By Cara Rinkoff, Programs and Public Relations Director

For the first time in its history, the Jewish War Veterans is taking advantage of technology to provide members with a unique way to attend National Convention. This summer, members will be able to get almost a complete convention experience without hopping on a plane.

While we would love to see all of you in Savannah this August, we understand not everyone can travel there and spend a full week with us.

JWV plans to use Zoom to allow members to participate from their homes in nearly all meetings and other sessions scheduled for the 127th convention in Savannah, Georgia.

“The hybrid option provides an opportunity for many of our members to view the many meetings held during our national conventions,” National Commander Alan Paley said. “Those that were previously not able to attend (for a variety of reasons), can now participate at arm’s length and see firsthand our national officers, and how the organization functions.”

This will be different than the live streams made available in the past. Registrants will be able to participate fully in the meetings and sessions. We will allow voting online, as well as opportunities to speak – the same as those who attend in person.

At the National Executive Committee meeting in January, the Convention Committee decided to charge a fee of $54.00 in addition to the $50.00 convention registration fee for those who want to attend the online portion of the convention.

If you want to participate in this hybrid convention from the comfort of your home, you will only be allowed to register online at www.jwv.org.

If you plan to join us in person August 7-12, you can download the registration form from our website, or mail in the form on page 11 of this edition of The Jewish Veteran.

Volume 76. Number 1. 2022

By Kate Logan,

The United States of America
Vietnam War Commemoration

March 29 marks the 5th anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Five years ago, the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act created this national observance. This act designated March 29, in perpetuity, as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. This special day joins six other military-centric annual observances codified in Title 4 of the United States Code §6, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

Many ask, why March 29? It is a fitting choice for a day honoring Vietnam veterans. On March 29, 1973 the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was disestablished. It’s also the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, and the same day Hanoi released the last of its acknowledged prisoners of war.

On March 29 in Washington, D.C., the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration has arranged a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, each accompanied by a Vietnam War Gold Star family member, plan to participate in this ceremony. All whose names are etched in the black granite of “The Wall” will be honored, along with their families. Plans include livestreaming this event on the Commemoration Facebook page.

In recognition of the 5th anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, the commemoration published a new poster highlighting the many faces—then and now—of Vietnam veterans who nobly served our Nation. Their courage, collective sacrifice and heroism inspires a deep respect and reverence in the hearts of Americans everywhere!

The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, authorized by Congress, established under the Secretary of Defense, and launched by President Obama in 2012, will continue through Veterans Day 2025.

Congress laid out five objectives for this commemoration, with the primary goal being to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, with distinct recognition of former prisoners of war and families of those still listed as missing in action and unaccounted for.

The four objectives include highlighting the service of our Armed Forces and support organizations during the war, paying tribute to wartime contributions at home by American citizens, highlighting technology, science and medical advances made during the war, and recognizing contributions by our Allies.

This commemoration honors all veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time from November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location. There is no distinction between veterans who served in-country, in-theater, or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve, and none could self-determine where they would serve. All were seen in the same way by a country that could not separate the war from the warrior, and each person who served during this period deserves the Nation’s profound thanks.

Of those who served during this timeframe, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates today there are six million U.S. Vietnam veterans living in America and abroad, along with nine million families.

Since 2012, more than 3.2 million who served between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975, and their families, have been publicly thanked by friends and neighbors during nearly 22,000 ceremonies hosted by our dedicated Commemorative Partners – but there is still more to do.

The commemoration staff encourages every American to show their deep gratitude to this generation of warriors and their families. Visit www.vietnamwar50th.com to learn how your organization can become a Commemorative Partner, gain access to commemorative materials, including Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins for presentations to Vietnam veterans and their families, and contribute to this noble mission.

Finally, help the nation reach Vietnam veterans who may be living in isolated conditions, those physically unable to attend commemorative events, and those in assisted living or care facilities. Honoring these warriors is simply the right thing to do and they have earned it!

