Welcomed by Jewish Air Force Chaplain
A beautifully refurbished Torah scroll recently arrived at Balad Joint Air Base in Iraq, sent to Chaplain Sarah Schechter by JCC Association’s JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. Service men and women at the base proudly carried the Torah in procession to Gilbert Memorial Chapel, where it will add immeasurably to the spiritual richness of religious service. Congregation B’nai Israel of Rockville, Maryland generously donated the Torah to JWB when they purchased a new one. This is the second trip to the Middle East for this Torah; it previously visited the Persian Gulf for the High Holidays in 2007 on board the aircraft carrier Enterprise and the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Torah scrolls, which are handwritten by specially trained scribes, are valued at close to forty thousand dollars each. For each new Sefer Torah, the scribe prepares the parchment sheets, then creates multiple quills and the ink to be used. No errors are allowed to appear in the Torah; if a mistake is made in one of the names of God, the sheet of parchment must be buried, and the scribe must begin that section again. “An actual Torah scroll is the most sacred object in Jewish ritual life,” said Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. “Being in the presence of a sacred Torah scroll reminds us of our synagogue at home, and is for Jews everywhere, the most powerful link to our fellow Jews, to our tradition, and to God.”
The U.S. Armed Forces owns only three Torahs; the other 36 Torah scrolls used by Jewish chaplains have been loaned on a long-term basis by JWB. When a Torah is shipped to a chaplain in the field, it is carefully packed under the direct supervision of JWB, which keeps a record of the location of all its Torahs. “We know the valuable emotional support and spiritual strength added by the presence of a scroll,” said Robinson. “The Jewish Welfare Board is honored to support our troops and thankful to those who make our efforts possible.”
Joint Base Balad, located about forty miles north of Baghdad, is home to the headquarters of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, and also includes the largest army supply center in Iraq. The base hosts a fully equipped hospital where wounded service people are stabilized before they are flown out to Germany or the U.S. Stationed at Balad, Chaplain Schechter, who is a captain in the U.S. Air Force, provides spiritual support to service men and women and to the wounded while they’re in the hospital.