For the 10,000 Jews serving with the United States Armed Forces — with between 1,000 and 1,500 stationed overseas — maintaining religious observance can be a challenge.
To make it a little easier, the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council has organized a nationwide project to provide them with lightweight Torah scrolls.
While the Army pays the salaries of the 29 or so Jewish chaplains on active duty, the Torah project aims to provide the scrolls and help with those costs.
The Jewish Community Center of Central NJ will host a local Torahs for Our Troops event on Wednesday evening, June 2. Executive director Barak Hermann urged the community to take part in “this most moving and meaningful mitzva.”
The local program is the result of a collaboration with the JCCs Association of North America — under whose auspices the chaplains’ council functions — the Central JCC, the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, and Temples Emanu-El, Sholom, Beth Israel, Beth-El Mekor Chayim, Beth O’r/Beth Torah, and Har Shalom.
Rear Admiral Rabbi Harold Robinson, USN (Ret.), director of the council, will speak about Jewish life in the armed forces. Zerach Greenfield — a sofer, religious scribe, based in Brooklyn and Israel — will do the actual writing.
For a donation of $36 or more, participants will have the opportunity to take part in writing the scroll, resting a hand on Greenfield’s as he does the letter-perfect work. The scroll they will work on is one of six to be commissioned by the JCCA over a six-year period.
The program was launched at a JCCA board meeting in September. The first scroll was worked on at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly last November, and went from there to the Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism convention, and the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly convention, before going to two events hosted by the Jewish Federation of Middlesex County in April.
It was completed on May 10 at an event held at the Capitol in Washington, DC, that was attended by senior military brass and congressional leaders, including Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
JCCA executive vice president Allan Finkelstein said the event was extraordinarily emotional. Present at the ceremony was the mother and brother of a Jewish serviceman from Cherry Hill who was killed in action in January. As a “Gold Star Family,” they outranked everyone else present, he said.
He said the halachically approved scrolls are small enough to fit in a backpack and are way lighter than the traditional kind. “You can’t be shlepping a regular scroll as you climb into an aircraft or plough through the weeds,” Finkelstein said.
He said that each Torah is expected to cost between $35,000 and $40,000. To cover the additional expenses of chaplaincy, the goal is to raise $100,000 per scroll.
The project has aroused extraordinary enthusiasm, Finkelstein said. “Already a couple of families have come forward to name scrolls,” he said. “This is just the right way to raise the visibility of Jews in the armed forces.”