Volume 76. Number 1. 2022

By National Commander Alan D. Paley

We all talk about our membership, and how so may Jewish veterans do not belong to our organization. But do we ask? Do we approach friends, neighbors, co-workers or members of other groups or organizations that we belong to and ask them to join our ranks?

It appears to me that many of us do not.

We just never think about it or are intimidated about asking.

So here is an interesting story about an ask, and perhaps after you read what I have to say, you will consider asking the next time you engage with someone who may be an eligible member or potential patron of our organization.

For those who attended NEC in 2020, during the Policy Committee meeting we had a guest speaker who proposed a fund raising project involving the JWV Torah. For those of you that do not know, JWV has a Torah, and it travels to both our NEC and National Conventions. We read from it on Mondays and Thursdays, and again on Shabbat when our meetings carry over onto a weekend. A while ago, it was determined the Torah was in desperate need of repair, and if those required repairs were not completed sooner rather than later, the Torah would not be able to be used again. This is what created the need for our speaker at the Policy Committee meeting during the convention. The speaker, a Rabbi from the Miami area, told us that instead of repairing the existing Torah, we should consider a project to write a new Torah. The writing of a Torah is an exciting project, and the idea was to travel across the country and write the Torah as it stopped in each Department. They would even take the Torah down to Post level to enable our members to purchase a letter, a verse or even an entire Parsha. Synagogues across the country undertake these same projects, and very often they become successful fundraising events. However, the leadership of our organization, after hearing this proposal voted not to move forward with this idea. We would look for other alternatives. So, the idea of writing a new Torah was shelved.

A few months later, during a small leadership meeting, the Torah project was again brought up, and a lengthy discussion followed. It was decided that we would not repair the existing Torah. An alternative idea was brought up to see if we could approach some local synagogues and ask them to consider donating one of their unused Torahs to our organization. Most at that meeting were skeptical. A few more months passed and, again the topic was brought up. We had to fix the current Torah, or we could not use it anymore.

So, I asked the question. I approached my Rabbi and asked for consideration towards the donation of one of their many Torahs. This request did take my Rabbi by surprise, as no one had ever asked for a donation of a Torah. Some organizations have asked to borrow one from time to time, but they were always returned and placed back in the Ark, standing ready for the next time they would be used. My synagogue had a total of 13 Torahs.

Over the years, and especially since the pandemic, the number of members attending High Holiday and Shabbat services has declined, and our need to have these services split into separate areas of the synagogue was no longer necessary. Therefore, we no longer needed all our Torahs.

So, the Rabbi spoke with our President and the idea fascinated him. This would be a wonderful mitzvah for our synagogue to help another Jewish organization, but the President and Rabbi could not make the decision alone. It had to be brought to the full Board of Directors for consideration.

On December 14, 2021, my synagogue held its first in person Board of Directors meeting in more than 19 months and I was asked to state my case and ask the Board for that donation. I did, and the Board voted unanimously to donate one of their Torahs to the Jewish War Veterans.

I did it, by simply asking the question.

There are many Jewish men and women who are eligible for membership in JWV, but they have never been asked, or have not been asked recently.

I urge you to ask.

You may be pleasantly surprised at the answer you get.

Our membership is the lifeblood of our organization. Let’s keep it growing.

I want to continue highlighting our Department Commanders and am pleased to focus on Ron Sivernell, the new Department Commander of TALO

Ron Sivernell

(Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma).

Sivernell joined JWV Post 755 in Fort Worth, Texas as a life member in 2005. He has served in multiple leadership roles, including Post Commander, the National Membership Committee, Vietnam Veterans Committee, Homeless Veterans Committee, and Committee for the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

He served in the Army from 1971-1974. After basic training at Fort Ord, California, he spent a year in Electronics Training School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey to learn cryptographic repair. He was assigned to the Presidio in San Francisco and Fort Baker, California. After the military, Sivernell spent ten years with the Fort Worth, Texas Police Department and worked as a probation officer for 32 years. He also completed a master’s degree and received a counselor license allowing him to run treatment programs in the probation department.

