No matter your political persuasion, the picture of a Torah being presented to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is both historic and beautiful. The Torah, dedicated in the King’s honor, is for the use of the Jewish community in Bahrain. The Jewish community began in the early 1900’s, but had no Torah—until now. How fortunate they are that on this Rosh Hashanah, they will now be able to read from a Torah. What an honor for the Jewish community of Bahrain and the King.
Jared Kushner’s trip to Bahrain was a part of the process that concluded when Bahrain officially recognized Israel and signed the Abraham Accords. Even more important than this historic event, was the one that happened when U.S. President Harry Truman helped establish the State of Israel. When Truman heard that he had “helped”, he said, “What do you mean, helped?” He thought he had done a lot more to bring about Israel than just “helped”. In fact, Truman was instrumental in enabling Israel to be established. Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, agreed. On Weizmann’s first official visit as president, he came to the U.S. and met with President Truman and thanked him. To show his appreciation to the US president, Weizmann presented him with a Torah. Kushner, when he gifted a Torah to Bahrain’s king, followed the precedent of Weizmann. Both President Truman and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa received Torahs for the extraordinary roles they played in Israel’s establishment, whether in 1948 or as part of a radical paradigm shift of recognizing Israel starting to take place in Arab countries. Truman reportedly replied to Weizmann upon receiving the Torah, “Thanks: I’ve always wanted one of these.” I believe the king was equally touched.
Interesting to note that Weizmann in 1919 initiated one of the first attempts at peace between Jews and Arabs, the failed Faisal–Weizmann Agreement which on some small level the Abraham Accords rectifies.
A great picture from 1964 showing Truman and Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Unterman, standing next to the Truman Torah can be viewed on the Truman Library website, see https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/photograph-records/2005-272.
The story of how Weizmann got the Torah he gave Truman is also amazing. Weizmann knew he needed a gift for the President (Why he did not bring something from Israel is something I have never been able to figure out, but it’s probably for the best). He spoke with the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary and wanted a menorah from the collection to give to Truman. Chancellor, Louis Finkelstein, told Weizmann that he could not give him anything from the collection. However, in the Seminary’s ark was a Torah that did not belong to the Seminary, but rather one that he had given to his son on his Bar Mitzvah. Finkelstein gave this Torah to Weizmann to give to Truman. The Torah, known as the Truman Torah, is on display at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
Louis Finkelstein’s son, also a rabbi, said, “My father thought the Torah was a more meaningful gift in the sense that Torahs had been used in the past as a gift to a sovereign. The menorah represents a military victory, while a Torah represents the history of our people and what our people live for. He could have given [the President] a book, but he wanted to give something that was a timeless symbol of our people, and the only Torah he could give away was mine. It was not as much a sacrifice for me as for him because he was giving away something personal — his gift to his son.”
This reminds me of one last story I would like to share with you. At the top of Masada, with its breathtaking views of the Judean Desert, every day, in a small room in the ancient synagogue, sits a scribe, Rabbi Shimshon, who writes Torahs. He is part of an amazing Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) program called Be Inscribed. This project allows people to sponsor a letter, word, parsha, or complete Torah in honor of a loved one. When Rabbi Shimshon finishes one Torah he starts another one. The first Torah that he completed was, of course, not for President Truman. It wasn’t even for King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Rather and so fitting, it was for Alexander Muss High School in Israel, JNF’s semester abroad program for high school students, to ensure that the next generation, and future generations, of Jewish leaders are inspired by the thousands of years of Jewish history among them.
You have to close your eyes to imagine the amazing celebration that took place, when hundreds of high school students on the top of Masada were dancing and singing with tremendous joy when the scribe finished writing the last letter of the Torah that became the first of many to be written as part of this special program. These students, our bright future, understood the timeless message as Rabbi Finkelstein articulated so well and why Weizmann and Kushner decided of all things, to gift Torahs to a president and a king. I believe that the picture of Kushner giving a Torah to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa may become as iconic as the famous three-way handshake at the Camp David Accords symbolizing peace between President Carter, Prime Minister Begin, and President Sadat. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa receiving the Torah was no less symbolic.
If you have not yet participated in the extraordinary mitzvah of inscribing a letter or more into a Torah on the top of Masada in honor of a loved one, I invite you to become a part of history, and consider Be Inscribed.
May we have many more Torahs gifted to presidents, kings, and Jewish National Fund communities.
Wishing you a sweet new year, with blessings of peace, health, and all other good things.