By Deborah Josefson

A monument and square named after a Jewish American soldier lies in the town of Petange at the southwest border of the tiny country of Luxembourg, where France and Belgium meet. This soldier was my great-uncle, 2nd Lt. Hyman Josefson. He was the first American soldier to die for the liberation of Luxembourg. For 45 years he was the quintessential Unknown Soldier, but for the people of Luxembourg, he represented the ultimate sacrifice of American GIs.

Procession to Hyman Josefson Square led by Duke Henri (front center) flanked by dignitaries including Petange Mayor Pierre Molina and U.S. Ambassador J. Randolph Evans.

The people of Luxembourg commemorate their liberation from the Nazis and the sacrifice of Josefson and other American GI’s each year. Every five years, the celebrations include visits from the country’s Grand Duke, the U.S. Ambassador, and other dignitaries. As they did this September 9, the officials visit Hyman Josefson Square to lay wreaths in honor of the American troops. The liberation festivities continue with a week of pro-American parades, displays of vintage World War II military vehicles, American-style barbeques and Rockabilly music festivals.

Josefson was a first generation American and one of 550,000 GI Jews. These Jewish American men felt their service in World War II was both an act of patriotism and a fight against Hitler for the survival of their brethren.

An accomplished lawyer and engineer, Josefson was already 32 when he voluntarily enlisted just six weeks after Pearl Harbor.
Josefson was born in South Fallsburg, New York in 1909 to Harry and Lena Josefson of Iasi, Romania. He entered Cornell University at age 15 on an academic scholarship with a perfect score on the state scholarship exam. After graduating in 1929 with a civil engineering degree, Josefson stayed at Cornell for another two years to receive his law degree.

As a young lawyer, he argued before the New York State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals on matters of interstate commerce and transportation.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Josefson enlisted in the Army. He trained at Fort Knox and joined the 5th Armored Division’s 85th Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron. After two years of training in the U.S., his unit landed at Utah Beach on July 24, 1944. They marched through Normandy and Northern France, reaching the Belgian border by September 2.

Hyman Josefson

Luxembourg’s Prince Felix and Crown Prince Jean joined the allies, and by September 7 they were fighting alongside the 5th Armored Division, gearing up for a return to their homeland.

As a platoon leader and car commander of the 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Josefson was an advance man. His mission was to find, fix, and fight. In other words, to ascertain the strength and disposition of the enemy, remove obstacles, and clear the way for further combat.
On September 9, 1944, by mid-day, Josefson’s armored M8 Greyhound Patrol car is the first to breach the Belgian border and enter Petange, Luxembourg. But the celebratory air is severely dampened when a hidden Wehrmacht cannon hits Josefson’s Greyhound just as it approaches a flour mill. Josefson is killed, and three others in his car were wounded.

Gunner Cyril Mayrose, technical sergeant and driver Burt Magee, and radio operator John Mitchell escaped the car, which continued to burn for days.
The crowd that saw it happen erected a makeshift memorial near the flour mill.

Meanwhile, the Americans pushed on and liberated Luxembourg City on September 10, returning Prince Felix and Prince Jean to the Grand Duchy.
In 1947, a permanent monument replaced the makeshift memorial. The inscription honored the memory of the unknown American soldier who died for the liberation of Luxembourg.

In 1989, Mayrose told the city that their unknown soldier was Josefson, which lead the city to change the name of the area by the monument to Hyman Josefson Square.

75 years later in Luxembourg, World War II is not forgotten, Americans are warmly received, and the legacy of Hyman Josefson lives on.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Cara Rinkoff

JWV Member Allan Silverberg biked 60 miles in just one day to honor the memory of those who died in the Holocaust. The 75-year-old Silverberg

From left, Unknown, Krakow JCC Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, and Allan Silverberg.

took part in the 5th annual Ride for the Living in Poland on June 28, which is sponsored by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Krakow. A total of 250 cyclists rode their bikes from Auschwitz to the Krakow JCC.

“We started in the morning and then finished in the evening, and that evening was also very eventful. They had about 700 people at a Shabbat dinner,” Silverberg said. According to the Krakow JCC, each year the dinner serves as the largest gathering of Jews on Shabbat in the city since before World War II.

Silverberg found out about the ride from the JCC director, whom he met seven years ago during his first trip to Poland. Silverberg said he has never done anything like this ride before. “I do bike, but never that far… the most I’ve ever done is about 45, maybe 48, but never 60 [miles].”

Silverberg said he received support from his local community, as well as people he had never met before. “Some people contributed just by wishing me good luck, and some people contributed by being very generous donors. I raised almost $4,100.”

