By Ben Kane

On August 19th, a Jewish war veteran named Neil Schaffer passed away in a Los Angeles hotel room. He had no known family, only a few friends, no job, and no home to call his own. In March of this year, the JWV was made aware of his passing, and sought to recognize him in a manner that befit a member of the tribe. JWV-CA Chaplain Dov Cohen and Department Commander Greg Lee led the efforts to memorialize Mr. Schaffer.

Chaplain Dov Cohen is the National Cemetery Foundation President, as well as the JWV National Chairman of the “End Homelessness Now” program. He helped put together several memorial programs in Mr. Schaffer’s memory—one at the Los Angeles City Hall, one at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, and ensured that he was honored at the Annual Gala at the Reagan Presidential Library. Mr. Schaffer’s memorial service at the National Cemetery was the first to be conducted in the remodeled Bob Hope Chapel and served as the start of a new program with the goal of memorializing deceased homeless veterans. The National Cemetery is currently working to provide military funerals to deceased veterans providing buglers, flag folding ceremonies, and all the other crucial parts of the military funeral before laying them to rest in a recently constructed columbarium.

The JWV department of California is very active in the fight against veteran homelessness. Posts in the area are working for the sake of veterans with groups like the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW, and more. From job and benefits assistance to working behind the scenes on pro-veteran legislation, these partnerships help ensure that veterans of all faiths have a higher chance of getting the recognition, respect, and assistance they deserve. The JWV is honored to do its part in serving the American Jewish veteran community, throughout their years of service and afterwards.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

Member: Aaron Scheinberg

Post: Col. Irving Heymont Post 299

Current Residence: Hedgesville, WV

Military Service: West Point class of ’03 (Mickey Marcus award recipient from JWV), United States Army, Infantry Platoon Leader and Civil Affairs Officer in Iraq (OIF 05-07) with 2-8 Infantry, 4th ID

Member Since Year: 2003

1. What drove you to join the military?

The examples of service from my family and a desire to be part of something bigger than myself. Both my grandfathers served in the Army. My father’s dad, Sam Scheinberg, was a combat engineer in WW2 and helped to liberate France and concentration camps in France and Germany. Both of my parents served in a different way as public educators. I joined the Army through West Point and my younger brother, Joshua, joined the Air Force shortly after 9/11.

2. How did you get introduced to JWV?

I knew of JWV through my grandfather, but really got to know the organization and members as a cadet at West Point. JWV truly helped me get through West Point by building a community at the Jewish Chapel on Post. Members, many who served in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam would sponsor our weekly Shabbat dinners, Sunday bagels, and would always provide mentorship as a group of folks who have been through what we were facing. My wife, Natasha, and I were later married at the West Point Jewish Chapel.

3. What was your most memorable Jewish experience while serving?

Flying from Haswah, Iraq, to Baghdad to meet up with the only Jewish chaplain in Iraq and helping to put on a Passover Seder for Jewish soldiers across theatre. The best part was seeing Jewish West Point graduates who I knew as cadets coming together from bases and outposts all over Iraq.

4. Is there a piece of legislation coming before Congress that you find that will best serve our veterans?

One of the highlights of my career in service is working for Senator Manchin on Veterans legislation. Senator Manchin has been on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee since he was first elected and is very active on veterans issues as West Virginia has one of the highest rates of military service in the country. Right now, a big focus of ours is on economic opportunities for veterans and suicide prevention.

5. What is your favorite movie and does it relate with your experience in the military?

There Will be Blood. I don’t think it relates to my military service, it’s just an awesome movie.

6. Who is your favorite superhero and why?

It’s always been Superman for me. When I was in high school, I won 7 gold medals in the Maccabee Games as a sprinter on the track & field team. I wore a Superman shirt after every event and folks started calling me “The Fastest Jew in America”

7. What is your favorite traditional Jewish food?

Everything bagel, veggie cream cheese, and lox with a side of creamed herring.

By Dr. Marsha Schjolberg, CAPT, MSC, USN (Retired)

In the last issue of The Jewish Veteran, it was reported that suicide prevention and homelessness among veterans are the top two issues that the VA is focused on eliminating. Clearly, these issues are interrelated. We all know that despair and a sense of emptiness hastens the loss of life.

