Almost exactly two months to the day after the Alaska Jewish Museum was desecrated with swastika stickers, the Anchorage community dedicated a new Torah at the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska. The dedication was kicked off by a moving Shabbos program attended by hundreds of visitors who traveled from all over Alaska and from as far as Israel, Florida, New York, and New Jersey to join the festivities. The Torah was dedicated by Avi and Debra Naider to honor the memory of Debra’s mother Arline Hirsch Klein z”l. Rabbi Yosef Greenberg and his Rebbetzin Esty presided over the celebration and enthralled the attendees with meaningful stories, moving divrei Torah, and mouth-watering challahs, cholent and home-made desserts. The latter were devoured by participants from Camp Seneca and Camp Kanfei, two traveling camps that came to Alaska to experience Nature and the special spirituality that Chabad provides to its many visitors. They were accompanied by Rabbis Fredman, Jensen, and Sheinfeld who afterwards stated that the Torah dedication was the highlight of their touring camps. Rabbi Greenberg was especially welcoming to these 75 or so campers who he said represented the future of the Jewish Nation. The singing went on past midnight on both Friday and Saturday night as the long Alaskan summer day extended the hours available for schmoozing and making new friends.
A diverse conglomeration of people attended the festivities, including Modern Orthodox, Litvish, yeshivish, chasidish (both Lubavitch and Satmar!), and the not-yet frum. Rabbi Greenberg came to Anchorage with Esty in 1991 and solidified the foundations of a Jewish community that dated back to trappers and peddlers who first arrived from Russia in the 1800s. Notable among Alaskan Jewry is the Green family, which represents four generations of Jewish Alaskan furriers at the David Green Fur Company, The current Patriarch, Perry Green, now in his mid-80s and married for 65 years to his eishes chayil, attended all the services and introduced US Senator Daniel Sullivan and Anchorage Mayor David Bronson, both of whom spoke at the Torah dedication ceremony.
The Hachnasas Sefer Torah program commenced with the inscription of the final verses under the steady hand of Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, the scribe (sofer) brought in from Seattle, Washington. Rabbi Greenberg then explained why the evening was designated as an evening of Solidarity of the Anchorage Jewish Community and its fellow Alaskans, and how tolerance and inclusion will defeat bigotry. Mr. Naider eloquently summarized the life of Arline Hirsch Klein, who dedicated herself to education, philanthropy, and family. After being introduced by Mr. Green, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan and Anchorage Mayor David Bronson passionately spoke of the contributions that Alaskan Jewry has made to the State and of the moral compass the Jewish people provide for all its citizens. Senator Sullivan, a strong and long-standing supporter of the State of Israel, articulated his contempt for the “despicable desecration” of the Jewish museum and his pain on learning of this cowardly act. He emphasized, however, that the Jews of Anchorage should find some solace in the outpouring of support that came from the vast majority of Alaskans.
After the speeches, the final section of the Torah was read aloud, and the audience erupted in dancing and singing upon its completion. The dancing and singing continued in the form of a half hour procession through the streets of Anchorage. The Torah was carried under a chupah and followed by hundreds of revelers, an event unprecedented in the annals of the State of Alaska. After the final hakafos and t’filos, the new Torah donated by the Naider family found its rightful place in the aron kodesh next to the other Torah that had been dedicated to the Lubavitcher Rebbe many years ago.
As the evening continued, more and more people were drawn to this unique community event. After feasting on a sumptuous barbecue prepared by a chef specially flown in from Detroit, Michigan, a BMX ultimate bike riding demonstration brought oohs and aahs from the growing crowd. Among these were 60 yeshivah bachurim from Camp Yachad with Rabbi Eli Berkowitz and their mashgiach Rabbi Abramsky. They enjoyed the biking demonstration and subsequently broke out into ecstatic dancing with their rebbeim. Many from the Alaskan Jewish Community joined in the large circle. Seeing yeshivah boys, in their black hats, dancing with Jews of different backgrounds with the mountains of Anchorage serving as a backdrop, was a sight to behold and a big kiddush Hashem. The joy experienced by all who attended this seminal event for Alaskan Jewry was palpable, and hopefully will provide some solace for the untimely passing of Arline Hirsch Klein z”l. May her neshamah have an aliyah.