He and his wife Nelda have been married for almost 43 years. They have three children and four grandchildren.
If you have never been featured in The Jewish Veteran before, and you are currently serving as a Department Commander, please send me a picture wearing your Department Commander Cap, as well as a short bio, and we will publish it in the next issue of The Jewish Veteran.

Volume 76. Number 1. 2022

By PNC Dr. Barry Schneider

The National Executive Committee met in January in Orlando, Florida. While attendance was slightly less than usual, 33 members attended in person with an additional 20 NEC members via zoom.

The highlight of the NEC meeting itself was the acceptance of two new policies recommended by the Policy Committee. Both reflect a huge change in our operations and a clarity to our ongoing efforts to become more transparent.

The most significant policy deals with reimbursement of expenses by staff and volunteers. With extreme clarity, the policy lays out who can have JWV credit cards, what type of expenses are acceptable, and the procedures to request reimbursement.

NEC 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Photo Courtesy: Jerry Alperstein

Jewish War Veterans of the United States Expense Reimbursement Policy Effective March 1, 2022

This policy explains the guidelines for the reimbursement of expenses related to the general operation of JWV. This policy applies to the professional staff and volunteers in the performance of their duties on behalf of JWV.

Except as noted below, reimbursement for expenses by volunteers incurred on behalf of JWV must be approved by the National Executive Director (NED) in advance of the event.

JWV owned debit or credit cards are tightly controlled and limited only to short term use. These cards will be issued to the NED, Director of Operations, National Commander, Coordinating Committee Chairman, and National Vice Commander. Cards for both the National Commander and

National Vice Commander can only be used during their term of office.

The following JWV members are eligible for expense reimbursement:

National Commander

The National Commander is JWV’s Chief Executive Officer and ambassador, and as such, is entitled to reimbursement for travel expenses while conducting JWV business. Each year a budget for these expenses is developed and included as part of the annual JWV budget.

Room charges for both the National Commander and traveling companion (spouse, significant other and Chief of Staff) will be comped or reimbursed at standard room rates. Travel by personal vehicle will be reimbursed at the standard mileage rate as determined by the IRS for that particular year. Airfare and or travel by rail will be reimbursed at standard coach rates. Rental car reimbursement will include daily or weekly rental, insurance (if needed and not covered by personal auto insurance policy or credit card), gasoline and tolls (with proper receipts).

The National Executive Director will:

The NED will be responsible for reviewing and approving reimbursement requests by the professional staff.

Devise an official “Expense Reimbursement Form” for use by all members and the staff requesting reimbursement.

Individuals will be required to complete the form and submit it to the NED for review and approval.

Standard retention policy must be followed for processed Expense Reimbursement Forms, and these forms must be made available for inspection should the need arise.

Request for inspection must be made in advance to the NED and must not interfere with the daily operation of the organization.

JWV Travel Reimbursement Policies for Officers and members Conducting JWV Business:

Requests for reimbursement must be submitted to the NED. Where possible, these expenses should be approved in advance. Receipts are required to receive reimbursement.

Hotel charges will be reimbursed at the standard room rate.

Reasonable food expense will be reimbursed with required receipts. Under no circumstances will alcoholic beverages be reimbursed.
Train/Airfare will be reimbursed at the lowest coach rate.

Convention Chair – JWV – Expenses related to inspection of properties prior to the actual convention and or NEC. Room charges, prior to these gatherings will be comped or reimbursed at standard room rates.

Receipts for all expenses are required.

Air Travel – advanced reservations should be made as far in advance as possible. All air travel must be by the least expensive coach price.

Where possible, rooms provided free by the hotel should be used as follows for the following individuals.
• National Commander
• National Vice Commander
• Coordinating Committee Chairman
• Convention Chairman
• JWVA Convention Chairman
• Museum President
• JWV and National Museum staff.