Despite the current climate of economic growth, homelessness among veterans continues to be a growing phenomenon. Although veteran disfranchisement, which plays out as “homelessness” effects every state, the sunbelt states have the largest populations of homeless veterans. It’s hard to be homeless in the winter in North Dakota; not so much on the beaches of Southern California, Florida, and the warm dry climate of Arizona.

As an example, California, which currently represents less than 4% of all enlistees, hosts 24% of all homeless veterans in the United States! According to numerous government studies previously submitted to JWV, 99% of all homeless veterans are enlisted and have served only one enlistment before separating from the service. 98% of all homeless veterans in California are NOT from California. Moreover, the face of the homeless veteran has changed. No longer are we seeing large numbers of Vietnam veterans, but rather young men and a growing number of women with children are sleeping on the streets.
Veterans’ organizations have stepped up to develop post enlistment training centers and homeless shelters. The military has stepped up and enhanced its Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) which helps military forces transition to civilian jobs, and the GI Bill has been enhanced to support both academic universities and technical training programs. Yet the problem grows. Government and support agencies have developed food banks, housing units, training programs as well as psychosocial services, but these agencies often feel like they are swimming against the tide. Why?

An “all volunteer” force attracts a cross section of people. Patriotism with the desire to serve has always been the overriding reason to join the service, but many also join to improve their personal circumstances by leaving undesirable environments and unpleasant family circumstances. The military becomes the new “family.” Once the enlistment ends, the “new family” breaks up. Then what?

As a career Medical Service Corps officer of 28 years with a background in public health, and a doctorate in at risk education/ educational leadership, the issues seems clear. Disenfranchisement is the big nut. In the military each person is part of a team, a family, with a specifically defined role and set of expectations. We are “all in this together.” As a civilian, that same level of support often does not exist.

Moreover, homelessness not only affects that individual veteran and his/her family, but has a major impact on the VA medical system and the veterans living in the area. VAMC’s in sunbelt states are often overwhelmed with long waits to access care, where other states with fewer veterans are not as severely impacted and may have services that are underutilized.
For 25 years I have been volunteering at STAND DOWN, which is part of a national movement to help homeless veterans. Each year, several thousand homeless veterans and their families (kids under 16) gather in cities up and down the coast of California as well as other states.

Veterans spend four days living in a tent city being assisted by physicians, dentists, psychologists, clergy, counselors, and veterans court services. Additionally, they are able to obtain new clothes, job counseling, hair cuts, showers, food, housing information, VA benefit information and even the opportunity to obtain a “free ticket” back home. Last year, I befriended a homeless veteran and his teenage girls at STAND DOWN. He was a former Marine. We talked for a long time. He was part of the unit who brought down Manuel Noriega. He left the service in the 90’s and has been homeless ever since. He thought he could “make it” in San Diego but had no skills beyond being an infantryman and just couldn’t get it together. “Suddenly, I had no one to tell me what to do,” he said. I asked him if he wanted free plane tickets for his family so that he could go home to Kansas City. He declined. He told his parents and friends back home that he was successful and felt that he couldn’t go home a failure. Sadly, his story is not unique. In fact, it is all too common.

However, distance and time change people. We mature and grow. The importance of psycho/social network cannot be overstated. The veteran has a network of high school friends and family to help guide them, provide them with a couch if necessary, and the local veterans groups would be welcoming. Familiarity and a sense of belonging is paramount. It’s a win- win.

So what to do? In 2017, Jewish War Veterans of the United States passed a resolution that would require one time enlistees to be discharged at their place of entry unless they had unique circumstances that would demonstrate a need to stay in their current state. Those circumstances included being married to a working spouse, being accepted to college or trade school in the area, having a post enlistment job offer, or having a medical condition that could only be handled locally. What have we done with that resolution? To my knowledge, nothing!

Fellow veterans, talk is cheap. Let’s be bold and mindful of the end game: the elimination of suicide and homelessness among our fellow veterans. And let’s move forward with our resolution.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

By Herb Rosenbleeth

The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia will be turning 50 next year. The League’s sole mission, fully supported for decades by JWV, is “to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War.”

