Photo Credit: Alexa Drew Photography
At the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, Jacob Kamaras (right) and scribe Zerach Greenfield complete the final letter in a new Torah scroll for the U.S. military. Behind Greenfield is Philip Kamaras, Jacob's father. At left is Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, leader of Brooklyn’s Agudath Israel of Madison.

The sofer (scribe) completed the Torah’s final letters, and we sang and danced with the scroll to celebrate. My sister presented a moving video she produced about Jacob’s life and legacy, featuring interviews with my father and aunt. A series of speakers – some who had firsthand knowledge of the aftermath of Jacob’s death, and others who got to know my family later in life – reflected on the significance of the occasion.

In my own speech, I addressed a question that had consumed my thoughts leading up to the event: What’s in a name? Like my grandfather, I have no English middle name, but I do have two Hebrew names: Chaim Yaakov.

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My lack of a middle name isn’t lost on me. There’s always a blank space where the middle name should go. For me, that represents Jacob’s absence and my duty to fill that void. Then the fact that Chaim, meaning “life,” is part of my Hebrew name can be taken literally – I am Chaim Yaakov, or as I’d like to think of it, “Life of Jacob.” My name is my life. It’s who I am. It represents my family’s past, my own present and future, and my family’s future.

A name can derive from a variety of inspirations – a deceased family member, a life experience, or simply an appealing entry in a book of names. Regardless of the scenario, every name has a story, and I believe it’s one of our jobs in this world to craft that story as our lives progress. For me, the story of my name is fairly obvious from the outset, but the story continues to evolve.

My family’s newly dedicated Torah scroll is undoubtedly an important chapter in that story. The new Torah is not only a fitting tribute to my grandfather the veteran, but it also represents the re-writing of his legacy – which was previously defined by his absence. This Torah exists because Jacob served our country in the military. This Torah exists because Jacob and his wife Sylvia started a family that was able to support its creation. Now this Torah will allow Jews to exercise the privilege of religious freedom at the most crucial time, while they defend America.

Although tradition looks forward to a time when all Jews settle in the land of Israel, the Jewish people survive and thrive because of their current devotion and endurance in the Diaspora. As it travels on the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, my family’s Torah will be no small part of that journey.

My grandfather’s story is no longer about the tombstone bearing my name. Quite the opposite, Jacob’s legacy is about life – the English translation, as noted above, of the first part of his Hebrew name. In the face of war and adversity, Jacob’s Torah will give our soldiers new life, new meaning, and new inspiration.

It’s a legacy defined not by absence, but by enormous presence.

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