Meals – reimbursement for meals will be made only when the Convention Committee is visiting properties for the purpose of inspecting and selecting sites for future conventions or NEC meetings.

Meals during the National Convention and NEC meetings will not be reimbursed, with the following exceptions:

National Commander for the National President’s Banquet and National Commander’s Banquet will be paid by JWV in advance of the event. Spouse, or significant other (if any) will also be paid by JWV.

Official Meals for Honored Guests – Cost of meal for any honored guest(s) will be reimbursed for the following:

• Honored guest, spouse or significant other
• National Commander, spouse or significant other
• National Vice Commander, spouse or significant other
• National President, spouse or significant other
• JWV Convention Chair, spouse or significant other
• JWVA Convention Chair, spouse or significant other

Alcoholic Beverages – There shall be no reimbursement for alcoholic beverages. Other attendees desiring alcoholic beverages must be paid for by the individual.

The second policy approved was a clarification of the hat policy for National Officers.

Jewish War Veterans of the USA Policy For Official Head Gear

This policy shall apply to the following past current and future National Officers of JWV and become effective upon approval by the Policy Committee.

The approved policy shall immediately be posted to the Manual of Ceremonies as prescribed in the Constitution and By Laws

JWV National Office will procure official hats for all National Officers.

1. The National Commander’s hat shall be embroidered with 4 stars and the lettering:
NATIONAL COMMANDER XXXX-XXXX
2. The National Vice Commander’s hat shall be embroidered with 3 stars and the lettering:
NATIONAL VICE COMMANDER XXXX-XXXX
3. The National Judge Advocate hats shall be embroidered with 2 stars and the lettering:
NATIONAL JUDGE ADVOCATE no date will added to the hat due to an undetermined length of service.
4. The Chief National Chaplain’s hat shall be embroidered with 2 stars and may have a date of service if appropriate
5. The National Chief of Staff’s hat shall be embroidered with 1 star and the lettering:
NATIONAL CHIEF of STAFF XXXX-XXXX
6. The National Officer of the Day’s hat shall be embroidered with 1 star and the lettering: NATIONAL OFFICER of the DAY no date will added to the hat due to an undetermined length of service.
7. A cap will be provided to the National Executive Director, either the member or patron cap as appropriate and embroidered with the words NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR.
8. The National Aide de Camp’s hat shall be embroidered with 1 star and the lettering:
NATIONAL AIDE DE CAMP XXXX-XXXX.
9. The National Quartermaster’s hat shall be embroidered with 1 star and the lettering NATIONAL QUARTERMASTER XXXX-XXXX.

These policies will be added to the Manual of Ceremonies as directed by our Constitution.

The effort by the NEC under the leadership of President Jerry Blum are to be applauded as we continue to improve transparency and move our organization in to the 21st century.

Volume 76. Number 1. 2022

By Cara Rinkoff, Managing Editor

The Jewish War Veterans successfully hosted this year’s Veterans Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery. Last year veteran service organizations (VSO) were only allowed to have one representative apiece due to the COVID pandemic. This year there were still restrictions, but the annual ceremony had a greater sense of normalcy to it.

JWV National Commander Alan Paley sat on the dais in the cemetery’s amphitheater next to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. In a special section for members of the co-hosting organization, JWV had multiple representatives, including National Vice Commander Nelson Mellitz and his wife Debbie, Art and Roz Kaplan, and National Executive Director Ken Greenberg and his wife Janet. Department of Wisconsin Commander Kim Queen and his wife Ilene also attended the ceremony.

In addition to delivering remarks at the event, Paley led the Pledge of Allegiance, and both he and Mellitz placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown.

In the introduction to Paley’s remarks, the speaker recognized that 2021 marked the 125th anniversary of the Jewish War Veterans and noted that we are the oldest, continuously active veterans’ organization in the United States.

Paley then delivered the following remarks.