JWV has been and is a supporter of the National League of Families in every way we can. Our national commander almost always speaks of the POW-MIA issue during our presentation to a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees each year. JWV flies the POW-MIA flag at every meeting of our national convention and at every meeting of our National Executive Committee. I personally participate at the League’s annual national meeting each June. Our departments and posts keep those who are MIA in their minds.

The National League of Families was founded in the late 1960’s. The US government’s policy was to keep a low profile on the POW/MIA issue and urged families not to publicly discuss the issue. Realizing that this approach was not working, the first POW/MIA story was published in October 1968. Because of that publicity, the families began reaching out to each other and the group began to grow. Some POW/MIA family member groups were able to meet in Paris with the North Vietnamese representatives. Also, thousands of Americans sent telegraphic inquiries concerning the prisoners and the missing, marking the beginning of the issue becoming more widely known.

In May 1970, the League’s charter and by-laws were adopted in a meeting at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Since that time, a seven-member board of directors has provided guidance and management of the organization.
The League’s national office is in Falls Church, Virginia. It operates under the direction of the Chairman of the Board and is staffed by two full-time employees and two part-time archival document specialists. Ann Mills-Griffiths, MIA sister, is the Chairman of the Board and the principal spokesperson of the League. Ann has been the League’s mainstay since the late 1970’s. Another mainstay of the National League of Families is Richard Childress, who served in Vietnam with JWV’s National Judge Advocate, Harvey Weiner.

As of February, there were still 1,589 American missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. I remember when the number was around 2,500, and I recall going to meetings where live sightings were reported. I also vividly recall when the POW/MIA flag, with the words, “You are not forgotten,” first appeared. The League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag, other than “Old Glory,” to ever fly over the White House. On March 9, 1989, a POW/MIA flag that had previously flown over the White House was permanently installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, which recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag and designated it “as the symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia…” The Department of Veterans Affairs displays the POW/MIA flag 24/7. The National Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and World War II Memorials also display the POW/MIA flag daily.

I still have a vivid recollection from my childhood of a POW/MIA case. My mother’s close friend, Mrs. Birnbaum, had a son who was a navigator on bombing missions over Germany. His name was Sanford Birnbaum. Sanford was last seen bailing out of his shot-up plane and was never seen or heard from again. After the war, Mr. and Mrs. Birnbaum traveled to civilian hospitals in Germany to see if they could find him. A missing, unaccounted for individual is a tragedy.
As long as one person remains unaccounted for, JWV will be a supporter of the League.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

By Harrison Heller

HBO has a fairly new documentary series titled VICE. Each hour-long episode features 1 or 2 stories that do not get much coverage in the mainstream news. Their most notable episode was their report on the ‘Unite the Right’ march in Charlottesville, VA. This event brought America’s ugly side back to the surface with torch carrying white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanting “Blood and soil,” “white lives matter,” and “Jews will not replace us,” as well as the reemergence of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.

Since the events in Charlottesville, there have been two high-profile anti-Semitic attacks, the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA and the attack at the Chabad in Poway, CA. Two African Americans were gunned down outside a Kroger grocery store after the shooter attempted to get into an African American church in Louisville, KY. In a ten-day span, three African American churches were burned down in Louisiana. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 40 people died at the hands of “alt-right killers” in 2018, compared to 17 in 2017. As of 2018, the SPLC has tracked a record high 1,020 hate groups operating in the United States. This is the fourth straight year with a 30% increase.

There are some people in these groups who experience a change of heart and realize that hate leads you down an even darker path, and they want to escape. TM Garret, a former skinhead and Klansman, said, “Hate is a fulltime job. 24/7 paranoia.” Some of these people have literally worn their hate and ideology on their sleeves and bare them on their hearts. Romey Muns, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, said, “Seeing all the hate tattoos I have on me…it’s embarrassing.”

