23 March 2009

Torah in Iraq

Soon after arriving at Joint Base Balad, we had our Right Start briefing from our wing commander and others introducing us to our new home and what it has to offer. One message I have taken to heart is the part to use this time as an opportunity to better ourselves, do challenge ourselves, to do something new.

So I registered for Air Command Staff College and have started the readings for the first unit. I also found the swimming pool and reminded my muscles what it was like to go back and forth and flip turn (I did competative swimming in high school and college, but haven't swum in over 18 years).

And another thing I decided to do while here was attending Sabbath Services (for the first time in many years). It has brought back so many childhood memories. And a wonderful sense of belonging to an amazing community filled with rich stories, many different opinions (our Friday night dinner conversations are quite eclectic), and warm people.

For the first time in probably more than half a century, there is a Torah in Iraq.

Here is the Press Release from the JCC:
For Immediate Release
Miriam Rinn
JCC Association

JWB Sends Torah to Iraq
Welcomed by Jewish Air Force Chaplain
New York, NY, March 26, 2009: A beautifully refurbished Torah scroll recently arrived at Balad Joint Air Base in Iraq, sent to Chaplain Sarah Schechter by JCC Association's JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. Service men and women at the base proudly carried the Torah in procession to Gilbert Memorial Chapel, where it will add immeasurably to the spiritual richness of religious service. Congregation B'nai Israel of Rockville, Maryland generously donated the Torah to JWB when they purchased a new one. This is the second trip to the Middle East for this Torah; it previously visited the Persian Gulf for the High Holidays in 2007 on board the aircraft carrier Enterprise and the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and the USS Bonhomme Richard.

Torah scrolls, which are handwritten by specially trained scribes, are valued at close to forty thousand dollars each. For each new Sefer Torah, the scribe prepares the parchment sheets, then creates multiple quills and the ink to be used. No errors are allowed to appear in the Torah; if a mistake is made in one of the names of God, the sheet of parchment must be buried, and the scribe must begin that section again. "An actual Torah scroll is the most sacred object in Jewish ritual life," said Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. "Being in the presence of a sacred Torah scroll reminds us of our synagogue at home, and is for Jews everywhere, the most powerful link to our fellow Jews, to our tradition, and to God."

The U.S. Armed Forces owns only three Torahs; the other 36 Torah scrolls used by Jewish chaplains have been loaned on a long-term basis by JWB. When a Torah is shipped to a chaplain in the field, it is carefully packed under the direct supervision of JWB, which keeps a record of the location of all its Torahs. "We know the valuable emotional support and spiritual strength added by the presence of a scroll," said Robinson. "The Jewish Welfare Board is honored to support our troops and thankful to those who make our efforts possible."

Joint Base Balad, located about forty miles north of Baghdad, is home to the headquarters of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, and also includes the largest army supply center in Iraq. The base hosts a fully equipped hospital where wounded service people are stabilized before they are flown out to Germany or the U.S. Stationed at Balad, Chaplain Schechter, who is a captain in the U.S. Air Force, provides spiritual support to service men and women and to the wounded while they're in the hospital.

JCC Association is the leadership network of and central agency for the Jewish Community Center Movement, which is comprised of more than 350 JCC, YM-YWHA and camp sites in the U. S. and Canada. JCC Association offers a wide range of services and resources to strengthen the capacity of its affiliates to provide educational, cultural, social, Jewish identity-building, and recreational programs to enhance the lives of North American Jews of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, the movement fosters and strengthens connections between North American Jews and Israel as well as with world Jewry. JCC Association is also a U.S. government accredited agency for serving the religious, social and morale needs of Jewish military personnel, their families, and patients in VA hospitals through JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. It has served in this capacity continuously since 1917.



  1. Wonderful pictures.

    Thank you for serving our country. Your a real hero. :]

  2. Thanks for reading. But I don't see myself as a hero, just here to do my job and do my best on behalf of the United States. My heroes are all the men and women who have put themselves in harms way (and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice) to help bring democracy and fairness to a country that was driven to poverty by a power hungry minority.