The troopship USAT Dorchester was torpedoed and sunk on Feb. 3, 1943. Four Army chaplains gave up their own life jackets to others and calmly prayed as the ship slipped under the North Atlantic waters.

The troopship USAT Dorchester was torpedoed and sunk on Feb. 3, 1943. Four Army chaplains gave up their own life jackets to others and calmly prayed as the ship slipped under the North Atlantic waters. (Facebook)

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Members of the Jewish War Veterans across the Capital District Council recently joined with Albany Post 105 of the JWV to remember the service and sacrifice of the Four Chaplains of World War II and present the 58th annual Brotherhood Award to Rabbis Jonathan Rubenstein and Linda Motzkin of Saratoga Springs.

For more than a half-century, the annual event has honored the four Army chaplains who gave their lives in the sinking of the troopship Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943. The presentation of the Brotherhood Award honors those whose services and devotion in the practice of brotherhood are deserving of community recognition.

“We honor people who, in their lifetime, have shown and given the type of selfless service that is commensurate with the legacy of the Four Chaplains,” said Fred Altman, Albany Post 105 commander, during the award presentation on Sunday, March 5 at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady.

The Four Chaplains aboard the Dorchester were Reverend George Fox, a Methodist minister from Lewiston, Penn., Rabbi Alexander Goode from Brooklyn, Dutch Reformed Reverend Clark Poling from Schenectady, and Father John Washington, a Roman Catholic priest from Newark, N.J.

The ship was torpedoed shortly before 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1943. The chaplains provided comfort and direction to soldiers as the ship rapidly sank. They gave up their own life jackets to others and calmly prayed as the ship slipped under the North Atlantic waters.

“The ceremony, representing the selfless service and courage of the Four Chaplains on the torpedoed and sinking SS Dorchester in 1943, takes place at the former pulpit of one of those immortal chaplains, Clark Poling’s First Reformed Church in Schenectady,” Past Post 105 Commander Lance Allen Wang said in a press release.

The Jewish War Veterans have held an annual ceremony to remember the Four Chaplains and recognize those who live up to their legacy since 1966, Altman said, three years before even the national Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation established its own annual award event.

The rabbis, a married couple who retired on Jan. 1 from Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs after 36 years, had been co-rabbis serving the Jewish community of Saratoga as it grew from around 60 to 190 families.

More than 80 representatives from across the community attended the program, including Gold Star Mothers, veterans organizations, representatives of the First Reformed Church, the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, Capital District Jewish Community Centers, members of the New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, the region’s congressional representative, Congressman Paul Tonko and the mayor of Saratoga Springs Ron Kim.

“Each year we talk about the legacy of the Four Chaplains as ‘unity without uniformity,’ to highlight that as Americans, we can and must work together, across our differences, whether it be our faiths or our politics to do better,” Altman said in the release.

Beyond their service to their congregation and community, Rabbis Motzkin and Rubenstein each pursued efforts to assist and support those most in need.

Rabbi Rubenstein led Temple Sinai’s Slice of Heaven bakery project, a non-profit bakery operated from the synagogue’s kitchen which continues to produce baked goods to help those less fortunate. Rabbi Motzkin, one of only 13 female scribes in the world, initiated the Community Torah Project, a long-term process of making a Torah scroll, involving more than 4,000 participants in the U.S. and internationally.

The two combined their work in a project known as Bread and Torah in 2004 and share their passions with interactive educational programs around the world. The couple have been educators and ambassadors of goodwill to 15 states and Washington, D.C., and to Jewish communities in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Hungary and Poland.

“We accept this award with deep humility, gratitude and a sense of honor,” said Rabbi Rubenstein in the release.

“I can honestly say that I don’t know what I would have done on the deck of the Dorchester on that fateful night,” he continued. “And not knowing that, it motivates me to [be] the best I can.”

Rabbi Motzkin drew parallels to the visual of the Four Chaplains, holding hands together in their individual faith, to support each other.

Motzkin said the pair just returned from a trip to Israel where they visited a local school for both Israeli and Palestinian Arab children. The program is called Hand in Hand and Motzkin said she couldn’t help but draw the parallel to the Four Chaplains. The school provides bilingual, integrated education to more than 2,000 students enrolled in six Hand in Hand schools from Jerusalem to Galilee.

Yad B’yad, hand-in-hand, we embrace each other for strength and progress, as the Four Chaplains did for each other and the soldiers they served on the Dorchester, Motzkin said.

“I am humbled. I’m very aware of everything we’ve done in 36 years,” she said in the release. “But this award is really accepted in the name of all of you, who we have been blessed to join hands with for all these years.”

“So much hand-in-hand work is never acknowledged in our community,” she continued. “We’re all working hand in hand, and that is perhaps the lasting legacy of the Four Chaplains.”

Gary Ginsburg, senior vice commander for the Jewish War Veterans Department of New York said the Capital District chapter executed an outstanding Four Chaplains memorial service and recognition ceremony, thanking all those involved, including the members of JWV Posts 105, 106, 36 and 401.

(c)2023 The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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