In early May, I came across a YouTube video from Vice entitled Covering Up Racist Tattoos: Erasing the Hate. The video featured the story of a campaign called “Erase the Hate” that provides free tattoo cover-ups for former gang members and hate/extremist group members. The program was started by TM Garret in August 2017 at Sickside Tattoos in Horn Lake, MS. Since the program started, they have expanded to several studios in 6 states and have given cover-ups to 100-150 people.

Approximately 70% are gang tattoo cover-ups and 30% are hate tattoo cover-ups. Upon viewing this video, I reached out to TM and Sickside Tattoos about wanting to learn more about this program. One of JWV’s cornerstones is to combat anti-Semitism and hate, and this is a real-life example of that and the ultimate change of heart, as well as a true second chance. I heard back from TM almost instantaneously. He and I arranged a night where we could talk about his experience and learn more about the “Erase the Hate” campaign. Everything in TM’s life was a lead-up to this campaign and prepared him to become the leader and champion for those wanting to escape the movement.

The way most people get involved with hate/extremist groups is falling into a cycle of validating beliefs, rooted in fear and distrust, and finding likeminded people. This is no different than TM’s story. I wanted to learn more about the “Erase the Hate” campaign, and in order to learn that, I had to know the inspiration, the spark that lit the fire and became a beacon of hope to escape.

During our conversation, TM told me the story of how he got involved in the white supremacist movement and how he rose through the ranks. TM was born and raised in small, conservative town in southern Germany of approximately 500 people. As he was growing up he described himself as a bit of a loner and was constantly bullied. He eventually found a way to get the attention he so craved, and that was through telling racist and anti-Semitic jokes with a group of several kids. TM got a sense of gratification, so he kept on telling jokes. Through the attention that the jokes gave him, he became known as the “Nazi Kid.” He hated the nickname and hated the label, but the bullying suddenly stopped.

In middle school he was handed a tape from a friend that had hard rock music. The music featured lyrics and themes that were very familiar to TM. Themes of being misunderstood, being Nazis “but they weren’t,” and nationalism. With each new tape he received, the music became harder, and messages became more of white supremacy and hate. At the same time, he started taking on the image of a skinhead. TM became self-radicalized through the music and was indoctrinated by age 15. In 1997 he formed a band that featured music about pride, saving the country, saving the white race, and wanting to ban immigrants and “kick out all the foreigners.” The only black person he knew at the time was an African American girl, whose father was an American serviceman stationed in Germany. That was when he heard the N-word the very first time – out of the mouth of the same kid who gave TM the cassette tape.

In the late 1990’s TM was asked to join a German Ku Klux Klan group, but it was not what he had expected. The internet became a huge recruiting tool for white supremacist groups and allowed them to communicate with ease. As TM’s doubts about the group grew, he was encouraged by a klavern in Mississippi to open a new KKK group in Germany.

In 2000, he flew to Mississippi and was inducted at a cross-burning ceremony. He flew back home as the Grand Dragon for the Realm of Germany and Imperial Representative for Europe. TM was convinced that, “it was not about hate, it was about love for our own race. But at the end, it was about hate.”

As we spoke about the ideology of the German KKK, TM told me that the German far-right was more Pagan, a person “can’t be anti-Semitic and Christian at the same time. Jesus was Jewish.” He told me that the blood drop in the middle of the KKK emblem represented the blood of Jesus Christ, and this whole concept confused him. For TM, the identity part became much more important in his new group and the racism became far less important. This caused a lot of infighting within the new organization, between TM and other members.

In the Fall of 2002 the police and government began to knock on the doors of members, and informed them they were being investigated. TM contacted a trusted member and told him that he was resigning and that he wanted to disconnect. TM and his family moved about 100 miles away, where they rented a place owned by a Turkish Muslim landlord.

After settling-in, TM was asked by the landlord if he could help him with some IT work. TM was broke and looking for work, so he accepted the offer. Several months prior, he says that he would have never taken the job. Since the job was taking longer than expected, the landlord made some Turkish tea and pancakes. TM refused at first because maybe he touched the food. He later thought that it could be rude in the Turkish culture to refuse the food. He believed that if he refused, that the landlord would turn into a Muslim terrorist or something horrible would happen. So, he took a bite and a cup of tea. This went on for months and months. TM later decided to not take the money, he wanted to help and be a good neighbor.

