A keyboardist played lively Jewish tunes as the parade of military veterans, their families, and other members of the Jewish community made their way from Blue Stone Park on Sunday afternoon. Some in the procession sang and danced and others cheered and clapped; and from among the joyous crowd a few members took turns bearing the refurbished sefer Torah at the center of this hachnasat Torah, this celebration of a Torah scroll making its way to a new home.
Its destination: the JUSA Center, headquarters of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland (JUSA) – Chabad.
This particular Torah was refurbished and donated to JUSA-Chabad in memory of World War II veteran Ernie Fass and his wife Beatrice by their daughter Regina Srour and her husband Habib. Wanting to donate a Torah in her father’s honor, Srour approached Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach and they helped provide her with one to donate.
JUSA-Chabad was founded in 2012 by Rabbi Chesky and Chani Tenenbaum. In provides current and retired Jewish members of the military, police, fire, and public safety departments of the state of Maryland with social and spiritual support and activities. JUSA-Chabad’s motto is “Serving Those Who Serve Us.”
“The Torah is our life force and the secret of our survival as a nation,” said Rabbi Tenenbaum, who serves as the organization’s director, at the event. “How appropriate that today we welcome the Torah for our World War II veterans and in memory of those who fought for freedom.”
The event was not exclusively attended by World War II veterans: Jewish veterans who served in Vietnam and other wars were also present, as well as families unaffiliated with the military who wanted to support the JUSA Center. Over 200 people attended in total.
Also in attendance at the event was Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda, who kicked off the procession.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to dedicate this very special Torah in honor of our honored veterans,” he said.
Tenenbaum also read a statement written by Governor Larry Hogan, in which he spoke about the event’s importance and the bravery of Jewish war veterans.
The hachnasat Torah was held in partnership with the Maryland department of Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. The department’s commander, Col. (ret.) Erwin Burtnick, was also in attendance. Burtnick served in the army from 1965 until his retirement in 2002.
“Having a sefer Torah dedicated to a Jewish World War II veteran is just right,” he said of the event. “People don’t realize that Jews serve [in the military].” He noted that during World War II, over half a million Jewish people served in the Armed Forces alone.
“It’s significant especially with the fact that it’s the JUSA, which ties into all of the uniformed services: military, fire, and police. So it’s very important that it be dedicated here,” he said.
Srour also gave a speech at the hachnasat Torah, thanking everyone for their participation and for honoring her father and mother’s memory.
“My father was an honest, strong, hardworking man,” she said. “I know he and my mother would be thrilled to see this [gathering].”
The Torah housed at the JUSA Center will be used for prayers services and special events, including the High Holiday services coming up in a few weeks.
“The holiest religious article is the Sefer Torah,” said Tenenbaum, “and having a Torah dedicated in one’s honor is the highest level of respect. It is fitting that such an honor be awarded to the veterans who devoted their lives to the community.”