Pesach produce for Jewish troops
Colonel Martin Newman
Packs of kosher-for-Pesach provisions have been sent around the world to Jewish troops serving in the British armed forces.
Pesach foods including matzah, powdered chicken soup, cake, biscuits, charoset and grape juice have been dispatched to at least 20 people, including servicemen and women in Afghanistan and other Jewish staff in Germany and the Falklands.
The ration packs are provided by the Jewish Committee for HM Forces, which has seen an upturn in activity in recent years as British troops have been drawn in to new conflicts around the world.
Martin Newman, chairman of the committee, said: "There are Jewish troops on operations or away from home in difficult places where they cannot easily get Pesach provisions.
"With these packs a soldier on duty in Afghanistan could have a token Seder if he or she wanted."
Numbers of Jews in the forces are slowly rising
Colonel Newman said many Jewish servicemen and women join their American allies for Yom Tov due to the larger number of Jews in the US military.
"Many of our people are trying to link up with the Americans because they hold their own Sedarim in Afghanistan. The armed forces will bend over backwards to make sure Jewish troops can keep as much as possible, but of course they are at war."
He said the issue of marking religious holidays is taken so seriously in the forces that around four years ago a Jewish officer serving in the Grenadier Guards in Iraq had flown to Kuwait to take part in a Seder with American troops.
"The committee has probably been more active recently than it has been for years," said Colonel Newman. "Previously it was run by an older generation who geared it to raising funds for a rainy day. But now we raise money and spend it on our troops for religious, cultural and social events and provisions."
Efforts have been made to use social networking to put serving troops in contact with each other. Colonel Newman said a "virtual" Jewish armed forces community was now coming together.
"There are Jewish troops keeping in touch with each other whether they are serving overseas or in Britain. We are finding new people all the time. As we become more noticeable with our work, new Jewish troops are coming forward and identifying themselves."
Colonel Newman said a small number of Jewish trainees was currently at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, with one female Jewish recruit enrolled at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon.
"Jews were always over-represented in the armed forces. That has turned a little but the numbers are now growing again, slowly but surely."
It is thought British Jewish troops currently number in the hundreds, but an exact figure is difficult to calculate as they do not always identify themselves as Jews when joining the forces.