One day, the landlord invited TM over for dinner with his family. It was baked chicken, oven fries, and fish soup. TM laughed and told me that he hates fish soup. The fish soup was put in front of him, and he paused. He was afraid to reject the food, as judgmental thoughts raced through his mind. He built up the courage and said to his landlord, “I can’t eat it. I don’t like fish soup.” The landlord’s wife smiled, took it away, and brought him some chicken. TM was amazed and tried to comprehend what happened. “What had just happened here? I was sitting here so judgmental expecting the bad stereotypical reaction that I was taught, and it did not happen.”

In 2012, TM was 10 years removed from the white supremacist movement and he had moved to Memphis, TN. There he opened a music studio. In 2016, TM became involved in civil and human rights. It was the time when police brutality hit the media and Black Lives Matter was launched. TM realized that there was still a gap between the black and white communities, and everybody was now protesting. After the protests, everybody would go home and think they’ve done enough. He did not agree and thought more must be done to bridge “gaps that were created by racism, ignorance, and hate.” As part of these initiatives, TM started the non-profit C.H.A.N.G.E (Care, Hope, Awareness, Need, Give, Education), along with Pastor Ray Johnson, a former member of the Bloods street gang.

In 2017, TM paired-up with Sickside Tattoo Studio shop manager, Drew Darby, and owner, Jack Flores, to form Erase the Hate. TM once had a strong desire to remove the tattoos that reminded him of his past, and the people at Sickside knew other people in TM’s position. They now work together to combat hate and help those who are trying to erase their past by providing gang and racist tattoo cover-ups for free.

On May 3, 2018, TM was featured in a short film by Chapman University titled, Rewired. The film tells this same story of TM’s journey in the white supremacist movement. He was invited to the screening at the university after which he visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. After visiting a full-size replica of a gas chamber from a Nazi concentration camp, he decided he wanted to interact more with the Jewish community. He soon became involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he continues to speak. After the largest anti-Semitic attack in United States history at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, PA, this cemented his further involvement with the Jewish community. Later this year, TM will be speaking at Alpha Epsilon Pi’s 106th Convention in Alexandria, VA, during a pre-convention session on the Tikun Olam track. He has also spoken at multiple Jewish day schools.

At the end of our conversation, TM told me his birth name, Achim. A former skinhead and Klansman was born with a Hebrew name.

If you know anyone, or if a friend or family member knows anyone, who is trying to escape the white supremacist movement or a street gang, please contact TM Garret at info@changememphis.org or text 662.671.2470 to get help.

To learn more about TM, the Erase the Hate campaign, and to see videos about the program, visit www.tmgarret.com

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

What unbelievably frustrating times. On the one hand, we live in the freest country that has ever existed; despite its flaws. Flaws are not the surprise. After all, we are human. Freedom is. It’s not typical at all of governments to be by and for the people, yet that’s what the USA has been successful at for 240 years. But what the freedom has begotten as of late has not been the pursuit of happiness – the recurring shootings, including two at synagogues in the past year as well as 4 attempted arsons of synagogues the week I am writing this – show that something is very off. I don’t pretend to have the ultimate answers to these troubling issues, but perhaps we can take the moment to focus on three points that each of us can advance in our own lives, to better impact the world around us.

Self, mission, and action. Every individual in the armed services understands that one must have a clear identity and knowledge of our responsibilities. This leads us to focus in on our mission, and most importantly, to get it done. As Jews, both as individuals and as a nation, we need to reflect likewise, and perhaps, apropos of the holiday of Shavuot, we can use G-d’s introductory line, His mission statement to the Jewish people, to do so. “And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Firstly, “And you shall be for Me”: This relationship with G-d might be a complicated one. But when we put aside the baggage and just take in the simple fact that G-d desires this relationship; that G-d cares about what I do and the choices I make, we have a better sense of self. This life is not just one of fulfilling personal bucket lists; it’s about recognizing that G-d put us here for a purpose.

