblatt has seen his sister and parents since returning from Afghanistan in September. Weiman said she can't wait.

"We were very scared for him several times over," Weiman said. "Because there's the issue of double jeopardy, he was an American soldier, and then if anyone found out he was Jewish, it would be very dangerous.

"The idea of the celebration of Passover is to sit with as many people as you can to tell the story of exodus from Egypt. The idea of him sitting in the sands alone was our saddest moment. But he found someone to share it with."

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com

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