“President Biden, Secretary McDonough, Director Aguilera, distinguished guests, my fellow veterans, ladies, and gentlemen.

On Veterans Day, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause for a few brief moments to both honor and pay tribute to the men and women who served in the defense of our country and then returned home. We owe you our thanks, our respect, and our freedom.

George Washington spoke about the country’s obligation to care for its veterans and their families, he said: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any way, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

Paley and Mellitz place wreath at Tomb of the Unknown. Photo by Christy Turner.

Let us remember, “Treated and appreciated.”

Engraved on the granite wall of the Korean War Memorial a short distance from here is the simple but powerful phrase “Freedom Is Not Free.” The freedoms we enjoy today, were made possible by the more than 19 million living veterans, and countless others who served in the defense of our country.

The symbols of America and freedom are interlocked, and they are present here today. The flags flying, the white grave markers, and ALL OF US – the veterans and servicemembers who protected our nation.

It is you that we celebrate and honor today.

Our work continues as citizens in supporting America’s veterans and servicemembers. JWV and VSO’s must continue to fight for adequate funding for VA services and assure that issues facing veterans from all eras remain at the forefront. I call on each of you to take action and make your voice heard on issues we continue to face, including ending homelessness, increasing access to healthcare, delivering mental health care, reducing claims processing times, deploying integrated electronic health records and addressing toxic exposure concerns in a comprehensive way.

Seated throughout the amphitheater this morning are the leaders of many Veteran’s Service Organizations.

Every VSO was created with the purpose to advocate for the unique needs of the Veteran community. VSOs understand and work tirelessly to maintain and improve the benefits we earned. There is strength in numbers, and veterans must continue to be strong advocates and have our voices heard.

When the Jewish War Veterans celebrated its 100th anniversary, our National Commander, Robert Zweiman also addressed this gathering.

His closing remarks that day are just as powerful today, as they were in 1996.

He said, “Never should our government presume that by setting aside but one day they have met their obligation to the survivors of yesterday’s wars and today’s or tomorrow’s conflicts. We welcome your thoughts that this is not merely a singular day of honor, but indeed a public recognition of obligation to service. And we welcome your concerns that such obligation must be answered with compassion and with resolve.”

I stand before you as a Veteran myself. As we honor, celebrate, and share thanks, we must remain vigilant, and continue to ensure that the freedoms, benefits, and services we enjoy today, remain with us for centuries to come.

May God bless those who have earned the title of veteran, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank You.”

You can watch the entire ceremony and hear Paley’s remarks on Arlington National Cemetery’s official Facebook page.

After the ceremony, JWV hosted the traditional Veterans Day luncheon for VSOs at the Military Women’s Memorial, which is near the entrance of the cemetery.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By Maj. Sarah Schechter, U.S. Air Force

Operation Allies Refuge is the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in the history of the United States, and I am fortunate to say, “I was there.”
The operation included 22 Religious Support Teams who provided 24/7 religious accommodation to our 35,000 guests and was nothing short of miraculous. It was a collaboration between the military, German Police, Embassies, the State Department, USAID, the USO, interpreters, volunteers, and big hearts of all kinds.

I am an Air Force Chaplain/Rabbi and belonged to this once in a lifetime team. At the close of daily leadership meetings, the officer in charge called on me for final thoughts. “And Chaplain, what do you have for us today?” The turn of events had impacted my perspective on our presence in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. I experienced a range of emotions and prayed to G-d for insight. It then occurred to me that this operation was our country adopting another people as its own. That realization defined the rest of the operation for me and thus at the camp meeting I said, “Our Afghan guests are about to be adopted by our country to be our fellow American citizens. Our role at Ramstein is much like that of a foster family. What does a foster family do? It provides love, care, stability, safety, nurturing, and shelter. We are the foster family, and our guests are on their way to becoming family. Our family! And our fellow Americans.”