That purpose is encapsulated first in the term “kingdom of priests.” The word Kohen (priest) actually means “one who serves,” but it is typically in the capacity of bringing others closer to G-d. The job of the Jew is to lift others higher. To assist others to understand that this world is not a jungle, it’s a place of meaning and purpose.

And finally, “A holy nation”: Sometimes the above is done in an active way, by actively influencing others, and sometimes that is done as a result of the Mitzvot you do in your own home, even by yourself. People around you will sense it, and see a person living a good, egoless, yet driven life, and they will be inspired to do the same.

Jewish war veterans understand these ideals more than most, having lived it in less than ideal circumstances. But now is the time for action. Tell your stories. Let’s touch people one by one, bringing one and all to recognize the preciousness of every moment of our lives, and to express that by spreading goodness, both within and without. We need to stand up strong and proud and spread the message: Live lives of goodness and purpose. That’s who we are, and what we are meant to do.
I wish you all a very joyous Shavuot!

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

By Jack Du Teil

JWV’s Mission to Israel program is specifically designed to give non-Jewish veteran community leaders an opportunity to experience Israel first-hand so that they will see that Israel is America’s friend in the Middle East and our partner for peace in the region. Allied veterans return from Israel with a better understanding on aspects of the State of Israel’s security and so will use their new perspective to advocate on Israel’s behalf.
This year, Jack Du Teil, President of The Military Coalition and Executive Director of the United States Army Warrant Officers Association was selected to particiapte. His story is below.

Between March 31 and April 10, 2019, The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America (JWV) conducted its 2019 Mission to Israel. An annual event, the mission was led by JWV National Commander Barry Schneider (Maj [Ret], USAF) and also included 3 other non-Jewish members of other veteran organizations.

I was fortunate enough to have been included in this adventure as a guest of this great organization. It turned out to be one of the most impactful trips I will likely ever make in my life, and I will be eternally grateful to the leadership of JWV for this incredible opportunity.

Visiting Israel only solidified my long-held belief that it is our nation’s most important, loyal ally in that entire region of the world. And the loyalty Israel demonstrates toward the USA is not just diplomatic at the leadership level – it is heartfelt by their citizenry.

There are many reasons for this, but at its core I believe this is directly related to the compulsory military service performed by the vast majority of Israelis as they become adults. By virtue of it – unlike American youths – they are made acutely aware of the constant threats to their liberty, by belligerent neighbors on every physical border.

Israel is very good at teaching the vast history of the Jewish people to its youngsters. Moreover, of necessity, they are also made acutely aware of the relatively short – and utterly miraculous – history of the modern State of Israel, and the hard lessons associated therewith.

Of Survival and Triumph

On our first full day in Israel, we visited Independence Hall, where David Ben Gurion – first prime minister of Israel – announced the nation’s declaration of independence on 14 May 1948. We also met with officials from Tzevet, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veterans organization. Tzevet’s Chairman, Major General Dr. Baruch Levy, provided us with an unclassified but quite thorough national security briefing.

Later that day, we visited the Haganah Museum. Tracing its roots to as early as 1907, the Haganah was formally organized in 1921, as an underground Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48). With an eventual strength of 30,000 fighters it became the core of the IDF, following the United Nations’ approval of the partition of Palestine and Israel’s declaration of independence.

We also visited a secret ammunition factory set up underneath a kibbutz, called Givat Hakibbutzim. Code named the “Ayalon Institute,” the factory was manned by 45 Haganah boys and girls – between the ages of 14 and 18 – who manufactured millions of rounds of ammunition. Its secret was so closely guarded that even the other members of the kibbutz had no idea of its existence.

Within 24 hours of declaring independence, Israel was attacked not only by Palestinians, but also its other Arab neighbors. Had it not been for the foresight and bravery of the Haganah (and the ammunition manufactured at the Ayalon Institute), Israel would have quickly lost its war of independence.

At the Latroun Armored Corps Memorial Center

Our group also visited Armored Corps Memorial and Museum at the strategically crucial location of Latrun, Israel (captured from the Jordanians during the Six Day War of 1967). There, together with National Commander Schneider, I was honored to lay a wreath at the Wall of Remembrance, bearing the names of more than 5,000 Israeli casualties from Israel’s wars, dating back to 1948.

