By Colonel Nelson L Mellitz, USAF, Ret.

This is the second in a continuing series of articles in “The Jewish Veteran” on the ever-increasing anti-Semitism in the United States and overseas.

The U.S. State Department has joined with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a 31-member nation-state organization which met in Bucharest during 2016, and adopted a non-legally binding “working definition” of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individual(s) and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Examples of anti-Semitism given in the 2016 IHRA Plenary meeting notes include:

  • The targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective….
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters….
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

Will having a definition for anti-Semitism stop anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is an ancient hatred of our people. In the 21st century, the internet is used to communicate lies and falsehoods about Jewish people at the speed of light. In the past, that would have taken weeks or even months. We already know the possible consequences of allowing anti-Semitism to spread unimpeded.

There are two major battlegrounds in the fight against anti-Semitism: social media and college campuses.
The far left, far right, and Muslim extremist groups have formed an alliance to spread their anti-Semitic lies and falsehoods. These groups use social media and the internet to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to exist. An example of this approach is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with the help of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP uses the internet to push lies and falsehoods against not only Israel but the Jewish people. SJP states that anyone who supports Israel is against justice for all minorities. A study published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets from three million unique handles in 2017, and the number is increasing. That means on average there were 81,400 anti-Semitic tweets per week in 2017.

College campuses have become a major communications hub for hate groups. These hate groups use the campus internet and in-person platforms to promote anti-Semitism to impressionable young people – both Jewish and non-Jewish. The organization StandWithUs is a leading pro-Israel organization that investigates anti-Semitism and other types of discrimination on college campuses. StandWithUs says freedom of speech for Jewish students who support Israel is often violated on campuses. The group claims that at major U.S. colleges, Jewish students are branded as either supporting or not supporting Israel. If the student is a supporter of Israel, they have been physically and verbally attacked as a person that opposes social justice. Jewish and non-Jewish students that support Israel are continuously excluded from campus councils and social organizations.

Anti-Semitism is growing in the United States and throughout the world. The Jewish War Veterans has joined a coalition of over 145 major Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, and we have jointly endorsed a recent publication “The New Antisemites: How the Delegitimization Campaign Against Israel Drives Hatred and Violence in America.” JWV has responded to anti-Semitism with a renewed commitment to battle and counter anti-Semitism wherever it shows its ugly head. In the 1930s, Jewish War Veterans who served in World War I marched in the streets of New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere with our partner Veterans Service Organizations against Hitler’s fascism and hatred of Jews. The Jewish War Veterans still has that commitment against anti-Semitism. Perhaps we need marches in 2021 to prove to the world we are still actively fighting anti-Semitism.

JWV was formed in 1896 to counter anti-Semitism statements that we did not fight for the United States during the Civil War. Now in our 125th year, we are still fighting against anti-Semitism, perhaps a different form, but still anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism is increasing throughout the United States with hate speech and actions on college campuses, in government, and in social organizations. Join with your fellow JWV’ers to increase our efforts to fight this hatred and secure the future of the Jewish people in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Larry Jasper

On February 6, Murray Zolkower turned 100-years-old. Two months ahead of the celebration, his daughter Francine decided to see if she could get people to send 100 birthday cards to him as a surprise. Between the efforts of National and the Department of Florida, as well as many Department and Post members, Zolkower received more than 500 cards. He also got letters from former President George W. Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, and two former U.S. Surgeons General.

At Mission BBQ in Tampa, Murray Zolkower shows off the Centenarian Certificate from the JWV presented by the Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper along with Jim Marenus and Jack Rudowsky of Post 373 in Tampa, FL

Mission BBQ, Zolkower’s favorite restaurant, hosted a surprise lunch for their special customer, as well as his children, friends, and three members of JWV. Two active-duty Army recruiters also made a surprise appearance along with a bag of goodies. During lunch, Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper, assisted by Post 373 members Jack Rudowsky and Jim Marenus presented him with a JWV Centenarian Certificate.

On his actual birthday, February 6, Suncoast Region Veterans Village USA organized a parade in front of his home in Dunedin, Florida. The parade included restored military vehicles, a vehicle from Mission Barbecue, and other cars and trucks displaying congratulatory signs and American flags. The Dunedin Fire Department, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Honor Flight of West Central Florida, and a retired Air Force Colonel who serves as an aide to Congressman Bilirakis also participated in the parade.

