The first two halachot of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah—Sefer Ahava, Hilchot Sefer Torah, seventh perek—deal with the writing of a sefer Torah. In the first: “Every individual is commanded to write a sefer Torah for himself even if he received one from his parents. At the minimum, one should contribute a letter to a sefer Torah.” The very next halacha reads: “The king is required to write a sefer Torah for himself…and if he goes out to war, a sefer Torah must be with him...and he should read it all the days of his life.” For Oz Ve’Hadar founder and project manager Uri Dopelt of Yerushalayim, it is not a coincidence that the two requirements appear side by side.
Dopelt explained that since 1948, every IDF base throughout Israel has been provided with one or more sifrei Torah for weekday, Shabbat and chagim use. These sifrei Torah have been collected from communities throughout the world, many of which survived the Holocaust. Over the years, from use and environmental conditions, parchment can deteriorate and the letters may crack and become illegible, rendering those sifrei Torah unfit for fulfilling the mitzvah of reading the Torah. Some become irreparable and some can be partially restored.
Seven years ago, Dopelt, who had recently completed a sofer stam course preparing him for the details and intricacies of writing a sefer Torah as well as megillot and zezuzot, received a commission from an American to write a sefer Torah for the Churvah Synagogue in the Old City. A second American also came to Dopelt with a sefer Torah that needed fixing. It was at that point that Dopelt approached the head of the military rabbinate with the idea of refurbishing the hundreds of sifrei Torah being warehoused by the military and preparing them for bases around the country. His vision was to offer the opportunity to dedicate the refurbishing to Israelis and Jews throughout the world in honor of milestone occasions and in memory of loved ones. At a cost of $12,000 a sefer Torah could be meticulously restored, the two atzei chaim, supporting poles, could be provided, and an attractive mantle embroidered with a dedication could be made. Then an IDF base would be selected and a ceremony arranged in which the family of the donors could meaningfully participate.
The idea met with enthusiastic support, and during his first trip to the U.S., Dopelt came back with five commissions in hand. A memorable event in September 2013, coordinated by Rabbi Marc Shneier of the Hampton Synagogue, resulted in the commission of 18 sifrei Torah facilitated by the generosity of Gloria and Harvey Kaylie, z”l. In December of 2014, a sefer Torah was dedicated in memory of the three martyred young men, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Frenkel, as well as 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, who was killed by a rocket in the Tzuk Eitan Operation. The sefer was placed in the Beit Knesset of Palmachim, one of the largest air force bases in Southern Israel. In February of 2015, four families from Brooklyn joined in dedicating a sefer Torah to the memory of Sean Carameli, z”l, a lone soldier who lost his life in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014. The sefer Torah is the first ever to be housed on that particular base. The dedication was doubled when a contingent of students and their rabbis from the Rambam Yeshiva on Long Island heard the story of Carameli during their trip to Israel and decided to take upon themselves the restoration of an additional sefer Torah in his memory. In honor of their parents’ 50th anniversary, the Gelbart family of West Hempstead donated a refurbished sefer Torah to an IDF naval base in August of 2015, which was marked with great celebration.
Many more special dedications have taken place since the founding of Oz VeHadar. A sefer Torah was dedicated to the community of Kochav Hashachar by Rabbi Zev Reichman and the East Hills Synagogue of Englewood in memory of martyred hero Ari Fuld, HY”D, as well as by the Five Towns Congregations of Rabbi Kenneth Hain and Rabbi Heshy Billet. Dani Fuld, brother of Ari, resides in that community.
At the beginning of Dopelt’s restoration project there were over 700 scrolls stored in a military warehouse near Lod. Today, over 300 are left awaiting refurbishment. Dopelt points out that the project is intended to make available and affordable the great privilege of donating a sefer Torah in one’s lifetime.
Oz Ve’Hadar has also joined forces with the Israeli Ministry of Security through its Assistant Minister Rav Eli Ben-Dahan.Through their cooperative efforts, the over 60 Yad LeBanim Centers throughout Israel, which provide social and recreational services to victims and families of terror, will be provided with sifrei Torah as needed. At these Yad LeBanim Centers the Sifrei Torah are used for Shabbat and weekday services for adults and youth.
Dopelt would like to invite shuls, schools and families to consider Oz VeHadar as a meaningful project. A Yeshiva Day School administrator came up with the idea that a class of bar/bat mitzvah students can pool their gift allocations toward refurbishing a Torah, which they can visit on their subsequent trips to Israel. There are endless possibilities for donations, all resulting in fulfilling the special mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah.
By Pearl Markovitz