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

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

COL Nelson L Mellitz, USAF, Ret.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference 2019 took place March 24-26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The AIPAC Conference is the largest gathering of American’s pro-Israel community. Through keynote speeches by American and Israeli leaders and educational sessions, Policy Conference delegates participate in the full scale of pro-Israel activism (reference AIPAC Dashboard: March 28, 2019).

The Jewish War Veterans was there, as AIPAC implemented a U.S. military veteran’s outreach component with breakout sessions, special sessions, and receptions directed to and for U.S. military veterans. Sessions included: Veterans in Politics, Veterans Outreach Welcome Reception, On the Front Lines: Veterans Fighting for a Strong U.S.-Israel Relationship; Veteran Freshman: From One Front Line to Another, etc. There were over 18,000 participants at AIPAC and at each one of these veterans’ related sessions the room was full to overflowing with 100 plus veterans in attendance.

When I asked the AIPAC veterans outreach coordinator how many conference participants are U.S. military veterans he didn’t know, but the number is estimated to be in the thousands. AIPAC leaders are now developing a method to have the veterans self-identify when they register. At the veteran receptions the majority of attendees are under 40 years old and very few are members of JWV.

I attended all of the veterans’ related sessions and had an opportunity to talk with many veterans that served in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last 18 years of war and counting. There were a couple of reasons why they attend AIPAC including support of Israel from generation to generation (grandparents and parents to veteran) and because AIPAC has sent U.S. veterans (Jewish and non-Jewish) to Israel using AIPAC Foundation funding. These veterans interact with Israel Defense Force that have similar combat experiences and post-war recovery treatments, some said that as a result of increased Anti-Semitism in the U.S. it’s time for Jewish veterans to stand up and talk about our unique reasons for serving and what actions we think should be taken to combat Anti-Semitism. In addition, another important reason veterans attend AIPAC is because it’s an opportunity for them to talk to each other about being Jewish while fighting in a war.

AIPAC had fantastic speakers: The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel; Ambassador David Friedman, United States Ambassador to Israel; The Honorable Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader; and many other Democrats, Republicans, and foreign government leaders.

Whenever possible I spoke to the veterans about the benefits to joining JWV and how we can provide similar opportunities to AIPAC. The response was not always positive because some of the veterans had tried to participate at Post levels and were turned off by the bureaucracy and the stagnant leadership. However, I think that all of the reasons given to attend AIPAC can be met by JWV at all echelons, by our Afghanistan and Iraq Committee, internet Post, and Jewish Warriors Post #4.

The mission of AIPAC is to support Israel and they have a vision of using veterans unique outlook to accomplish this mission. I strongly recommend that the Jewish War Veteran leadership send several members to AIPAC 2020 and throughout the year join AIPAC in their outreach to U.S. military veterans. This JWV-AIPAC effort could be a major source for JWV membership and accomplishing our mission of support to Israel, the U.S. military, and veterans.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

A protest held July 26, 2017 in Times Square outside the U.S. Army Recruiting Center in response to President Trump tweeting that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. Photo by Jere Keys, New York City, USA.

By Harvey Weiner,
JWV National Judge Advocate

Jews, as a community, have always been willing to fight for this country, even prior to its official beginning. Over 360 years ago, when those first 23 Jews came in 1654 from Recife, Brazil, to settle in New Amsterdam, now known as New York City, they were not welcomed by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, he of the well-known peg leg. Nevertheless, they were allowed to stay and some months later, Asser Levy, one of the initial 23 Jewish immigrants, protested to Stuyvesant that Jews were not allowed to stand guard. According to Stuyvesant, the reason why he did not want a Jew to stand guard was because of the discrimination and unwillingness of local residents to serve as fellow soldiers with the Jewish nation and to be on guard with them in the same guard house.Levy insisted however, that, as a manual laborer, he should be able to stand guard like everyone else. Levy appealed to some of the Jewish shareholders of the Dutch East India Company, which owned New Amsterdam and, within two years, Levy had succeeded in standing watch and ward, like the others.