As solemn an occasion as this was, the most sobering place we visited was Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. It was so engrossing and personally impactful, that our wonderful tour guides – IDF LTC (Ret) Ronit Nachman and her son Amit – had to retrieve me, so I would not miss the bus. To me, Yad Vashem is not something you can describe – it can only be experienced…and never forgotten.

So Often Miscast…

Far too often many in the American media seem to portray Israelis as “occupiers,” and pillory them as unreasonable negotiators, responsible for chronic unrest with the Palestinians. These arguments are vacuous, and born of the complete ignorance (or duplicity) of those making them.

Many point to Israel’s refusal to negotiate agreements using a “land for peace” approach. Not only do the historical events of the past century belie the potential success of such concessions, but one only needs to visit places like Latrun, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights to understand why they are simply strategically impossible to make (and it shouldn’t take a military genius to realize it).

And so, ignoring the unlikelihood of Israel ever successfully negotiating real peace, with an entity still constitutionally committed to the extermination of its people, Israelis are often portrayed as the bad guys in the media, and even (shamefully so) by elected officials in our country!

In fact, Israelis – as a people – are not only quite compassionate, but they are some of the most prolific contributors to the collective good of humankind. We visited two institutions on our trip, which underscore these points.

The first was the Galilee Medical Center (and level-one trauma center) at Nahariya, near the Syrian border. In the lobby you see a glass display case, containing a Katyusha rocket that once struck the hospital.

This was the perfect prelude to a tour we took of the underground facilities later built – a carbon copy of the facilities upstairs. Fully equipped, including foodstuffs and a sophisticated ventilation system, it can accommodate the medical staff and patients within one hour after notification of an attack.

At the height of the Syrian civil war’s refugee crisis, media pundits were quick to report Israeli refusal to accept refugees (out of legitimate security concerns). What they neglected to report was how more than 4,000 of the most horrifically wounded casualties of that conflict had been treated at this and other Israeli hospital facilities.

With the approval of Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, the wounded and their immediate families were accommodated, at Israeli government expense, during the patients’ courses of treatment. As a Christian, the words “turning the other cheek” come to my mind….

Our group also visited the Weizmann Institute of Science, one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary basic research institutions in the natural and exact sciences. It is named for Dr. Haim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel and founder of the institute, and has a long history of investigation and discovery, rooted in a mission of advancing science for the benefit of humanity.

One only needs to do an internet search on the words “Israeli Inventions” to be amazed at the contributions the citizens of this small, young nation have made to medicine, science, technology, and even to the everyday lives of human beings across the planet.

Just the other day, I even discovered that the Waze application I use to navigate in my car was first developed and popularized by the Israeli company Waze Mobile. I would have loved to hear that story on the evening news.

Caretakers of Our Collective History

As a tidbit of autobiographical data, I happen to be a Christian. But my grandfather was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, and I fell in love with my best friend and Jewish wife of 31 years.

From this perspective, I was awestricken by the degree to which Israelis have become the archeologists, caretakers, and guardians of so much of our collective history. Regardless of faith association they regard the excavation, preservation and protection of historical sites and artifacts in this land – so rich with ancient artifacts – as a national imperative.

Because of this, in Capernaum I was able to stand in the ruins of a temple where Jesus preached, and view the foundation of Saint Peter’s house. I visited Masada and viewed the excavated and partially reconstructed palace fortress, built by King Herod, where hundreds of Jews grimly chose suicide over falling into Roman hands. And that afternoon, I floated in the Dead Sea.
In Jerusalem, I prayed at the Western Wall. I touched the spot where Jesus lay in his manger (in the Church of the Nativity), walked the stations of the cross, and touched the slab on which his crucified body was anointed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. At Mount Zion, we visited King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper.

These are just a few of the places we visited. But were it not for Israel’s commitment to the discovery and preservation of history – and its partnership with the Vatican and numerous other religious, national organizations and institutions – this would not be possible. Many sites would still be buried.