Bernard Offen is one of the riders Silverberg met in Poland. Silverberg said Offen walked from Auschwitz to Krakow when the camp was liberated. This is the second year the 90-year-old has participated in the Ride for the Living.

Silverberg chose to participate in this event because he wanted to visit the hometown of his parents. Stopnica is approximately one hour from Krakow. Silverberg said nearly all traces of Jewish life in that town were erased during the war and in the years after. “I wanted to see something that I was going to be able to relate to, like maybe even see a cemetery,” Silverberg said. “When I got there, we couldn’t find the cemetery itself. We even asked an elderly taxi driver there and he didn’t even know anything about any Jewish history… at least he wasn’t, wouldn’t tell us about that.”

Silverberg also participated in the ride because of his general interest in the Holocaust. He runs Holocaust education programs which had 15,000 attendees over the past two years.

If you are interested in participating in next year’s Ride for the Living, you can find more information on the website, www.ridefortheliving.org.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Harvey Weiner,
Former JWV National Judge Advocate

here is an old legal adage that bad cases make bad law. It was clear from the start that filing a lawsuit to remove the 40-foot World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland was the wrong case at the wrong time. Nevertheless, the American Humanist Association (AHA) brought the case without input from the JWV. If the very conservative U.S. Supreme Court took the case, it was likely the Court would either ignore it or overturn decades of favorable legal precedents, which were mainly achieved by the JWV.

Once the Supreme Court took the case, JWV had no choice but to submit an amicus (friend of court) brief to have its voice heard. There were seven other amicus briefs in addition to the ones filed by the AHA and JWV.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented the JWV in prior war memorial cross cases declined to participate. The law firm of Jenner & Block and the Chicago Law School stepped in to help the JWV.

The JWV brief mentioned that Jewish-Americans had served in all of America’s wars and through the Vietnam War, served in greater numbers than their proportion in the general population, that JWV is the country’s oldest active veterans service organization, that approximately 250,000 Jewish-Americans served in World War I, and that 3,500 Jewish-Americans died in that war. The case was argued on February 27, 2019. That morning, the JWV National Judge Advocate spoke at the Honor Them All rally in front of the courthouse. During arguments, Justice Brett Kavanaugh referenced the JWV amicus brief in one of his questions, which is highly unusual.

On June 20, 2019 the Supreme Court issued its decision which, as expected, allows the cross to remain in place. The majority opinion, concurring opinion, and dissenting opinion all mentioned the JWV amicus brief.

This case helped publicize JWV’s purpose of affirming Jewish-American presence in all of America’s wars.

Both the majority and the dissent quoted from John McCrae’s famous World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” the first stanza of which is as follows:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt drawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

After the SCOTUS decision, a revised version might read as follows:

In Bladensburg, a cross did stand
Between three streets on public land
That honor those killed in World War One,
Who, through Christ, will live anon
Though not so those who don’t believe.
We are the Court. So do not grieve.
We worked. Seven opinions did we weave.
The cross may stand, though it offends,
In Bladensburg

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Larry Jasper

U.S. military veterans have a new memorial 40-feet beneath the ocean’s surface where they can reflect on their service. The first underwater military

Shawn Campbell, a former staff sergeant and now a master diver, looks at his name on a plaque next to one of the statues at the Circle of Heroes underwater veterans memorial off the coast of Clearwater, Fla. (U.S. Army/Video still by Bill Mills)

monument is located just ten miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida. The Circle of Heroes Veterans’ Memorial, opened August 5 with a ceremony debuting a dozen life-size statues depicting U.S. military personnel from all branches of service.

Eventually the memorial site will include 24 life-size concrete statues of men and women from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps., and Navy, according to Brighter Future Florida, a nonprofit group raising donations for the memorial.

The memorial is scheduled to be completed in 2020. All of the statues will surround a center monument featuring five bronze emblems representing each service.

“The Circle of Heroes will be a premier international diving destination and will also serve as a place where veterans with physical and mental injuries can heal,” the website states.

The JWV Department of Florida, in conjunction with Rabbi Elson of the Jewish Welfare Board are planning to dive the memorial in January. If you would like to join the dive, contact Larry Jasper at lmjasper@reagan.com.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Greg Byrne

The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. held its 124th National Convention in Richmond, Virginia, while the JWV Ladies Auxiliary met for their 91st National Convention. Delegates from around the country gathered from August 18-23 to hear from speakers, participate in workshops, and conduct the business of the organization.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Byrne gave the keynote address and updated members on current initiatives at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He spoke about a period of transformation happening at the VA with four priorities set by Secretary Robert Wilkie. The priorities include improving customer service, implementing the VA Mission Act, systems modernization, and collaborating with the Department of Defense (DOD) to implement an electronic medical records system. Secretary Byrne said the Mission Act has offered veterans choice in their healthcare decisions by allowing them to seek care in their communities when their nearest VA facility is too far away or doesn’t offer a service. He also highlighted the importance of the collaboration between the VA and DOD to give caregivers a complete view of a patient’s medical history, beginning with their initial exam in boot camp.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Paul Becker reflected on his 30 years of service as a Naval Intelligence Officer. A member of Commodore Levy Post 380 in Annapolis, Maryland, Becker spoke about leadership and how his Jewish faith inspired him to serve.