On July 26, 2017, President Trump announced in a series of tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in the military, reversing the policy of the Department of Defense. A formal Presidential Memorandum followed on August 25, 2017. JWV National Commander Carl A. Singer issued a statement on behalf of the JWV opposing this new discriminatory policy. Suit was brought by the transgender community in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Trump Memorandum and its subsequent progeny from being implemented. Doe v. Trump, CA No. 17-1597 (CKK). A preliminary injunction was issued preventing this discriminatory policy from going into effect. This injunction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

The Trump administration has appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the merits. The JWV was asked by Mary Bonauto, the “Thurgood Marshall” of the LGBTQ movement, if it would be willing to file an Amicus brief in light of Commander Singer’s statement and the JWV agreed. The JWV, along with several other veterans groups, filed a supporting brief on October 29, 2018 with oral argument expected to take place in December, 2018. However, the major veterans groups chose not to join in.

The appeal focuses on the limits of the power of the President as Commander in Chief. Not needing to repeat this legal argument, the JWV brief focused on policy arguments. The proposed ban would make military units weaker, not stronger, because unit cohesion is the product of values and experiences shared by those who serve, and permitting openly transgender personnel to serve does not hinder unit cohesion, but rather enhances it. Furthermore, the proposed ban would arbitrarily exclude capable individuals who are willing to serve their country and would demean all who serve.
“When you are in the military, no one thinks of you as black, or Asian, or gay, or transgender. These are life-and-death situations, and people are just thinking about whether you can do your job and have their backs. Being a service member overshadows any other identity you have.”

A major reason for the transgender ban is undoubtedly similar to the reasons why Asser Levy was initially forbidden to stand guard over 360 years ago, (i.e., others who serve wouldn’t like it). And today, such discrimination based on religious or gender identity is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. Levy would not have had to appeal to the Netherlands had his situation arose today. He would have had the rule of law on his side.
The right to serve in the military is a value kept alive by the JWV.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

Post 749 sponsoring packages for troops temporarily stationed at Fort Bliss during Hanukkah.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

SGT April Honig celebrating Hanukkah in Mosul in 2006.

During the monotony of deployment, one thing that troops look forward to is mail. It is a small gesture from someone in a place of homeland comfort that can go a long way both physically and mentally. Receiving a package from a loved one or organization can change a service member’s mood and ultimately raise their morale.

“The taste and smells of home — as well as personal messages of support demonstrates care, honor and respect for our fellow Americans. Connecting in this way to our troops can help meet both their physical and spiritual needs,” wrote Sara Fuerst & Ava Hamburger on KosherTroops.com

There are many organizations that send packages to Jewish troops such as Aleph, Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), Kosher troops and JWV to name a few.

MSAWI was established so that the legacy of Major Stuart Adam Wolfer’s leadership, commitment to country and community service will live on. Stuart Wolfer was killed in 2008 while serving in Iraq.

“MSAWI was created so that those of us here at home may give of our most precious resource, our time,” said Beverly Wolfer-Nerenberg, MSAWI president and Stuart’s sister. “We always try to involve schools, community groups and faith-based organizations to be an active part of making the care packages. Our troops deserve to know that we care about them and are supporting them.”

Supporting service members morale is a way for people in America to make a positive difference. A servicemember’s morale affects mental, moral, physical condition and ability to overcome obstacles. Poor morale can even lead to loss of victory.

JWV member Gavin Ellman recalled receiving care packages during his service: “They had a huge impact on how we felt,” said Ellman. “Especially the ones that showed people really were thinking about us. The handwritten notes and pictures were so touching!”

It is special to receive care packages during holidays when the weight of being away from family feels heavier. Organizations often send special packages for holiday festivities.

“I served in the Air Force for 32 years,” said Retired Colonel Nelson L Mellitz. “Having been deployed many times during Jewish and Christian holidays, I know that receiving a Jewish holiday card creates a connection to home and the Jewish community. Sometimes being one of the few Jewish military members in a unit overseas and receiving a card or care package from Jewish people or a Jewish organization gave reason to being there.”

