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Lt. Col. Avi Weiss, right, talks with Cpl. Suk Man-eun, center, and Sgt. 1st Class Anderson Joseph at the Kilbourne Dining Facility on Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, on Thursday. Weiss, a rabbi, is preparing the upcoming Passover program while fulfilling his new role as the 1st Signal Brigade chaplain.
Lt. Col. Avi Weiss, right, talks with Cpl. Suk Man-eun, center, and Sgt. 1st Class Anderson Joseph at the Kilbourne Dining Facility on Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, on Thursday. Weiss, a rabbi, is preparing the upcoming Passover program while fulfilling his new role as the 1st Signal Brigade chaplain. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — As the Passover holiday approaches next week, a new chaplain is gearing up to host the holiday while juggling his responsibilities as a brigade chaplain during the peninsula’s biggest exercise.

Beginning April 2, Lt. Col. Avi Weiss, a rabbi, will lead the program for Passover, an eight-day remembrance of the escape and victory of Moses and his people over Egyptian slavery more than 3,300 years ago. The story is recounted each Passover during the first two nights at the Seder meal.

As an important part of the Old Testament, the Seder also interests some Christians — many biblical scholars suggest that Jesus’ last supper was a Seder meal.

“Because Passover has meaning for both Christians and Jews, it’s a great opportunity for building bridges and having joint programs,” Weiss said.

The Area II and U.S. Forces Korea chaplains have “gone out of their way” to support the Jewish program, he said.

In ancient times, rabbis adjusted the traditional Jewish lunar calendar to coincide with the solar calendar, so that Passover would always come in the spring, Weiss said.

This makes Passover “a holiday of rebirth and a reminder of being free,” Weiss said.

Weiss, who served as post chaplain in Fort Lewis, Wash., before arriving at Yongsan Garrison recently, also has been busy as the 1st Signal Brigade’s chaplain.

He’s been out in his helmet and body armor, climbing hills and towers and traveling all over the peninsula to posts with signal detachments during the current Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration exercise.

He also accepts a role as a rabbi within Seoul’s Jewish community, but emphasizes that the military community is first among his professional priorities.

Weiss completed the Army War College’s Defense Strategy Course earlier this year. He also may have been the first rabbi to earn his airborne wings while serving as battalion chaplain for the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment in 1981 and 1982.

He first served in Korea in 1978 and 1979 at the then-121st Evacuation Hospital on Yongsan Garrison.

At the time, there was only one bridge spanning the Han River. There wasn’t much traffic and few tall buildings, and amenities were low-tech.

“We had a maid that would wash our clothes in the bathtub,” Weiss said.

Weiss, who was born in California but raised in Chicago, is living on Yongsan Garrison with his wife, Elcya. He has three children and four grandchildren who live in Israel.

Sign up for Seder

Passover Seders will be held April 2 and April 3 beginning at 7 p.m. at the Religious Retreat Center, located a few miles from Yongsan Garrison. Additional prayer services will be held April 2 and April 3 at 9:30 a.m.

Seating for the first night Seder is limited; those wishing to attend are asked to make reservations by contacting Lt. Col. Avi Weiss at avi.weiss @korea.army.mil, or by calling DSN 723-6707.

Dorm-style rooms at the Religious Retreat Center are available.

Commanders can authorize 72-hour leave passes for servicemembers or grant leave during Passover “if there is no adverse impact on mission accomplishment,” according to a March 4 U.S. Forces Korea memo.

Kosher for Passover meals-ready- to-eat can be requested through unit supply sergeants, Weiss said.

— Erik Slavin

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