Holding Up Jewish Tradition


Somewhere, someone is holding a Torah scroll. Somewhere, a new parchment scroll is finding a new home. Somewhere, in other words, a Torah dedication ceremony is taking place.

The participants, as in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem, below, may wear black hats. Or, like Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Jesse Kopelman, right, aboard the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier in the Norfolk, Va., harbor, they may favor white caps.

The haredi hachnosat sefer Torah, or Torah dedication ceremony, last week featured singing and marching through the streets, with hundreds of Israelis joining in and rabbis delivering words of inspiration. The shipboard festivities, also last week, drew 600 people, including Holocaust survivors and Michigan’s Sen. Carl Levin, to the hangar bay.

Several Jewish service members celebrated the event, taking photos of the heavy 26-inch-tall scroll. Kopelman is the ship’s lay leader.

“A ceremony like this doesn’t happen very often, and I think those in attendance were in awe of being able to witness such an extraordinary installation ceremony,” said Mark Talisman, president of the Project Judaica Foundation, which helped the Navy obtain the scroll that survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

The carrier is one of the few Navy vessels with its own Torah. The Truman’s will be stored in the ship chapel and used during Jewish services.

“This Torah is a reminder of what soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen will do, if necessary to end tyranny,” said Capt. Herm Shelanski, the ship’s commanding officer, who accepted the sefer Torah.

The scroll will be on loan — from the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater in Virginia — to the USS Harry S. Truman for 41 years, which is expected to be duration of the ship’s life, the Navy announced.