Hundreds of people from the Highland Park/Edison community joined Dalia Braun and her family to celebrate the dedication of a sefer Torah written in memory of her husband, Alan Braun, z”l, who passed away last year.
The celebratory procession grew in size as it made its way from the Braun home to Highland Park’s Congregation Ohav Emeth. Two musicians accompanied the festive procession along the route, with additional musicians added once the Torah arrived at the synagogue building.
A few presentations after the lively dancing helped attendees get to know Braun and the incredible life he led. Rabbi Kaufman spoke about Braun’s longtime membership at Ohav Emeth and described him as “innovative and courageous,” even as a young boy when he put bricks in his shoes to appear taller and older to avoid being sent to the gas chambers during the Shoah.
Jason Jurkevich, representing the family in speaking about Alan Braun’s life, referred to writings of Rav Asher Weiss in which he compared the letters of a Torah to the soul of the Jewish people, with every person being a letter in the Torah. “My father-in-law was, and is, a literal embodiment of what Rav Weiss was writing about. He and his family—along with millions of others- went through both the metaphorical and literal fire of the Shoah. Yet, as we read on Yom Kippur, like the letters of the sefer Torah that Rabbi Chanina saw flying and escaping the fire, my father-in-law continued to live on, and did so as a proud Jew. For that reason, there can be no more fitting memorial than dedicating this sefer Torah in his memory to the shul that he loved.”
Braun was liberated just a few weeks before his bar mitzvah, and never had a chance to read from the Torah in a formal ceremony. “We thought it would be a fitting honor for his memory if this sefer Torah would be used when bar mitzvah boys read from the Torah on their bar mitzvah. We hope that each bar mitzvah boy will be inspired by my father-in-law’s story and my father-in-law’s neshama will have an aliyah.”
The words embroidered on the Torah cover also had a special meaning, “Yehi Ratzon Mitzvot Kidush HaShem.” Jurkevich added that Braun had told his children about the time “he was put in line to go to the gas chamber, and expected to say those words when he reached shamayim. By a miracle, one of many he experienced, he was spared. Everyone who knew him recognized that he went on to live a life that was itself a sanctification of God’s name.”
After the Shoah, Braun made his way to the United States with two surviving siblings and joined cousins who were already here. He made a home in Edison with his wife, son and daughter, and made Ohav Emeth an important part of his life.
Congregant Alan Borck of Edison said he davened with the Jurkevich/Braun family for many years. “Mr. Braun was the warmest and friendliest person... We miss him.”
Suzanne Braun Jurkevich added that the Torah was written in memory of her father, his parents who perished in the Shoah and other close relatives who passed away. Their names are inscribed in the wooden handles of the Torah. “My father was a good man. Quiet, good natured, extremely generous, honest, humble. No one could ever say anything but nice things about him.” She was amazed at how many people came out to honor her father on such a beautiful, early summer day.
Dalia Braun said that she “wanted to have a way for her husband to live forever, and now he will through the sefer Torah. Each time it is used in shul, each time a bar mitzvah boy reads from it, his memory lives on.” She described the project of writing the sefer Torah in Israel and ”seeing it come together from the very beginning, until the last letters written in my home,” as being very moving. “Having the completed Torah in my home was uplifting and comforting, and so very special that words cannot even describe.”
It was a bittersweet day for the family and friends who participated in Braun’s solemn unveiling in the morning and then the festive Torah dedication in the afternoon. There could be no greater remembrance for a very special person whose Judaism was so important to him.
“Today was such a meaningful and emotional day,” said Mindy Waizer, a community member. “We celebrated the birth of a Torah dedicated in honor of an exceptional man. The dedication was a wonderful tribute but a little bittersweet, as remembrances of our friend’s father brought tears to our eyes. Especially when Jason related that since his father-in-law had not been able to read from the Torah on his bar mitzvah day... the family hopes that this Torah will be used by bar mitzvah boys reading their parshiot aloud in shul in Mr. Braun’s merit.”
By Deborah Melman