Rare 1952 US Military ‘Korean War Haggadah’ Finds New Home in Israel

By TPS • 18 April 2019
Photo by National Library of Israel Collections

The National Library of Israel has recently purchased an extremely rare Haggadah printed in Korea for the use of US military personnel in 1952.

The 32-page ‘Korean War Haggadah’, of which only a handful of copies exist, begins with two pages of Passover greetings from top US military brass followed by traditional texts, as well as various songs and dedications typed in by the presiding chaplains.

The Seder, the festive holiday meal and re-telling of the Passover story on Passover eve, was organized and officiated by two Jewish chaplains also responsible for producing the Haggadah. One of them, Herbert Chanan Brichto, a then-recently ordained Reform rabbi, dubbed their efforts “Operation Matzo.”

The US Army granted Jewish soldiers time off for the celebration, moved army operations out of the abandoned schoolhouse in Seoul that the chaplains chose as the location for their Seder, and transported the soldiers from all over Korea to that location.

The book’s cover is decorated with hand-drawn insignias of the main military units involved in the Seder. The insignia of the Jewish chaplaincy appears in the middle.

The Seder’s menu includes ‘Gefuelte Fish’, ‘Chicken Soup aux Kneidlach’, and three types of wine, including ‘Manischewitz California State’.

One page includes upside-down Hebrew text, perhaps demonstrating the challenges of working with printers who were certainly not familiar with Hebrew.

The highest ranking officer to attend the Seder was General F.F. Everest, commander of the US Fifth Air Force, who delivered an address to the soldiers as part of the festivities. A quote from Everest is included in the Haggadah, “Even as the Ancient Hebrew people answered the call of freedom symbolized by Passover, we too must heed its voice and stand fast in preserving freedom’s principles for the world of our time.”

According to National Library Judaica expert Channa Lockshin-Bob, “the Korean Haggadah combines traditional texts with elements unique to American soldiers serving in Korea. The Haggadah and the incredible Seder where it was used remind us how meaningful Passover can be for so many different people in so many different places and circumstances.”

The National Library of Israel has the world’s largest Haggadah collection, numbering some 10,000 versions of the classic Jewish text.