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U.S. Navy Officers, Chaplains and Jewish Community Leaders Celebrate Gift of New Torah to USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk

November 29, 2017

Sara Koenig, West End Strategy Team
[email protected]; Office: 212.498.9300; Cell: 917.420.0303

U.S. Navy Officers, Chaplains and Jewish Community Leaders Celebrate Gift of New Torah to USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk
JCC Association of North America, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, Kamaras family help make sacred text a permanent fixture on aircraft carrier

NEW YORK—Today, Wednesday, November 29, U.S. Navy officers, Jewish chaplains, leaders of JCC Association of North America as well as JCC Association’s JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, will celebrate the installation and blessing of a new Torah aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford in Norfolk, Va.

The gifting of the ship’s Torah is years in the making. In 2009, JCC Association of North America’s JWB Jewish Chaplains Council launched the “Torah for Our Troops” campaign, which equipped JWB chaplains with travel-sized scrolls as part of their work serving Jewish service women and men on active duty. JWB has been enlisting rabbis for service at military posts since 1917, when it was established in response to World War I. Within a few years of its founding, JWB joined forces with the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association to lead the national JCC movement. By 1990, JWB changed its name to Jewish Community Centers Association of North America to better reflect the agency’s evolved scope and mission.

Philip Kamaras and his son Jacob Kamaras, both of Brooklyn, had long followed the work of JWB, which includes organizing Jewish holiday celebrations open to service members of all faiths, advocating for members of the Marines to be permitted to wear kippahs, and lobbying for kosher rations. Inspired by the success of the “Torah for Our Troops” campaign, the Kamaras family initiated a partnership with JCC Association to create a customized Torah for the aircraft carrier as a way to honor Philip’s father. Sgt. Jacob Kamaras was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942-45. The Kamaras family sponsored the acquisition of the Torah and supported every phase of developing the ship’s Torah, from purchasing the parchment to selecting the cover design.

Philip Kamaras shared, “It is with great pride and humility that my family has donated a Torah to protect and serve the brave men and women who risk their lives daily and travel in harm’s way. My children, wife and sister embraced this opportunity to honor my father, Sgt. Jacob Kamaras. My dad was a blue-collar worker who was drafted at age 34 before landing in Europe to fight for the four freedoms. Now his legacy will live on as his Torah sails the world, overlooking brave sailors and giving them strength.”

The celebration will include a ceremony in the ship’s chapel and a tour of the USS Gerald R. Ford, a new ship just commissioned this July.

Rabbi Irving Elson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council and the JCC Association Armed Forces and Veterans Services Committee, commented: “For over 100 years, JWB has helped Jewish troops and U.S. military personnel cultivate a powerful sense of faith, hope and community. These brave men and women serve our country every day, and we are proud to serve them, fulfilling their spiritual needs, helping to combat loneliness and allowing them to connect to Jewish traditions no matter how far from home their duties may take them. With the USS Gerald R. Ford’s new Torah, we are further advancing that mission.”

“JCC Association of North America began its work in support of the Jewish community’s servicemen and women a century ago. Today’s dedication is emblematic of our movement’s continuing commitment to those members of our community who put their lives on the line to safeguard our freedom,” shared Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association. “We are honored to have partnered with the Kamaras family and very proud of our longstanding relationship with the U.S. Navy.”

Cmdr. Steve Barstow, Chaplain of the USS Gerald R. Ford, welcomed the gift of the Torah, remarking, “Religious accommodation is an integral component of military ministry. Having the Torah on board will allow for the free exercise of religion for our Jewish personnel. When a rabbi happens to be assigned to the USS Gerald R. Ford, when arrangements are made for a visiting rabbi to conduct services, and when services are led by Command-approved lay leaders, we will have the necessary sacred, religious items to ensure the worship is both genuine and fulfilling. We are very honored to accept this unique donation from the Jewish Welfare Board and the Kamaras family. We will cherish it as a Command, protect it, and use it to deepen the faith journeys of our sailors for generations to come.”

The celebration’s featured speakers will include Rabbi Irving Elson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council and JCC Association Armed Forces and Veterans Services Committee; Lt. Amanda R. Lurer U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps rabbi; Cmdr. Steve Barstow, Chaplain of the USSR Gerald R. Ford; Capt. Richard McCormack, Commanding Officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford; and Vice Adm. Herman Shelanski, Naval Inspector General. Special guests will include Stephen Seiden, chair of JCC Association’s board of directors; Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association of North America; David Posner, vice president of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council; and Harry Graber, executive vice president of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, based in Virginia Beach.


JCC Association of North America strengthens and leads JCCs, YM-YWHAs and camps throughout North America. As the convening organization, JCC Association partners with JCCs to bring together the collective power and knowledge of the JCC Movement. JCC Association offers services and resources to increase the effectiveness of JCCs as they provide community engagement and educational, cultural, social, recreational, and Jewish identity building programs to enhance Jewish life throughout North America. By supporting the 25,000 Jewish communal professionals who connect with two million JCC participants each year, JCC Association encourages engaged lives of purpose and meaning. | Facebook | Twitter at @JCCAssociation


The Jewish Welfare Board, a division of JCC Association of North America, was founded in 1917 to support young men heading into service during World War I. This included the Chaplains’ Committee of the JWB, which until recently, served as the sole endorsing body for Jewish chaplains in the military and Veterans Administration. Today, the council includes 16 rabbis from across the three major Jewish movements, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, plus four active-duty Jewish chaplains representing the Chaplains Advisory Group. The Chaplains Council provides full support services to Jewish chap­lains, and administers ecclesiastical approval for chaplain candidates and Jewish lay leaders in the military. It is the only organization that endorses chaplains from all streams of Judaism.

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