Zolkower joined JWV in 1946 when he returned home from World War II and is still co-commander of Post 409. He is one of the longest serving volunteers at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Zolkower was surprised so many people came out and sent things to him for his birthday. He said it was the “greatest moment of my life.”

While attending Columbia College of Pharmacy in New York in 1938, a recruiter for the New York National Guard came on campus. He promised $15 a month for anyone who signed up and attended twice a month. That was a lot of money at the time, so Zolkower signed up. One year later, he was surprised when he had to report for active duty and disrupt his studies for one year. He spent that year at Camp Dix (now Fort Dix) in New Jersey. After being released he returned to Columbia only to have his studies again disrupted in 1943 when the Army called him back to active duty.

The Army had no need for a pharmacist, so they sent him to Colorado to train as a dental tech. Later the military sent him to Texas to train as a medic.

Zolkower found himself on Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day. He said the beach was all cleaned up and very busy with supplies and personnel coming in. He was sent to an area near St. Lo, France, assigned to the 7th Convalescent Hospital, where they used large tents to treat troops who could return to duty.

In August 1944 he was in Paris assigned to a clearing company of the 45th Division as a Dental Tech, where he was evaluating soldiers with facial injuries.

Zolkower then moved to Etampes, France, where the Division set up in a captured German Hospital. The Army decided they did not need a Dental Tech there, so he became a medic assigned to the 92nd Mechanized Cavalry, 14th Division, sent to look for trouble close to the front.

Zolkower then got assigned to the 120th Medical Battalion in the 45th Infantry Division.

His unit fought their way through Nuremburg and Munich where they were billeted in a former SS barrack.

Col. Gerry Custin, aide to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Murray Zolkower, Francine Wolf, and two friends.

On April 29, 1945, his unit was ordered to liberate Dachau. Zolkower said he didn’t want to go with the unit and see his fellow Jews dead or dying but was not given a choice. Zolkower said, “it was the worst thing I ever saw in my life.” He added that nice homes, like those in suburban Long Island, were lining the street leading to the front gate of the camp. He felt there was no way those living in those homes did not know the horrors taking place in the camp.

The war ended nine days later, but Zolkower could not return home right away. He remained with the military in Gars, Germany, where he helped set up a clinic to treat farmers who had sustained injuries. After two months, he returned to the United States.

Zolkower’s girlfriend, Lillian, wrote him every other day during his deployment. They were married in 1946 until her death in 2014. Zolkower returned to school and became a pharmacist in 1948. He still works as a pharmacist part-time.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Chris Skidmore, PhD
Associate Director, Veterans Health Administration Military Sexual Trauma Support

Every April, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amplifies its year-round outreach during Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a special campaign to show its support for a particular population of veterans: survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).

The VA uses the term MST to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during military service. MST can occur at any time or place, whether on or off duty or on or off base. The perpetrator(s) may or may not be someone known to the survivor and may be a fellow service member or a civilian. Veterans of all service eras, branches, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and physical sizes have experienced MST.

For MST survivors, just learning that someone believes they were traumatized and understands the many different ways MST can affect survivors can be tremendously healing. That’s why this year, VA’s message for Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on supporting MST survivors and demonstrates VA’s confidence in their strength and resilience: “We believe you — and we believe in you.”

The VA also wants to make sure that all veterans who experienced MST understand that healing is possible., MST is never their fault, they are not alone, and VA is ready to help. The VA is reaching out to survivors and their families, friends, and supporters for help in spreading the word. Everyone has a role in letting veterans know that VA offers free services for mental and physical health difficulties related to MST. You can help by sharing information about MST with veterans and veteran supporters.

Show your support by telling MST survivors about what’s available at VA.

Some veterans recover from MST without significant long-term difficulties, but many others are fighting quiet battles all around us as they cope with MST’s lingering effects on their mental and physical health, work, relationships, or everyday life — even many years after the experience.

Veterans’ reactions vary based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, life experiences, and other background factors. Symptoms also vary, and they may include experiencing strong emotions, sleep disturbances, relationship and trust issues, unsafe coping behaviors, and physical health effects.