U.S. citizens and their families process through the passenger terminal at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to board a departure flight on their way to the United States as part of Operations Allies Refuge, Aug. 23, 2021. Ramstein, a transit location for evacuees from Afghanistan, provided temporary lodging, food, medical services and treatment while they awaited transportation to the United States. Nearly 48 hours after the operation began, more than 7,000 evacuees have landed at Ramstein. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Edgar Grimaldo)

Operation Allies Refuge, one of the most challenging and powerful experiences of our life, was a giant foster family. Months later, as the operation came to a close and last flights departed Ramstein with passengers smiling ear to ear, many a heart ached. Hearts ached at having to say farewell to children whose little feet they clothed in socks and shoes. Children with whom they played ball, taught English, and snuck candy into hands, just to bring a smile and make their difficult life more pleasant. Hearts were aching because in the bittersweet moment, they were now all gone off, we hope, to a brighter future. The once teeming tent cities that sprang up overnight are now empty, silently echoing the non-stop, problem-solving, rhythm of their life here. Now a ghost town. The Islamic call to prayer we played over loudspeaker to thousands of people, five times a day, for two months, is no longer needed.

I escorted the last Afghans leaving Ramstein and realized that I was there due to a decision I had made 20 years ago. I joined the military because of September 11, going to a recruiter on September 12, 2001. By some uncanny coincidence, I was the last military member to say goodbye, on one of the last flights to the United States. For me, this closed that chapter of September 11.

Former Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Sacks once said, “We are as great as the challenges we have the courage to undertake.”

This operation, and its various challenges, has been a courageous undertaking. We are providing the homeless with a home, the nationless with a nation. People who had no future, now have a future.

How is greatness achieved? To again quote Rabbi Sacks, “When we hand our values to the next generation and empower them to build a future.” Our newest American citizens are our family and our next generation. May God bless them, and may God bless America, through them.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By National Vice Commander Nelson Mellitz

On October 25, I represented JWV on the USS Olympia at Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) in Philadelphia for the 100 Years Later recognition ceremony. This event commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Soldier’s journey home aboard the USS Olympia. On October 25, 1921 the United States World War I Unknown Soldier returned from France on that ship.

The USS Olympia’s journey home with the Unknown Soldier started at Le Havre, France and after a 16-day voyage concluded at the Washington Navy Yard. En route to the nation’s capital, the Olympia ran into two hurricanes which generated waves that were 20 to 30 feet high. I stood on the Olympia’s upper deck, where 100 years ago, the Unknown Soldier’s casket was tied down and only two deck plates helped to anchor it in place. During the journey, Marine guards stood watch over the casket on the ship’s upper deck. Several times they physically held down the casket so it would not float overboard. The Olympia arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921 six days later than expected.

During the ceremony on October 25, the USS Olympia bells were rung to mark the exact moment the Unknown Soldier was brought aboard on October 25, 1921. Later in the ceremony, a gun volley took place between the Olympia on the Philadelphia side and the Battleship New Jersey on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River to mark the moment Olympia got underway from Le Havre, France.
2021 marks the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

It was my great honor to participate in the USS Olympia commemoration event.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By Kerry Ward, Veterans History Project Liaison Specialist

Jacob Weinstein. Melvin Cohen. Bonnie Koppell.
These names may not be etched into popular memory, but they fought unrelenting bigotry in two World Wars, battled communist forces within the jungles of Vietnam, and operated peacekeeping missions in some of the most difficult environments in the world. With their brothers and sisters in arms, they followed a long tradition of Jewish Americans who have heeded the call to serve and, in doing so, helped form the fabric of our military, history, culture, and society. They faced barrages of artillery in the trenches of France during The Great War, flew bombing missions over Germany during World War II and counseled the men and women on the front lines during the most recent conflicts. By sharing their diverse experiences, we as a nation can begin to understand their immeasurable contributions.

