By Rabbi Samuel B. Press, Post 587

As I began to think about what to write, I thought back on my beginning of a military career.  I am a third generation American.  Each generation has family who served in the military.  In my family, one person was disappointed.  My grandfather was a Marine.  He served with Teddy Roosevelt, was on the White Ships mission and had service wounds.  He was disappointed that I did not choose to be a Marine!

As did all in JWV, we entered the military coming from different backgrounds.  I had just finished receiving rabbinical ordination and entered a new “world” about which I knew nothing except what I read. My first assignment was a Strategic Air Command base in Loring, Maine.   Upon arrival I was told I would also be the Stockade Chaplain.  I quickly learned a stockade was not like I knew (a pen for animals), but in the military, it was the word for a prison.  My first day I got a call from the Stockade that they needed me.  I went to the building and was told an airman was contemplating suicide and I had to see him.  I said a psychiatrist would be better.  I was told that the psychiatrist would come in the morning.  I saw the airman, and I asked him why?  As he told me his story, I was about in tears.  When he finished, I was ready to commit suicide.  I knew nothing what to say.  Finally, I told the person that this was my first day.  I really do not know what to tell you.  I said if you die now, everyone will know I failed.  Please wait until the psychiatrist sees you.  The next morning I got a call from the stockade.  The airman attempted suicide and left a note for you.  It read, “Tell Chaplain Press I waited until after the psychiatrist saw me!”

My USAF career was one of or the most meaningful, worthwhile experiences of my life.  The military deserves accolades and praise for the quality of service people and their values.  I lived and saw the values of our country in its finest expression.  I saw heroism, often unrecognized, and also, the meaning of dedication, loyalty and a commitment of self, not for tangible gain, but for the ideals and love for our country.

In thinking of this column, I began to reflect on Torah readings.  We began with Genesis – not only with the creation of the world, but the story of the first families; not always happy stories.  As Tolstoy writes, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  In our stories, each story has rivalry, discontent, hurt and ill will.  Rabbi Soloveitchek taught that when we get to the story of Joseph making amends and forgiving his brothers, we now can enter the building of a nation.  Families and a people can work together with harmony, forgiveness and that abstract word “love” when we act in a loving way.  Winston Churchill in his solutions how to respond in war, found his first lesson, we all can choose.  Our challenge is what to choose: With the disharmony in our moment in time, with a divided country on the right and left, a constant is to use the pen to denigrate and “destroy” them with whom we disagree.  Most often we see parroted words to insure the writer is defined as part of the good.  Too often the hate filled opinions are not truthful, and their certainty never will convince others.

As I write now these thoughts, we are in the scripture readings of Exodus – the beginnings of our people. We read of slavery and freedom, the lodestone of our religion, in the giving of the Torah at Sinai. We read portions detailing commandments – laws, thoughts, ideas and visions from which we can read study and understand with our own perceptions.

We end this cycle with the celebratory moment of our freedom with the holiday of Passover.  The holiday said to be the most celebrated holiday on the Jewish calendar. Families, friends, guests join in a festive meals with matzoh and special foods prepared with different ingredients, wine, and rituals, and it culminates with the reading of the Haggadah – a book with not only the story of our people, but the time when generations meet and find memories.  Rabbi Soloveitchek once said when we study Talmud in our class, so do all the Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Akiba, Rabbi Gamliel, and myriads of others.  So too in our homes, there is a living presence of grandparents, ancestors, and the children engaged in the Seder, who are our future.

In the autumn of 1914 the German army stood at the gates of Paris and the Kaiser believed that his victory was at hand and that his troops “would return home before the leaves fall.”  The Kaiser believed the war was won. His arrogance betrayed him. The war lasted 4 more years, with unimagined proportions of bloodletting and destruction. At the battle of the Marne the German army was stopped. We know the German Army was no longer strong, and the results were so horrendous for all.

The Talmud records when Rabbi Akiba visited the site of the destruction of the Temple, all with him cried. He laughed. He said this was predicted, but G-d also predicted we have a wonderful blessed future. We make this future. It is in our hands.

The service ends, with the positive words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  Not a prayer, but the reality that wherever we are, we can choose to create a city of peace, an ambiance of love in our homes and all living in peace with in our hearts – with all others and all God’s creations.

And may we, expressing our indebtedness to JWV, (and like in Dayton, our grand chapters) live the words from Les Miz:

“Remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By PNC Sheldon Ohren

Tax time is here. While most attention has been paid to the federal tax overhaul, most provisions will not affect tax returns filed for 2017.

