Local Torah Hits the High Seas on the USS Oak Hill

Written by Kami Troy on . Posted in Community News

When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on the seventh day after that historic first Passover night, they sang “Shirat Hayam” (Song of the Sea) to celebrate their safe crossing. On the seventh day of Pesach this year, Jewish sailors and Marines read the very same song from the Broder Torah in the Red Sea aboard the USS Oak Hill.

The Broder family of Kemp Mill, Maryland, never guessed that the Torah they dedicated and donated to the U.S. military would be part of such a historic moment.

“When a sailor is at sea or in a foreign country, the presence of a Sefer Torah turns a generic chapel into a comforting reminder of a shul back home,” said Alan Broder. When his family heard there was a need for Torahs by the U.S. Armed Forces, “we wanted to do our part to help.”

They dedicated the Torah at the U.S. Capitol in 2010, with former Sen. Carl Levin completing the scroll along with the sofer (scribe) Rabbi Zerach Greenfield. The Torah then deployed to the Middle East with Rabbi Brett Oxman, a chaplain with the JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council (originally founded as the Jewish Welfare Board in 1917, the JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council fulfills the spiritual needs of Jews serving in the U.S. military). The Torah was first used in Qatar at the Al Udeid Air Force Base, and since then it has traveled widely.

The USS Oak Hill, which is part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG), was selected to carry the Broder Torah because its chaplain, Rabbi Lt. Yonatan “Yoni” Warren, is a member of the JWB Chaplain’s Council (he is also an alumnus of the University of Maryland). JWB estimated that there are approximately 30-40 Jewish sailors and Marines aboard the USS Oak Hill, but since the ship is part of a larger ARG with four other ships, it will likely serve a much larger population.

“I see a wonderful link between the past and the present,” said Rabbi Irv Elson, director of the JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council. “Reading such an ancient text to our sailors and Marines and them being able to look out of the ship’s porthole and see the Red Sea links them to 2,500 years of our tradition and gives them the chizuk [strength] and hope from our Torah.”

“Our mission is to provide meaningful Jewish life to the men and women of our Armed Forces. We are grateful to be able to partner with the American Jewish community and families like the Broders in achieving this mission,” said Rabbi Elson.

The Broders were astonished to hear that their Torah was part of such a historic reading. “When we heard, we thought it was such a remarkable coincidence. We’re so proud that the family Torah has taken a tour of the world with our servicemen and women, but this is by far its most historic mission,” said Hillel Broder, Alan and Fran’s son.

“We are grateful to these men and women, along with their entire crew, for their service and sacrifice, and hope that the Torah serves as a source of strength and comfort during their deployment,” added Moshe Broder, Hillel’s brother.

By Kami Troy

Kami Troy is the senior editor of Kol HaBirah.