Created by Congress in 2000, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) includes those treasured stories of service and over 112,000 other first-person narratives of U.S. veterans and Gold Star family members. As a grassroots effort, volunteers around the nation help the veterans in their lives and communities gather and submit audio and video oral history interviews, original photographs, letters, diaries, and other documents chronicling their time in the military. These collections create a lasting record of service, while simultaneously providing an invaluable cultural resource that informs the historical record and illuminates the times in which our nation’s veterans lived. Our repository is full of information that focuses solely on veterans’ personal experiences – memories of what they did, saw and felt- no matter their branch, rank or religious affiliation.
Those of Jewish heritage have served our nation since before the Revolutionary War and have continued to serve through every U.S. conflict. More than half a million Jewish Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

Fighting Nazi Germany took on special significance for this group of U.S. servicemen in the European Theater. Even those Jewish soldiers, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, and sailors who were serving elsewhere in World War II understood that defeating the Axis would be a defeat for blind hatred of any ethnic group or nationality. First-person accounts of 10 veterans of the Second World War are spotlighted in one of VHP’s Experiencing War online exhibits, titled Jewish Veterans of World War II.

One veteran included in the exhibit is Milton Stern, who enlisted in the Army Air Force in October 1941, six weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fresh out of high school in Rochester, New York, he was working in a defense-related job which might have exempted him from service, but he was determined to serve in uniform. By March 1944, he was flying as a navigator in a B-17 in bombing missions over Germany.

The enemy shot down his plane over Holland and after 10 months of being sheltered by Dutch partisans, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp. Being captured relatively late in the war had its advantages. Stern’s captors knew he was Jewish, but they were too distracted by the advancing Allied forces to transfer him to a death camp. He kept a secret diary, which detailed his dwindling rations, as well as wish lists. By May 1, 1945, the German guards had fled the camp and the prisoners’ Russian liberators had arrived.

Not included in the exhibit, but available in the online database is the oral history of Dr. Henry Heimlich, who accepted an assignment as a U.S. Navy chief medical officer at Camp Four of the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO) located in northern China. Following the war, Heimlich continued to think of a Chinese soldier he saw die from a bullet wound to the chest. This experience led to the creation of the Heimlich Chest Drain valve, which helps save individuals with a collapsed lung. This valve would go on to save countless lives during the Vietnam War. His innovations continued and he is credited with creating the first aid procedure popularized in 1974 called the Heimlich maneuver.

Jewish veterans continued to make impacts throughout the U.S., whether during a conflict or peacetime, through traditional military occupational specialties and those not as common. Rabbi Israel Drazin served during the Cold War and was the first person of the Jewish faith to serve as the Army’s Assistant Chief of Chaplains. As a lawyer, the Army called on him to defend the constitutionality of military chaplaincies. When he won that case, he helped to open the door for chaplains to serve people of all faiths, as well as atheists.

Regardless of whether Jewish American service members ventured onto foreign soil or supported efforts stateside, the ones who chose to tell their stories are contributing to the record of human understanding and the evolution of American society. If you are a veteran, share your story with VHP so we can add it to the national repository for future generations. If you have a veteran in your life, even if they are deceased, VHP welcomes you to submit their personal narrative and/or original materials as soon as you can.

You can download a VHP How-to Field Kit at www.loc.gov/vets, check out the adapted training materials and guidance for library users engaged in VHP collecting activity in person or via remote interviews.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By DC Lou Michaels

The Department of Minnesota celebrated its 76th anniversary with a dinner at Mancini’s Steakhouse in St. Paul, Minnesota on October 13.  The Department has held its annual dinner at this location since 1946.

This year more than 115 people attended the event, including National Commander Alan Paley and National President of the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary Sandra Cantor.