Rabbi Irv Elson, Director of the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council (JWB), spoke to the convention about an exciting new collaboration between the JWB and JWV. The Jews in Green Weekend will bring together Jewish military personnel for fellowship, to share resources, and to build a community, so that when these Jews leave the military, we’ll be able to connect them with their local JWV post or JCC.

Major General Baruch Levy, formerly of Tzevet, the Israel Defense Forces veterans’ organization, gave a briefing on the current situation in Israel and outlined some of his country’s many achievements. Israel is at the center of advancements in medicine and technology, and ranks among the happiest nations in the world. He noted that Jewish Americans should take pride in Israel’s achievements because the unity between the State of Israel and the Jewish American community has been of great importance to Israel’s success.

The Military Coalition President Jack DuTeil continued the discussion on Israel by talking about his experience on this year’s Allied Veterans Mission to Israel. He described the Mission as “the trip of a lifetime.” The trip left him with a lasting appreciation for the people of Israel and the importance of the Israeli/American alliance in the region.

In addition to hearing from speakers, delegates participated in workshops where they could learn skills to help lead their posts and departments when they returned home. Past Department Commander Alan Paley of the Department of Florida and Post Commander Steven Krant of Post 256 in Dallas led a session on leadership, where they discussed best practices for department and post management. The workshop was well-received, and plans are in place for a follow-up session at NEC in February.

A fundraising session led by Lauren Gross of Global Impact provided attendees with fundraising strategies to help support their echelons’ programs. More information on this session can be found in the Membership section of this issue.

The Resolutions Committee met several times to consider proposed resolutions to bring to the convention floor for a vote. Twenty of these proposals were approved at the convention and will be part of JWV’s legislative priorities for the coming year. A complete list of the resolutions passed at convention can be found on our website.

Delegates also considered several proposed amendments to the National Constitution and Bylaws. After a review by the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, the convention approved two constitutional amendments and one amendment to the bylaws. Further explanation of these changes can be found in National Commander Harvey Weiner’s article in this issue.

The final event of the convention was the National Commander’s Banquet honoring outgoing National Commander Barry Schneider. During his term, Schneider travelled more than 71,000 miles and visited members in 22 state. The evening concluded with the installation of the new National Commander, Harvey Weiner of the Department of Massachusetts.

Thank you to all who participated in this year’s convention, and we hope to see you next August in Jacksonville, Florida.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Cara Rinkoff

A new project launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs will honor all 3.7 million veterans buried in VA cemeteries across the country. The Veterans Legacy Memorial is a digital platform with individual memorial pages. The site went online on August 14. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says this project “enhances the onsite national cemetery experience and extends the experience to those who otherwise are unable to physically visit the cemetery. The public can use the site to search for Veterans, find their burial site, and read basic details of their life and military service. Eventually, the VA hopes families will have the opportunity to add photos and share memories on the memorial pages. For more information about the Veterans Legacy Memorial, visit https://www.va.gov/remember.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By David W. Hamon, Veterans Service Organizations & Military Director, U.S. WWI Centennial Commission

The U.S. National World War I Centennial Commission continues to make good progress on building a National WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. In April of this year the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) in Washington gave its final approval for the design of the memorial. You can find the latest design information, including a computer generated image of the memorial in Pershing Park, which will be the future home of the memorial, as well as the interpretation center, a statue of General Pershing, and more at www.ww1cc.org/memorial.

In September, the Commission hopes the CFA will approve the final design features of the park itself, including lighting, landscaping, accessibility, and other infrastructure. Those elements would be funded and maintained by the U.S. Park Service within the Department of the Interior. The Commission hopes to officially break ground in October. Sabine Howard, the world famous sculptor, has started creating clay armatures of the first seven figures on the memorial. These completed items will be shipped to a special foundry in the United Kingdom where they will be cast in bronze

If your Post or Department is interested in becoming an official American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial Corps Chapter/Organization by making a donation to help build the memorial, the Commission will send you a special engraved certificate. Remember the Doughboys! Please don’t let their service and sacrifice go unrecognized.

Volume 73. Number 3. 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

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