Friday, June 29, 2007

Historic Torah Dedicated on US Navy Ship

Source: US Navy
Photos: US Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A Torah scroll rescued from Lithuania has a new home aboard the United States Navy aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman.

070624-N-5345W-072 NORFOLK, Va. (June 24, 2007) - USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Commanding Officer, Capt. Herman Shelanski, left, and Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, bow their heads in prayer at the commencement of the Torah dedication ceremony in the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier's hangar bay. The holy Jewish Torah in the background, one of the few scrolls from Lithuania to survive the Holocaust, was presented to Truman by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, and will be on loan to Truman and displayed for 41 years, or the duration of the ship's life. The smaller Torah in the foreground, known as the Truman Torah, was presented to President Harry S. Truman by Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann in gratitude for America's diplomatic recognition of the state of Israel in 1948. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Wilson (RELEASED)

The carrier is one of the few U.S. Navy vessels to have its own Torah. Few ships are large enough to need one, said Sam Werbel, an organizer of a dedication ceremony attended by a crowd of 500, including some Holocaust survivors.

"This is not a ceremony alone," said Mark E. Talisman, founder and president of the Project Judaica Foundation. "It's about humanity or a lack thereof. It's about all of us understanding the dignity of human life."

Several Jewish service members celebrated the event, taking photos with the heavy 26-inch high scroll bearing the words of the Hebrew Bible.

Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Jesse Kopelman, USS Harry S. Truman's (CVN 75) Jewish Lay Leader, holds a holy Jewish Torah, one of the few scrolls from Lithuania to survive the Holocaust, which was presented to Truman.

About 5 percent or less of Lithuania's Jewish population survived the Holocaust. No religious artifacts, other than this Torah, are thought to remain of that country's Jewish population, organizers said.

"I'm very proud of our servicemen who are serving, and I'm very proud that they saw fit to have a Torah on board the ship," said Julius Marcus of Portsmouth, who attended with his wife, Jeanne.

On May 14, 1948, President Truman was the first world leader to grant diplomatic recognition to the newly reborn State of Israel. Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, thanked Truman with a Torah scroll that now belongs to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

That Torah was on loan to the carrier and displayed next to the Torah that was dedicated.