Seventy Jewish high school students danced through the departure hall with a Torah scroll at New York’s JFK International Airport Thursday. The students from the Achva summer program of the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) are en route an El Al flight to Israel, where they will donate the Torah scroll to the IDF.
The Torah Scroll is being given to the soldiers through the Sefer Torah Program, which is a joint initiative of the NCYI and the Rabbinate of the IDF. This was the 181st Torah Scroll that the NCYI has donated to the IDF to be used on remote army bases throughout Israel, so that soldiers on active military duty are able to maintain their religious practices while serving in the army.
The Achva Israel summer program, now in its 29th season, gives American high school students the opportunity to tour Israel during its five week-long program.
Rabbi Bennett Rackman, the spiritual leader of the JFK International Airport’s synagogue, was instrumental in coordinating the celebration at the airport.
NCYI vice president Eli Dworetsky said that he was especially inspired by watching the dozens of young men and women celebrate with the Torah. “The fact that American teenagers recognize how critical it is for the defenders of Israel to have access to Torah scrolls regardless of where they might be at any given moment, is demonstrative of the love and respect that our youth have for the brave men and women of the IDF who risk their lives to protect our homeland,” Dworetsky said in a statement to the press.
“Presenting the soldiers with a Sefer Torah will undoubtedly be a meaningful and memorable experience that will leave an indelible mark on the lives of these young men and women,” he added.
The overwhelming success of the NCYI/IDF Sefer Torah Program, which began in 2001, is the result of the ongoing efforts of NCYI Executive Vice President Rabbi Pesach Lerner and Major (res.) Rabbi Yedidya Atlas, who represents the Chief Rabbi of the IDF Rabbinate. Both Rabbi Lerner and Rabbi Atlas recognized the need to ensure that Israeli soldiers have access to religious items, such as Sifrei Torah, during their time in the army.
Rabbi Atlas has received a lifetime achievement award, the highest award granted to officers, for his efforts in the IDF, including the distribution of prayer books to every soldier. The arrangement for religious items in the IDF has been on the rise due an increase of high-ranking officers who are religious.