The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has answered the call of duty and will become the first federation in the nation to help write the first “Torah for the Troops.”
Launched at a JCCs Association of North America board meeting in September, the Torah scroll has been to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism convention. It will also go to the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly convention before coming to Middlesex.
On April 25 in two sessions conducted by sofer, or religious scribe, Zerach Greenfield of Brooklyn and Israel, community members will have the opportunity to help inscribe letters or phrases. The sessions will be at the Jewish Congregation of Concordia, Monroe and, through Rutgers Hillel, at the Student Center in New Brunswick.
The final letters will be completed in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on May 10 before military, government, and Jewish leaders. The finished scroll will be taken by Rabbi Brett Oxman, an Air Force colonel traveling throughout the Persian Gulf, to be used by Jewish service people aboard Navy ships and in Iraq and Afghanistan on Shavuot.
“We only have Torahs at permanent bases and on a few ships,” explained Fani Magnus Monson, vice president of development at the JCCA, under whose auspices the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council falls. “Our chaplains have been asking for this for a very long time.”
She said the Torah scrolls are similar to those used by the Israel Defense Forces; only 18-20 inches high, they are easy to transport into combat theaters. Monson said there are about 10,000 Jewish personnel on active duty with the U.S. armed forces, 1,000-1,500 in the Persian Gulf.
This is the first of six scrolls commissioned over a six-year period, Monson added, each costing about $100,000. The JCCA is raising funds and has a program through which youngsters can raise money as a bar/bat mitzva project.
Sandy Lenger, federation campaign cochair and coordinator of the local Torah for the Troops program, was at the GA meeting in November when the program was unveiled.
“At the closing ceremony these American soldiers marched in holding a small Torah above their heads,” she recalled. “They explained these were to be used in combat zones by Jewish troops on the front lines.” She was so moved by the experience that she told federation executive director Gerrie Bamira, “We have to do this.”
Rhoda Juskow, who is chairing the Monroe event on behalf of the Monroe Township Inter-Community Council of adult communities, said she anticipated strong support from the nine communities. “There are a lot of armed forces veterans here,” she said, “and I think a lot of these men will be interested in participating.” She said she planned to honor the memory of her husband, Elliott, a Korean War veteran.
Rabbi Esther Reed, associate director for Jewish Life at Rutgers Hillel, said, “Our students have really jumped aboard this.”