It is not uncommon for organizations such as MSAWI to receive letters of thanks. Beverly Wolfer recalled a touching thank you letter that said “Being deployed presents so many challenges: safety concerns, 7-days a week demanding work, and loneliness during Jewish holiday times due to separation from family. I’m so pleased to say the Major Stuart A. Wolfer organization contributed immensely in boosting my spirits by providing care package items during my Afghanistan tour. I wish you could see the look of gratitude upon the soldiers faces when I distributed the wonderful care package items. The nuts and socks you sent were especially welcomed! Not only do the provisions add comfort to austere surroundings, but knowing the folks back home appreciate soldiers’ sacrifices gives us strength and courage to preserve through Operation Enduring Freedom. Thank you for your patriotism and commitment to the troops!”

Sending care packages to those of the Jewish faith is not new. During World War II the three sons of the owners of Katz Deli in Manhattan, New York were serving in the armed forces, according the Katz website. The owners were in the habit of sending food to their boys and encouraged other parents to do the same.

The campaign during World War II of sending food to Jews in service became known as “Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army.” The catch phrase was first heard by Rose Tarowsky, mother of Izzy Tarowsky, who served in the South Pacific as a bomber pilot. Today, Katz Deli supports troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with special shipping for U.S. military and care packages.

To support the effort of sending care packages, visit the websites of Aleph, KosherTroops, MSAWI, JWV SOS program, or Operation Macabee.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Army Cadet Jacob Widman from Texas A&M kindles a Havdalah candle during a Jewish ceremony marking the end of Shabbat in Washington D.C.

By: Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

Jewish Warrior Weekend, an event which brings  together Jewish cadets and midshipmen for a weekend of learning, comradery and celebration of Judaism, took place in Washington, DC, November 8-11.

The event brought together forty-nine officers in training, who had the opportunity to learn about the history of Jewish military service in America.

On Friday, Shabbat services were observed and Saturday evening’s activities included a Havdalah ceremony outdoors in DuPont Circle. Havdalah is a ceremony that marks the end of the Shabbat and is supposed to reawaken the senses, including smell.

In the crisp fall air, cadets and midshipmen placed their arms on each other’s shoulders and swayed in a circle while reciting prayers, watching the glow of a colorful Havdalah candle, sipping from the Kiddush cup and smelling the ceremonial spices. People in the area stopped to watch and photograph the cadets and midshipmen as they joyfully sang and chanted.

Jewish cadets and midshipman celebrate Havdalah in DC.

After the ceremony, Rear Adm. (Ret.) Paul Becker shared inspirational advice to the young future officers on Jewish military life.

“It is good to build a comradery with other Jewish warriors,” said Becker. “As it is, we are few in numbers and there is value and strength in knowing there are others out there like you.”

Often times there are only a few Jewish service members at each a command.

“In some cases, you might be the first Jew they meet and they may have some stereotypes,” said Becker.

Therefore, he stated that Jews in a command have a responsibility to represent a culture. He also stated that it is possible to abuse this representation by overly requesting leave or attempting to fool others about Jewish holidays.

“It is important to prioritize how you put effort as a Jewish lay leader, or toward the Jewish holidays,” said Becker. “For example, High Holidays are at the top but you don’t want to expend any effort trying to convince your chain of command that there needs to be some type of commemoration of minor holidays like Tisha B’av.”

Sunday began with a guest speaker – former Army Officer Phil Carter, a senior researcher who focuses on veterans, military personnel and civil-military relations.

The weekend ended on a somber note, with a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Sunday afternoon. Ben Kane, Programs Assistant at JWV, led interested participants on a tour.

“I enjoyed the Holocaust Museum in the sense that I am glad that there is a museum dedicated to such a tragic event,” said Cadet Jacob Widman. “It was meaningful because I learned more about the US involvement in the refusal of refugees, and other topics not covered at Yad Vashem.”