There is one change you may wish to consider as you fill out your forms. The tax law expanded the availability of the deduction for medical expenses not just for 2018, but also for 2017. The deduction previously applied to medical expenses over 10 percent of adjusted gross income, but the law lowered the bar to 7.5 percent for those two years.  So if your adjusted gross income is $40,000, you can write off medical expenses over $3,000 rather than $4,000. But there is a catch, you must itemize to take the deduction. After 2018, the bar is scheduled to move back up to 10 percent.

I will now focus on veterans, especially those recently returning to civilian life.

The first thing to know is that pension payments received after retirement from the military are taxable and should be reported. If you also receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs you do not need to report these disability benefits on your personal income tax returns. They may include the following items: (1) Disability compensation and pension payments paid either to veterans or their families; (2) Grants for homes designed for wheelchair living; (3) Grants for motor vehicles for Veterans who lost their sight or use of their limbs, or (4) Benefits under a dependent care assistance program.

The Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a Federal tax credit available to employers who hire veterans and individuals from other eligible target groups with employment barriers. Veterans who have service connected disabilities, are unemployed for at least four weeks or are receiving SNAP food stamp benefits are also eligible to help their employers through the WOTC.

Employers may also consider taking advantage of these generous tax credits once you are hired. The credit can vary from $2400 to $9000 (dollar for dollar tax reductions) depending upon your circumstances.

In addition, there are federal tax credits available to the general public as well, (e.g. child tax credit and the earned income tax credit). Various state credits may also help, consult your tax advisor for more information.

Lastly, general tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing and accelerating deductions as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning. For example, you may consider one or more of the following: (1) Selling any investments on which you may have a gain or loss or (2) Prepaying deductible expenses such as charitable contributions this year (2017) using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken on when the expense was charged on the credit account and not when the bill was paid.

This is far from a comprehensive review. These are some of the highlights, and I recommend you have a thorough review of your tax situation with your tax professional.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By Jennifer Brande, Post 126

The #MeToo movement is the latest word in the American vernacular. With Hollywood, politics and everything in between being touched by the accusations and proven acts of sexual assault and harassment, the one completely glaring missing area is the United States Armed Forces. Occasionally it comes to light, such as the Marines United Facebook group, which went to great lengths to not make the pervasive sexual military culture invisible to the public so that their pristine image of duty, honor and country would not be tarnished. Another example, would be the Army Major General, who was brought back on to Active Duty to be prosecuted for alleged rape multiple times with a minor, decades after the offenses occurred, although that example is not standard and the litmus to see if this will happen in the future is unknown at this time.

The statistics from a 2017 report found that 4.3% of female service members and 0.6% of men have experienced some form of sexual assault. The movement takes on different names in other countries around the world such as “גם אנחנו” which translated into English is #UsToo and was popularized by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. No matter what the hashtag attached to it is, this issue is not being addressed with any sense of definitive certainty.

The armed forces is supposed to be a sacred trust where the words “esprit de corps, brotherhood and battle buddies” are constantly preached, yet even with service members who are specifically trained to work on the prevention of these atrocities, the reporting is slowly coming into a more clear picture. In the last reporting period, military report rates actually rose 9%, which experts agree that number will rise as people find their voice to speak out becomes stronger due to the high visibility of people in the higher ranks or positions of authority being disciplined. The most important part of this report does show that military assaults dropped from 20,300 in 2014 to 14,900, but is this because of actual disciplinary action or people leaving the service (sometimes by way of retirement where they keep their benefits, despite allegations), or by reassignment elsewhere?

The mission of the Jewish War Veterans is defined as: Seeking to prove that Jews do proudly serve and fight in the US Armed Forces. As we fight to keep our 120 year old organization strong and thriving, we need to be doing more to ensure that, with our long history of honorable service, we are at the forefront of making sure that we are a part of that solution, as well as ensuring that if something does happen, we are the people who can be there to support our troops.

What are we, as a service organization planning to do about this epidemic? Have we considered having our own military sexual trauma teams available at every post, meeting or event? Is there a way to recruit more Jewish medical professionals into the armed forces to join our ranks and provide a lifeline for those who will need help, or come forth with a claim in the future? What can we do that no one else is doing to help keep our battle buddy, friends and brothers/sisters safe, while also providing for those who need help and may not be Jewish? We have our national and local conventions, and fight on Capitol Hill for so many important missions and we need to extend this to include military sexual trauma.

There is so much that can be done and the narrative for the #MeToo Movement should read that we lead the way in actions and deeds, just as we have for over 120 years and will do in the future. Be the voice for the silent and fight for those in the shadows.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018