Conclusions

At the beginning of this article I stated my belief in the importance of Israel as a key ally of the United States. Visiting the country, and interacting with its people only strengthened this belief. But I came away with a few more impressions.
By and large, the Israeli people are far more pro-American than they are portrayed in our country. This is not because they need America’s help to survive – to the contrary, they have been doing a spectacular job of this on their own, and indeed thriving.

The Israelis appreciate the alliance they have with us, for the same reasons we should reciprocate these feelings. The value in this alliance goes well beyond the obvious strategic, military rationale. Israel’s value as a partner is evident on many fronts, to include economics, science, agricultural development, and culture.

Finally, I would like to once again thank JWV for this incredible opportunity. I would also like to thank each and every one of the wonderful people in our group, for being part of the “trip of a lifetime.”

All photos courtesy of Michael Kapin.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, met with PNC Norman Rosenshein at JWV Headquarters on Friday, June 14, and spoke about his views on serving veterans. Secretary Wilkie and PNC Rosenshein were joined by National Executive Director Herb Rosenbleeth and Veterans Treatment Court judge, Halee Weinstein. Judge Weinstein is a long-time friend of Secretary Wilkie and joined him on a tour of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

Secretary Wilkie’s grandfather and father were combat veterans, his father being an Army Lieutenant Colonel. The Secretary himself is an Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel. He is a graduate of the College of Naval Command and Staff, the Air Command and Staff College, the United States War College, and the Joint Forces Staff College. Secretary Wilkie’s extensive military background and experience make him uniquely qualified to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary Wilkie is committed to changing the culture within the VA to make it more accountable and responsive to the needs of veterans. In the past, some senior leaders have exhibited a pattern of mismanagement and lack of integrity. Issues such as falsified waiting time reports, dirty and missing medical equipment and supplies, and other problems that compromised patient safety are now being addressed.

Secretary Wilkie has brought many military people to the VA. His Chief of Staff is a former Air Force Colonel. He appointed a Senior Enlisted Advisor, which the VA has not had since the days of Omar Bradley. These military personnel will help fix the culture at the VA. Leadership will improve.

The newly passed VA Mission Act was the next issue to be discussed. The Mission Act improves the ability of the VA to provide the healthcare veterans need, when and where they need it. It gives veterans the option to seek care in their communities. “It will also put veterans at the center of their care, and offer options, including expanded tele-help and urgent care, so they can find the balance in the system that’s right for them,” said Secretary Wilkie. The Secretary pointed out that there has been a decline in the number of veterans asking to go outside of the VA for their treatment.

Secretary Wilkie is committed to establishing an electronic medical record for all veterans. He sees the creation of a combined DoD/VA medical records as one of his major goals. This record would be available at all physicians appointments.
The Secretary said the greatest problem affecting veterans are mental health issues. Poor mental health is attributable to suicide and addiction. Vietnam veterans are the largest contingent of those needing mental health care. We need a real deep national conversation on mental health.

Right now, veteran suicides occur at the rate of over 20 deaths a day. Secretary Wilkie said his approach is to take the stigma away from getting needed care for mental health issues. Military personnel are often reluctant to seek this type of care for fear that doing so will negatively impact their military career.

Another issue that affects military and veterans is loneliness. Technology and social media give people the illusion of social connectivity, but many people report feelings of isolation. People today often view other people as text messages, not as people. Military personnel lack sufficient contact with others, often because they have become used to texting. Face to face communication, or at least speaking directly to someone would ease some of the feelings of loneliness.

Secretary Wilkie said, “We have lost the ability to be civil.” In the past, opposing politicians would meet informally with each other and have a civil, even friendly conversation, about a divisive issue. Genuine friendships existed between those on opposite sides of an issue. Politicians could talk with each other, but not today.
“I just presented to the Congress a $220 billion budget,” said the Secretary. That is the largest budget in the history of the Department. It will enable the VA to provide many of the services that veterans need.

JWV appreciates that Secretary Wilkie demonstrate the leadership skills needed to accomplish the VA’s important agenda. We enjoyed his visit to our headquarters and we look forward to working with the Secretary and his staff.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019