Many MST survivors do not want to tell others about their experiences. Some stay silent because they worry about being judged or not being believed, while others can’t imagine how treatment could truly help them heal. As a result, many survivors can find it hard to access care even when they need it.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, VA redoubles its efforts to raise awareness about VA’s free services to support survivors’ healing and recovery. Eligibility for VA’s MST-related care is expansive. No documentation of the MST experience is required. Veterans do not need to have reported the MST experience at the time, to have sought care within a certain time frame, or to have applied for service connection for an MST-related condition to get care.
To learn more, veterans may contact a local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator, a professional at every VA health care facility who specializes in connecting survivors with the MST-related care and services that are right for them. Veterans can also speak with a VA health care provider.

Find more resources and materials about Sexual Assault Awareness Month at

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Greg Lee

The evening of September 8, 2020 started out fairly routine here in the mountains of Northern California. We even checked the status of the wildfires in our area by visiting the local Fire Chief at the Station.

The fire was miles away and three crews were on it, so we figured there wasn’t much chance of it reaching my location anytime soon. So, we went home, made dinner, and turned in early when the sun set at 8:30 p.m.

At 10:30 p.m. what sounded like a jet aircraft making low flybys disrupted my light sleep. I went outside to check things out. There were no aircraft, but the winds were whipping up. Soon I heard the sound of loud explosions.

I’m not a stranger to the sounds of exploding propane tanks, vehicle gas tanks, and power transformers. I quickly jumped on my motorcycle and did a local recon. Everything seemed fine.

The only fire I could see was miles away and not an immediate threat.

But I didn’t know that officials were igniting back fires in our community. I’m not sure why they would light fires in high winds, and naturally, they soon got out of control. And then a soldier’s nightmare became reality. We were flanked by a wall of flames which was in effect, friendly fire, and the fire was racing through the crowns of the trees moving very fast.

I quickly gathered my dogs, computer, and firearms. I loaded my truck and practically drove through flames to a neighbor’s place to offer some assistance. I spent a few minutes there helping load up. As we drove down the mountain with the flames in hot pursuit, we were lucky not to have the road blocked by falling trees or power lines.

When disaster hits quickly, government agencies are ill equipped or prepared for an immediate response. In the first few hours neighbors were helping neighbors in our makeshift encampment in a large parking lot in town.

Churches, rescue missions, and the Salvation Army were the first to respond with water, food, gasoline cards, and clothing.

Eventually, government agencies set up a resource center for the victims to use. Most of the agencies were there, but getting that assistance can be a long and time consuming process.

In many cases it can take weeks because housing and hotel rooms are hard to find. The current coronavirus pandemic also made for an extra challenge in this situation.

There exists a huge void in the assistance process. How does a victim get needed help in the space between the major aid providers and the immediate need?

I learned that one of the greatest resources available is from Veteran Service Organizations. When the Jewish War Veterans became aware of my dilemma, they were the first to respond and provide aid.

JWV has a dedicated Disaster Relief Program. They immediately approved my request for assistance and provided me with much needed funding for immediate needs. I am so grateful for the generosity and commitment my VSO has demonstrated.

My local Post 603 was also instrumental in providing aid. The members of the Post created a special fund, and I cannot begin to express how much it helped.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Jewish War Veterans at all levels, my tragedy has been significantly mitigated. I am forever appreciative to my comrades in arms for their unwavering support and actions to facilitate my challenges during these trying conditions.

When spring comes in a few months, thanks to JWV, I am prepared to go back to the mountain and rebuild.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be associated with the greatest Veterans Service Organization in the nation, the Jewish War Veterans.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

Captain Aaron Brumbaugh is a member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan and of Charles Shapiro-MG Maurice Rose Post 510. He is a decorated U.S. Army Infantry Officer with two combat tours in Afghanistan. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and recipient of the George C. Marshall Leadership Award. He expects to complete his professional degree work at Wayne State University in December. He presented the following remarks at Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s annual Veterans Shabbat on November 7, which this year commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II.

I am a former Captain in the United States Army. I deployed as an Infantry Platoon Leader on two deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan with the “Blue Spaders,” the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment.

So, what is the significance of that affiliation?
In World War I, the “Blue Spaders” fought across France, winning more campaign streamers than any other unit in that war.
In World War II we were part of Operation Torch, assaulting and ultimately taking North Africa before crossing the Mediterranean and participating in the taking of Sicily during Operation Husky.

