Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chappy Chanukkah

Reservist follows Westford Hanukkah celebration with flight to Iraq

By Robert Mills
Posted: 12/29/2008

Johanna Morse of Framingham hugs her brother, Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Benari Poulten,a Chelmsford native, as they say goodbye following the annual menorah-lighting ceremony on Westford Common last night. Within hours, Poulten was on a plane to Iraq. SUN / TORY GERMANN

WESTFORD -- At its very core, the story of Hanukkah is about the battle of light over darkness, and the fight against the forces of evil and hatred, according to Rabbi Zalman Gurkow.

Benari Poulten was facing just such a battle as he and his father lit all nine candles on a 7-foot wooden menorah on Westford Common last night.

Poulten, sergeant 1st class with the Army Reserve's 362nd Mobile Public Affairs Unit, left for the war in Iraq mere hours after taking part in the eighth annual ceremony, held by Chabad of Nashoba Valley on the last night of Hanukkah. He wore his uniform to the common.

Earlier, children had played games, a tradition at the ceremony. Participants sang songs as they prepared to light the menorah, topped with kerosene lamps.

The Poulten family prepared for a challenge that they had already faced before.

Benari Poulten, 31, who splits time between New York City and his native Chelmsford, deployed to Iraq last night with two other members of the 362nd, based in Londonderry, N.H.

They were to join the 314th Public Affairs Operations Center in Iraq, though exactly where in Iraq remains classified until they arrive, according to Benari's father, Sam Poulten. Benari will serve there for a year.

Sam Poulten, a lieutenant colonel with the Army Reserve's 804th Medical Brigade, served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. He is co-owner of WCAP in Lowell. His son has also served in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sam Poulten said his own experience in Iraq changed little.

"I'm just a dad, and I'm worried," he said.

He agreed with Rabbi Zalman that Benari's Poulten's service and the holiday share a common theme, though.

"Hanukkah teaches everyone that light will always triumph over might as long as people will it," Sam Poulten said. "As long as people are dedicated to righting wrongs and standing between the weak and those that would do them harm, then right always prevails."

Rabbi Zalman believes the U.S. armed forces represent that good in the world today.

"That's why we wanted to dedicate the evening to the U.S. armed forces, thanks to whom our freedom to express our religion freely and openly is preserved," he said.

There were larger lessons, too, though.

Rabbi Zalman said it is everyone's obligation to spread goodness and kindness. Poulten noted that his family is just one of many whose loved ones will spend these holidays far from home.

"It's really a very small sacrifice in the scheme of things, and that's the way Benari feels," Sam Poulten said. "He is just one son. There are 140,000 families with loved ones there right now."

State Rep. Geoff Hall and Rep.-elect Jim Arciero were also on hand, along with about 70 others who came out to celebrate on the common.

From the Lowell Sun