The first Torah created by Torahs for Our Troops, a project of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council, was completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C., last week. Fundraising for the Torah began last November, said project chair Ziva Davidovich. For the past six months, the Torah, which is compact and lightweight for easy handling in the field, traveled with a sofer (scribe) and members of JWB around the country, including the JCCs of North America Biennial Convention in Atlanta, where more than 500 people participated in inscribing single letters or words. The Torah did not stop in Pittsburgh.
Marcia Weiss, president of the Pittsburgh Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations, attended the dedication ceremony.
“[The Torah] is for a sense of belonging, of sweetness for the troops that they’re not forgotten,” said Weiss. “They’re still a part of the Jewish community.”
For Army chaplains, bringing a Torah for soldiers to pray with is “transformational,” said Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. “If you’re in a little chapel in Afghanistan, it might be a nondescript room in a building. When you bring a Torah in, you get a sense you’re in your Jewish home, in a synagogue.”
Robinson recalled one situation when a Torah “might’ve made a difference in one hero’s life.”
On March 30, 2010, aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier, Lt. Miroslav “Steven” Zilberman “had chatted with the [chaplain] rabbi,” said Robinson. “That day he flew over Afghanistan with four people in the plane. On the way back, the plane lost an engine. [Zilberman] held the plane stable while everyone bailed out; he was lost. He gave his life for his three crewman. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he’d had an aliyah the morning he left?”
Work will begin immediately on a second Torah, with six total planned. A chaplain will use the first Torah overseas later this year.
“It’s something wonderful for a soldier in the field to open up a Torah and say a blessing, to hear it read,” said Pittsburgh Rabbi Nosson Sachs, who’s spent almost three decades as an army chaplain and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s very powerful. And the fact that many communities are intimately involved with this program, it’s a great way for people to actualize the words on the bumper sticker ‘I support our troops.’ ”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)