When it was time for the Allies to storm the Beaches of Normandy, the “Blue Spaders” were there as well, in the very first wave of the assault. They fought on from there, laying siege to the German city of Aachen, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, and fighting into Czechoslovakia before the end of the war, earning the unit motto “Relentless Pursuit.”

We were there in Vietnam, and in the Balkan Wars deploying to Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. We were in Iraq in Samarra in the Sunni Triangle, and then in Baghdad, and then deployed multiple times to Afghanistan including the now infamous Korengal Valley, some of the hottest fighting of the Afghan war.

And on another note, according to Marvel Comics, Captain America himself was originally a “Blue Spader.” If you don’t believe me, feel free to Google it.

So why am I telling you all this? And why use the term “we” when, as some of you may already suspect, I was not personally at any of these battles of World War II?

Well, in the U.S. military and particularly in the U.S. Army, we understand the importance of our history. The institutions of today’s military were created and shaped by the heroes of the World Wars and the conflicts since then. We feel the echoes of their contribution through everything we do, every tradition, and every lesson learned through hard warfare. We train in tactics and procedures that were formed in the time of the World War. At times, we are even quartered for training in facilities that don’t appear to have been updated since World War II. But all this connects us to our units’ lineages and lets us feel the weight of trying to fill the footsteps of giants who came before us. All Jews are commanded to regard themselves as if they were personally brought forth out of the land of Egypt. Similarly, Soldiers feel a direct connection to their individual unit history. I am privileged to be part of the continuing story of the “Blue Spaders,” and all of today’s veterans in numerous battalions throughout the U.S. Army get to be part of similar stories. In all of these stories, the Second World War holds a place of special distinction. It forms the cornerstone of military education and training to this day. As young soldiers, when we learn about our unit histories, there is a very real sense of what incredibly big shoes we have to fill. So, I am here to express my gratitude as a soldier, for fighting a campaign the magnitude of which is almost unimaginable to me, even as it paved the way for the modern institution of the military which made me what I am today.

But as Jews, the significance of this war is even greater. The heroes of World War II are responsible for overturning a true existential threat to the Jewish people and stopping the greatest act of mass murder in modern history. American soldiers liberated five of the concentration camps and the American war effort was necessary for the liberation of the rest. The debt of gratitude of the Jewish people cannot ever be fully expressed or repaid. So again, I am here to try to convey my gratitude, this time as a Jew, for the gift of life given back to so many of our people.

And in addition to all this, there is another special significance of the Greatest Generation that I feel as an American. In the times we live in, it is almost unimaginable to think of society coming together and taking on such a herculean task as they took on. This generation emerged directly from the Great Depression and marched into one of the greatest wars ever fought. There was no excuse of hard times, just the country coming together and doing what needed to be done. Some of that sense of unity can be seen in the humble title “GI,” shorthand for “General Issue” or “Government Issue.” The Soldiers of World War II embraced the term GI, carrying connotations of being a small part of something much bigger. So again, I am here to express my gratitude, now as an everyday American, for showing us the way to put aside individual egos and do what you were called to do as part of something much greater, and for laying the template for the ideal of what it means to be an American.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

By Gary Ginsburg

Syracuse University has supported America’s veterans for more than 100 years. It started with military training conducted on campus for 1,000 men in 1918 during World War I. During the 1940s, Syracuse University President and Chancellor William Tolley provided critical input to create the original GI Bill legislation, which provided enormous educational opportunities for returning veterans following World War II. More recently, during his inaugural address to the university community in 2014, the current university president and chancellor Kent Syverud stated, “I believe Syracuse University must once again become the best place for Veterans. We have the capacity; we have the opportunity to be the best in the world at providing opportunity and empowerment to the veterans of our armed forces and their families.”

Ginsburg and Novak with a plaque dedicated to Jewish Medal of Honor Winner and Syracuse University graduate William Shemin.

In 2020, the “Military Times” ranked Syracuse University number one among privately endowed universities in the country for its support of veterans and fifth among all institutions of higher education including public or state sponsored colleges. One of the reasons Syracuse University is known as a veteran-friendly or veteran-centric school is the National Veterans Resource Center which opened several months ago. The ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for April 2020 will now take place in May of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Syracuse University has about 1,100 military-connected students out of a total student population of 21,000. These students fall into five groups, including active-duty military personnel, U.S. Army OTC and Air Force ROTC, reserve component personnel service in the U.S. armed forces, veterans from all branches of the military, and immediate family members of the other groups.