Jewish Warrior Weekend is an annual Shabbaton program. This year was sponsored by the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, National Museum of American Jewish Military History, USAA, Jteen Philanthropy, Joseph Goldstein, Rabbi Steven Rein, Dallas Jewish Federation, Temple Sinai, Temple Micah and Stratton-Petit Foundation.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Hanukkah service held in Iraq.

By Ben Kane, Programs Assistant

A well-known fact among the international Jewish community is that sometimes observing Jewish traditions and a Jewish lifestyle can be difficult. For Jewish American military service members overseas, this difficulty stems from a variety of sources. It can come from anti-Semitic fellow service members, from being in a country that is hostile to observers of the Jewish faith, or to simply not having the right items needed for Jewish holidays and customs. One place where being a Jew in the military would likely have its fair share of difficulties is Iraq. Yet, as this story demonstrates, Jewish U.S. military personnel often find a way to express their Jewish faith and traditions even in potentially unfriendly environments.

In October 2005, an idea amongst several Jewish American service members took shape- to plan and hold a successful Hanukkah party or two in Iraq. It had been several years since the last Hanukkah party, and they believed it was due time to celebrate the festival of lights. Calls were made to various organizations that would likely help with the efforts to carry out the party, with Colonel Nelson Mellitz contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. His association with the JWV would continue for years and into the present, with Col. Mellitz eventually becoming the Department Commander for the state of New Jersey, as well as the National Quartermaster.

Calls were made through the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, through the chaplain’s services, through the JWV, and as the word spread, the trickle of Hanukkah memorabilia sent their way turned into a flood. Col. Mellitz soon found his desk and surrounding space in the Baghdad embassy had enough Hanukkah memorabilia for parties far into the future. The effort to celebrate Hanukkah in Iraq was not without a few hiccups. Hesitation amongst some of the captains and lieutenants involved in carrying out the plans for the parties provided some difficulties. The hesitation was rumored to be anti-Semitic in nature, but any issues were resolved by the generals, as well as on an ambassadorial level, allowing the plans for the festivities to proceed.

Army SPC and fallen service member Daniel Agami (far left) stands with the giant Menorah in Iraq in 2006.

As if the Hanukkah celebrations being held in Iraq were not unique enough, the specific location of the parties is noteworthy. The celebrations of the festival of lights for this year and for several after were held in the former palace of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. His opulent palaces, once the seat of power of a tyrant, was now being repurposed for good- for beautiful Hanukkah celebrations. Hanukkah parties at the palace featured music, dancing, and no small number of latkes and chocolates. Included in the agenda were more serious notes like speeches from dignitaries, including Zalmay Khalilzad, at that time the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Initial questions of whether he would be able to attend or not were eventually answered when embassy security staff began posting troops around the area and combing the area with their dogs.

A focal point of these celebrations was the colossal menorah that was designed by LT. Laurie and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the military contractor KBR. Humorously, the Army Corps of Engineers Captain who was tasked with overseeing construction efforts had no idea what a menorah was until then. The menorah soon became synonymous with the Hanukkah parties at Saddam’s Republican palace and was on display whenever a Hanukkah party took place there.

Many, but not all, of the attendees were Jewish, Col. Mellitz said, creating a heightened sense of camaraderie between service members of different faiths that hopefully has lasted long after the celebration and deployment ended. The Hanukkah parties at the palace and at nearby Camp Liberty, represented by the towering menorah in the palace and at Camp Liberty, served as symbols not just of the overthrowing of tyranny, but of the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to honor Jewish traditions and customs anywhere in the world.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) at sea.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

During the gentle sway of the ship, three of us huddled in the library aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and lit a

(Dec. 15, 2012) Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class Samantha Haag lights a menorah on the seventh night of Hanukkah aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released)

menorah.  It was a moment of normalcy during a deployment that felt long and stressful.  We were three different ranks and had three very different duties, and yet, we slowly recited the Hanukkah blessing in unison.  It was a moment that brought three of us together to practice an ancient tradition. It also connected us with our families back home.

Hanukkah is an eight-day, winter holiday also known as the “Festival of Lights”.  Hanukkah means “dedication.” It is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Holy Temple.

