Shabbos Nachamu has long been an expression for being joyous and celebrating our Jewish pride. This weekend is also a time to double down on our fervor for and confidence in our ultimate redemption. These traditions surface with mysterious historical roots per the Maharil; the Ritva calls for more ostentatious foods to be served, and a student of the Rashba even writes in Drashos Even Shoiv to respect days like a festive holiday.
In this light, a story of tried and true resolute faith in our Creator has materialized, showcasing the divine hand through the generosity of a Queens pillar and the fortitude of warriors. Shabbos Nachamu always coincides with the reading of the sacred Aseres HaDibros – the Ten Commandments, which restore our commitment while uplifting our souls. As a nation, when we hear the exalted words of the Torah, our spirits are filled with a treasured delight.
On January 16 of this year, just prior to the devastating affliction that has controlled the vast majority of 2020, אhe Utopia Jewish Center (Utopia Torah Congregation) of Fresh Meadows facilitated a special donation of a distinguished sefer Torah to the Nachal Charedi – 97th Netzach Yehudah Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces. Rabbi Yonoson Hirtz, the shul’s rav, and Dr. Sana Bloch, vice president of the shul, joined in Eretz Yisrael for the captivating dedication. The Torah, valued at $50,000, now resides in the Jerusalem sanctuary of the Beit Midrash Netzach Yehudah.
Mr. Barrett (Baruch Shlomo) Dick a”h was a longtime member of the Utopia Jewish Center and a recluse who struggled with his work on behalf of the government during the Nixon administration. Barrett passed away on 19 Elul 5774 (September 14, 2014). He never was afforded the opportunity to meet his long-lost half-brother, Mr. Paul (Pesach) Dick a”h, who passed away on 17 Kislev 5776 (November 29, 2015). Like his father, Paul’s son Adam never met his uncle, but agreed for this perseverance of Jewish values to be conducted with part of the endowment left behind, ensuring a legacy for both his father Pesach and his uncle Baruch Shlomo.
Both Barrett and Paul were proud of their American heritage, while never shying away from their Jewish identity. Suddenly, with a newfound small fortune left by his uncle Barrett, Adam was able to make a lasting mark.
Nachal Chareidi, founded just over two decades ago, is an IDF battalion with over 1,000 soldiers in the Kfir Brigade with the purpose of allowing chareidi Jewish men to serve as combat soldiers in the Israeli military in an atmosphere conducive to their religious convictions, within a framework that is strictly halachically observant. The battalion has two operational units, recon and riflemen, and its training mimics that of the main IDF infantry, with five months of basic training followed by an additional six months of advanced training. The brigade, which has had over 10,000 serve, typically sees action in the cities of Ramallah and Jenin and has run successful missions throughout the West Bank. They have also unfortunately suffered several casualties.
The battalion places extreme emphasis on accommodating the religious needs of the soldiers; the Netzach Yehudah bases follow the highest standards of Jewish dietary laws, and the only women permitted are the wives of soldiers and officers. As the battalion runs on a voluntary basis and does not draft soldiers, it is one of the few units in the IDF that depends on a recruitment mechanism for new troops. Religious areas from overseas are a constant source for filling vacancies within Nachal Chareidi.
The rav and doctor participated in a celebration at the Jerusalem-based Nachal Chareidi headquarters alongside former Jewish Center members who have since made aliyah. Mr. Eli Meskin, president of the Utopia shul, gave his blessing for the initiative. At the ceremony, Dr. Bloch explained, “The congregants knew Paul never started a family, and we all believed that he had no family. It was a common assumption that he must have been poor. We were flabbergasted to learn of his secreted affluence and were dismayed that a will was never composed.” Dr. Bloch clarified American procedures where local law enforcement agencies seek the legal heirs when assets remain after the passing of a lone citizen. In the case of Paul, his half-brother Barrett was found to have a living son who inherited the vast sum. Dr. Bloch added, “The beneficiary was asked by the congregation of his uncle to do something memorable with a portion of the funds. The membership imparted that Pesach’s life center was that of their Queens community synagogue.”
The vice president concluded, “The choice to continue the Dick family legacy by bringing a Torah to the chareidi soldiers in Israel was one that seemed quite befitting.”
The Utopia Torah Congregation, located at 64-41 Utopia Parkway, has continued its own legacy of spreading Torah and building Jewish families. Changing demographics in the Queens communities resulted in low membership and led to the shul’s eventual sale to the Rego Park-based Jewish Institute of Queens that provides an elementary education to a portion of the Russian Bukharian population.
In the months that followed the dedication, the entire world has witnessed grave tragedies. The day that commemorates the destruction of both palaces of Hashem – the Batei Mikdash – just passed on Tish’ah B’Av, and klal Yisrael is in desperate need of exculpation, a salve for the contagion and the ailments felt by those afflicted. There is no better cure than that of Torah, and those who receive and accept its ways. Netzach Yehudah has begun seeing a second generation of G-d-fearing soldiers enter its ranks, and they will be the Jewish brothers to read from this holy scroll. May the Dick family neshamos have an aliyah in that merit.
By Shabsie Saphirstein