For Memorial Day, Nate Bloom, who writes Noshes, our page 4 column, for us, sent us this recently rediscovered letter that his cousin, Murray Hoffer, wrote to students who belonged to his synagogue in Jersey City.
Pvt. Hoffer wrote during World War II. He was on a troop ship, going to England, and then on the Battle of the Bulge.
Dear Fellows and Girls: To some of you, I am well-known. To others I might have been mentioned in some casual conversation. However, what I have to say now should be of interest to every one of you. I’d like to describe how I spent today — Yom Kippur.
Many boys have gone overseas — yes, but not too many have spent our highest holiday on the Atlantic. At Nilah services tonight, I decided to let you know of my state and implore every one of you to carry on the good work of our congregation until we boys come home.
At the morning service, we had about 100 people. There were women and men of various services, of various nations. Our ship carried no Torah and no Bible. But we had more than those obstacles to overcome. We had only about 40 prayer books. For our prayer shawls, we wore our life preservers.
Our services were interrupted by an Emergency Muster. This was practice to abandon ship in case we were hit by enemy torpedoes. Yes their subs are still around and we have to guard against them. And then again, we have to guard against them. And then again, we were using a portion of the deck to hold our services as we were not fortunate to have a synagogue of even your size.
There was no need to tell this congregation to stop talking or to keep order. These fellows and girls knew what was before them and we prayed as none of us prayed before. This Yom Kippur meant a great deal to all of us. And fasting on the high seas meant a lot to all of us. And fasting on the high seas is not easy. I fasted for about two days — Yom Kippur and seasickness causing the lengthy fast, to be truthful.
We prayed not only for ourselves but for our folks back home. We want you to keep up those institutions and those ideals that we have left. We want to take up where we left off — when we again touch America’s shores. As we said in one of our prayers — “O Lord, Thou art with my distant loved ones even while Thou art here with me as Thou hearkenest to mine, bless us and keep us united in spirit until we meet again.”
Pvt. Hoffer’s letter ended here. This is the note that was attached to it by the person who sent it on to the young people at Ohab Sholem in 1944:
Pvt. Murray Hoffer Overseas Tells Young People How He Spent Yom Kippur on the High Seas
Pvt. Murray G. Hoffer, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hoffer, of Wade St., who is stationed somewhere in England with the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army, wrote the following letter to the young men and women of the Young People’s Congregation Ohab Sholem, 126 Rutgers Ave., in Jersey City.
Pvt. Hoffer, now attached to the medical corps, is a graduate of the Yeshivah Jacob Joseph. At the time of his enlistment he was a pre-medical student at N. Y. U.
And here’s what happened.
Private Murray G. Hoffer, who was an Army medic, was killed in action on February 6, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. He was 19 years old.
He was survived by his parents, Harry and Gertrude; by his younger brother, Irwin, a Navy veteran who died recently, and by a younger sister, Edith. Murray’s parents were quite young in 1945, and they had another son, David, who was born in 1947.
Irwin Hoffer’s synagogue, Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex in Verona, found this letter and posted it. Sadly, Beth Ahm closed in 2017, but I found the letter online.
Congregation Ohab Shalom in Jersey City also has closed. But Yeshivah Jacob Joseph is still thriving, although not in Jersey City — today is has a campus on Staten Island, and another in Edison.