Dan Bateman, an operations officer at the University’s Office of Veterans and Military Affairs said, “the military-connected students and veterans are granted priority for early class or course registration ahead of most students and following only the scholarship athletes on campus.”
On November 30, I took a special tour of the brand-new building known as the National Veterans Resource Center on the Syracuse University campus. The building is not yet open to the public due to COVID-19. While the university donated the land, the cost of the $60 million, 115,000 square-foot building came from private sector donations. There is a parade field for Army and Air Force ROTC cadet drill and ceremony (military marching) preparation as well as other possible outdoor activities. There are also classrooms, a large auditorium, and a multimedia center within the NVRC. The main tenants of the building are the Institute of Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, U.S. Army ROTC, U.S. Air Force ROTC, the university and regional student Veterans Resource Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Success on Campus program, Center of Excellence for Veteran Entrepreneurship, and a Veterans Business Outreach Center and Accelerator.

There are many programs using the NVRC as a hub and laser-focused in support of the 1,100 military connected students including, a business bootcamp for veterans with disabilities, female veterans and entrepreneurship, veteran career transition, skills training, and economic development engagement targeting advanced manufacturing skills with companies such as General Electric, Alcoa, Lockheed Martin and community colleges.

Ronald Novak, the executive director of the Syracuse University Office of Veteran and Military Affairs and a retired colonel U.S. Army said, “the new building and the programs here will help ensure this school continues to be the best place for veterans and family members today and for the next 100 years into the future.”

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

By Marc Liebman

As a young man, Aaron Bank, who was born in 1902, traveled extensively through Europe and became fluent in German and French. At the outbreak of World War II, he was 37 and volunteered to serve. Initially, the military rejected him due to his age, but Bank persevered. He went through Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Because of his language proficiency, Bank was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

After training in the U.S. and U.K. on how to conduct clandestine operations, he parachuted into the Vosges region of France on July 31, 1944 as the leader of the three-man Jedburgh team, code named Packard. Each team consisted of an officer, a demolitions expert, and a radio-operator. Bank, as well as his other team members, knew if they were captured, the Gestapo would torture and kill them. His team, aided by French partisans, harassed the Germans until he was pulled out in late 1944.

Bank’s next assignment came directly from the head of the OSS, General William Donovan, who told one of his subordinates, “Tell Bank to get Hitler.” For this mission, Bank recruited a team of anti-Nazis and former German soldiers who would parachute into Germany and kill Adolph Hitler if/when he fled to his redoubt in Berchtesgaden. The OSS scrubbed the mission just after the team boarded an airplane to fly into Bavaria in late April 1945.
With the war over in Germany, Bank went to French Indochina to lead teams rescuing French and other Europeans held prisoner by the Japanese. While there, Bank worked with Ho Chi Minh, who was fighting the Vietnamese. Impressed with Minh and his popularity, he suggested to the OSS and the State Department that Minh was extremely popular and would win a free election.

Bank recommended Minh be allowed to form a government after the war. He encouraged the Vietnamese leader to contact the State Department for support for a Vietnam free from the French as part of Roosevelt’s vision of a post-war world in which the British and French colonies would be given their independence. Minh tried several times in the late 1940s and early fifties, but each time his appeal was either ignored or rejected because the Truman and later Eisenhower administrations viewed Ho Chi Minh as a dedicated Communist. By then, the Cold War was underway.

After the war, Bank remained in the Army and served in intelligence billets in Europe before being sent to Korea as the executive officer of the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

Back in the U.S., Bank became the Chief of the Special Operations Branch of the Army’s Office of Psychological Warfare. His task was to “staff and gain approval for an OSS Jedburgh style team.” In 1952, the Army approved and funded a 2,500-man unit. Its mission was “to infiltrate by land, sea or air deep into enemy occupied territory and organize the resistance guerrilla potential to conduct Special Forces operations with the emphasis on guerrilla training.”

Bank and seven others started the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) on June 19, 1952 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Within two years, the 10th was manned and operational. After the Berlin Uprising in 1953, the 10th was split into two units, the 10th and the 77th, and both were expanded in size. The structure, training, tactics, and employment of Green Beret A teams that Bank outlined in 1952 are still used today. Colonel Bank retired in 1958.