The annual dinner is always connected to the city of St. Paul’s Winter Carnival and its Senior Royalty were once again in attendance.  Senior Royalty knighted NC Paley and NP Cantor along with a few others. This is the fourth year in a row that JWV National Commanders have attended the dinner and were knighted in connection with the Winter Carnival.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum of the state’s 4th District sent a certificate of congratulations to JWV Posts 152, 331, and 354 on their work for both JWV and their community. The certificate also recognized Department Commander Lou Michaels on his work, including his induction into the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By Larry Jasper, National Editor

Sigd is an Ethiopian Jewish holiday held 50 days after Yom Kippur. It is about accepting the Torah and yearning for Israel and the Temple. It is thought to be the date on which G-d first revealed himself to Moses. For centuries Ethiopian Jews have used this holiday to plead to return to Zion.
It is also a tradition for the community to hold communal introspection in addition to the self-examination during Yom Kippur because in order to be worthy of returning to Jerusalem from exile, you must engage in communal introspection and repentance. Sins of community members are forgiven during Yom Kippur and the subsequent 50 days. On the 50th day, following communal introspection, the community returns to the Yom Kippur experience with prayers and a fast.

The Ethiopian Jews are also known as Beta Israel. They are one of the oldest Diaspora communities. The Torah refers to the land of Cush. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the return of the Jews who were exiled to a variety of lands, including Cush, which is now part of Ethiopia and the Sudan.
In the ninth century, the story of Eldad ha-Dani became well-known. He maintained that the tribe of Dan chose to leave the holy land rather than join the fight between Rehoboam and Jeroboam when the Kingdom of David split. The tribe went to the land of Cush. It is probably from this account that the idea arose that the Ethiopian Jews were descendants of the tribe of Dan.

The Ethiopian Jews have continued to practice Judaism for centuries despite persecution and isolation. Because of isolation their type of Judaism differs from that practiced elsewhere. The most significant difference is that Ethiopian Jews base their beliefs on the Torah and some oral traditions passed from generation to generation. The rest of the Jewish world bases its practices on both written law (the Torah) and oral law. Oral law is the rabbinical interpretation of the Torah which was largely codified by the year 400 in the Talmud.

Since the Ethiopian Jews were unaware of the oral law, they were not familiar with any of the practices, rituals, and interpretations developed over the centuries by the rabbis. The Ethiopian Jews also had their own interpretations of the Torah and did not fulfill many of the biblical commandments, including the wearing of prayer shawls (tzitzit), posting of mezuzot on doorposts, or sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

The Ethiopian Jews also did not speak or write Hebrew, but speak Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Jews living in the region of Tigre speak Tigrinya. Their holy books are written in Geez, a language considered holy and used also by Ethiopian Christians. Their Torah is handwritten on parchment as a book, rather than as a scroll.

The first modern contact with the Beta Israel occurred in 1769, when Scottish explorer James Bruce stumbled upon them while searching for the source of the Nile River. He found them impoverished, heavily taxed, and oppressed. His estimates at the time placed their population at 100,000.
The Ethiopian Jewish community lived in complete isolation from other Jewish communities for many centuries. For this reason, the Ethiopian Jewish community developed many holidays and celebrations that do not exist in other Jewish communities. In the mid-20th century, during civil war and famine in Ethiopia, many Beta Israel were air-lifted to Israel.

The Knesset passed the Sigd Law in 2008, declaring the 29th of Cheshvan as a national holiday.
In Israel, it is celebrated for an entire month leading up to the 29th of Cheshvan and is an opportunity to raise Ethiopian Jewish visibility and educate Israeli Jews about the Beta Israel.

Today, since most members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have made Aliyah to the State of Israel and learned to speak Hebrew, during the holiday members of the community travel to Jerusalem and visit the Wailing Wall and the promenade in the city’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood. The holiday serves as an annual gathering of the entire Ethiopian community and its members view it as an opportunity to strengthen the connection with their roots and culture.

The Kessim (Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders), dressed in their traditional robes, carry the Torah scrolls while holding multi-colored umbrellas. They stand on an elevated stage, read excerpts from the Bible, and recite prayers before members of the community. Public officials attend the celebration and greet the audience, and many of the community members continue to fast until late in the afternoon.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021