JWB Jewish Chaplains Council Director Rabbi Harold Robinson led a group of distinguished guests in reciting a shehecheyanu – the Jewish blessing for reaching a milestone-in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room at the U.S. Capitol on May 10 when the last letter had been inscribed in a new Torah scroll commissioned for U.S. Jewish chaplains. The moving completion and presentation ceremony was part of a multi-year project called Torahs for Our Troops, which aims to raise funds for six special small, lightweight Torahs that chaplains can easily carry with them into the combat theater and from ship to ship, as well as provide support for the spiritual and morale needs of Jewish military personnel. The scroll was the first to be completed.
Carl Levin and Zerach GreenfieldThe Torah was then presented to Michigan Senator Carl Levin, to pass on to Air Force Chaplain Brett Oxman, who would take it with him to the Persian Gulf where he was deploying in time for Shavuot. Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, presented JWB with a book called The Jewish Legion of Valor, a history of American Jews who distinguished themselves in “all the wars of the Republic.” The author, Captain Sydney G. Gumpertz, was a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. “Men like Captain Gumpertz have defended our nation since its founding,” said Levin, “and they defend it today by the thousands, alongside members of all faiths, in dangerous places around the world. These sacred scrolls have been the focus of Jewish faith, law and culture for thousands of years. Yet for our troops it has too often been absent, its presence limited to a few large installations. I want to thank the JWB for this noble undertaking.”
The Chiefs of Chaplains from the major armed forces participated in the ceremony of completing the Torah scroll. Sitting down next to sofer or Torah scribe Zerach Greenfield, Chaplain Robert Burt, Chief of Chaplains, US Navy; Chaplain Douglas Carver, Chief of Chaplains, US Army; and Chaplain David Cyr, Deputy Chief of Chaplains, US Air Force, each gave the scribe permission to write a letter on his behalf. Rear Admiral Herman Shelanski, the senior Jewish member of the armed forces present at the ceremony, did the same. Other participants were Melinda Kane and Benjamin Kane, mother and brother of Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy Kane, who was killed in action in January.
“It is especially fitting that we complete this Torah scroll only one short week before we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai,” said Noreen Gordon Sablotsky, chair of JCC Association’s Committee on Services to Jewish Military Personnel, who led the program.
Completed TorahRepresentatives attended from many national Jewish organizations, including Jewish Federations of North America, and from Chicago JCC, the JCC of Greater Washington, and the JCC of Northern Virginia, along with other guests. The invocation was delivered by Reverend Alan Keiran, Assistant Chaplain to the Senate. Rabbi Robinson led a memorial prayer for all the troops lost in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President of JCC Association Allan Finkelstein said, “We are proud of the work of our chaplains and lay leaders in meeting their spiritual needs, but we must do more to build the connection between our community at home and our troops overseas. This Torahs for our Troops project has built that bond in ways that we could only hope for.”