To me, while deployed in foreign seas, dedication was a significant word.  As a sailor on my first deployment, Hanukkah was a Jewish reminder of being part of something bigger than myself.  The ship had a dedicated mission.  Also, our small Jewish gathering was dedicated to celebrating Hanukkah at sea despite our busy schedules and the small, yet significant number of us.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Rabbi Morton H. Singer receiving a reward.

By Anna Selman

On the Jewish plaque at Chaplain’s Hill, there reads a name: Rabbi Morton H. Singer, USA 17 December 1968.  Weeks later, an article appeared in the Jewish Telegraph Agency titled, “NY Chaplain Killed in Vietnam, Buried in Israel”.  Those eight words encapsulated the death of Rabbi Morton Singer.  However, the story of his service and his life are much more remarkable.

Rabbi Morton Singer was born in New York City in 1936.  Little is known about his childhood growing up in Manhattan, but we do know that he was an avid weight lifter in his youth – he was recognized as the Eastern Intercollegiate Weight Lifting Champion of 1959.  He also was very active in Judo, and he would later serve on the Armed Forces Judo Team.

He went to City College of New York for his undergrad, and he later attended Yeshiva University.  After obtaining his rabbinical degree, Rabbi Singer taught at a Jewish Day School for 3 years.  However, according to his nephew, Jeffrey Singer, “Rabbi Singer felt a strong obligation to serve.  He believed that if there were Jews someplace, he was going to help.

So, during the outbreak of the 6 Day War in Israel, it was only natural that Rabbi Singer signed right up.  During the war, he served as a volunteer in the Bikkur Holim general hospital in Jerusalem.  He would often volunteer to drive the ambulance to evacuate soldiers from the front lines in the West Bank.  It was there that Rabbi Singer found a deep love for Israel, and he promised himself that he would move himself and his family there one day.

After coming back to the states, Rabbi Singer signed up for the US Army, and he went to Chaplains School at Fort Hamilton and basic training at Fort Benning. From there, he went to Fort Sill shortly before deploying the Vietnam in November of 1968.

After arriving in Vietnam, Rabbi Singer was busy conducting Shabbat Services, meeting Jewish soldiers and preparing for Hanukkah.  It was there that Alan Potkin met Rabbi Singer again, “I had seen him only a few days earlier when he tracked me down at the 95th Evac Hospital in Da Nang, where I had been MEDEVACed in with a severed jugular vein from a frag wound.”

On December 17th, Rabbi Singer geared up to conduct Hanukkah services for Marines stations at Chu Lai Air Base in the Quang Nam Province.  The flight there was quick and easy.  Rabbi Singer sang songs, ate latkes and played dreidels with a few Jewish marines.  He packed up his gear, and he went to board his C123 Fairchild to go home.  Seconds after takeoff, there was an explosion in the plane that left 14 dead caused by the crew placing the wrong type of fuel in the aircraft.

Marine Corps veterans Tracy Diffin was one of the first responders to the scene, “I was on Fire & Rescue Crash Crew, and was the first one there. A chopper flew overhead to keep the flames down. It was allegedly bad gas in the craft that took it down. Almost everyone died.  I tried like hell to save everyone I could.”

“Growing up, I was always bothered hearing that my Uncle was killed going to do a mitzvah (conducting Hanukkah ceremonies), because when a person is going to do a mitzvah, they have extra protection from G-d.  I received some form of comfort upon learning that it was only after completing the lighting on take-off from Chu Lai that this tragic event occurred,” said Jeffrey Singer, Rabbi Morton Singer’s nephew.

On January 2, 1968, Rabbi Morton Singer was buried on a hillside near Jerusalem today in accordance with his last wish. His body was laid to rest at Har Hamenuchot, a cemetery for the fallen of the Six-Day War. Funeral services were attended by the chief chaplain of the Israel Army’s Jerusalem area command, the military attache of the U.S. Embassy and relatives who live in Cholon, near Tel Aviv.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018