After Bank left the Army, President Kennedy authorized the wearing of the “beret, man’s, wool, rifle green, Army shade 297.” Since then, the Army Special Forces have been known as the Green Berets.

This quiet warrior didn’t stop serving his country after he left the army. Horrified at the lack of security at the San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California near where he lived, Bank lobbied for change. Twice he had to publicly expose the vulnerability of the plant to sabotage. Finally, in 1974, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acted on his recommendations for all nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Aaron Bank wrote two books. One, “From OSS to Green Berets: The Birth of Special Forces,” describes his life and career. The other, co-written by Erwin Nathanson, is a novel titled “Operation Iron Cross,” which is a fictionalized account of the mission to kill Hitler. The book became the basis for the movie “The Dirty Dozen.”

Bank died in 2004 at the age of 101.

Volume 74. Number 4 . 2020

By M. B. Kanis
The creation of cemeteries as a final location is as old as man-kind. The creation of Jewish Cemeteries is unique, as Jewish religious customs require that Jewish burial sites be held in reverence.

Recent documented incidents of desecration, vandalism, and failures to maintain multiple Jewish Cemeteries in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, as well as occurrences in other cemeteries throughout the United States, prompted the following information in the desire to protect the deceased and provide context for the greater good.

What makes a Jewish Cemetery Jewish?
Establishing a cemetery is one of the first priorities for any Jewish community. According to Jewish tradition, Jewish burial grounds are sacred sites and must remain undisturbed in perpetuity.

A Jewish cemetery has physical boundaries that set the cemetery off from its surroundings, marking it holy for Jews. Inner reflection is often observed in a place of calm. A Jewish cemetery is considered consecrated ground where Jewish burial practices and customs are observed.

For Jews, a grave site is permanent and once established should not be violated.

The religious duty of burial is the responsibility of a decedent’s children or spouse. If there are no children or spouse, it is the responsibility of the closest relative. If no relatives, then the community. As time passes, it becomes the responsibility of those alive to respect the dead.

How are Veterans effected?
From the earliest sunrise of birth to the twilight last gleaming, members of the Jewish faith, first as volunteers, then as conscripted, and once again as volunteers, have served to protect and defend the United States. As veterans as well as citizens, the lives of people of the Jewish faith are intertwined with service to family and the community in many forms.

Our respect for our faith honorably distinguishes Jews as a guiding force during life and in repose. Over the millennia, the Jewish religion has codified customs and practices which we strive to live by out of respect for each other, the contributions each person has provided, no matter how small or far reaching. When our time on this earth ends, we as family, friends, or simply as strangers show a common dignity to provide a lasting resting place as a sign of remembrance for life.

According to the Family Research Organization, as of 2018 there were approximately 22,000 known dedicated Jewish Cemeteries, of the more than 145,000 graveyards and marked cemeteries in the United States, Territories and foreign U.S. managed sites.

With the aging population within America, there is also the aging of Jewish Cemeteries. More often in recent years, cemetery owners and operators are facing higher maintenance costs. Grounds appearance and paid perpetual care of individual and community grave sites are not maintained by a small percentage of operators.

Each of us, when visiting a deceased member or observing natural or wanton degradation, lack of maintenance, vandalism, or visible Anti-Semitic acts, have a duty and moral obligation to be vigilant, to say something, and to act to maintain the grounds of fellow Jews for the greater good of the whole community.

What do we look for in a Jewish Cemetery?
Different Jewish groups have different traditions about gravestones. Historically Ashkenazi Jews often have vertical gravestones and Sephardic Jews have horizontal stones. Sephardic stones often have angelic figures and biblical images, while images were not permitted on Ashkenazi stones.
In the modern era, both groups make frequent use of classic Jewish symbols: the Star of David, the Menorah, Tree of Life, the Book of Life, or a candle.

Historically, families that belonged to the priestly class (Kohanim), were forbidden to go inside the gates of a cemetery because that would violate laws of ritual purity. According to Arthur Kurzweil’s “From Generation to Generation,” their gravestones usually bear the symbol of two hands with thumbs touching and fingers spread out in a priestly blessing.

With a request, and at no charge to the applicant, the Department of Veterans Affairs furnishes a government headstone or marker for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death.

When purchasing a grave site, ensure the cemetery owner is bonded or provides proof of operating insurance. Upon research of the grave site to be chosen, look at the overall appearance, and the look of maintained graves and entry.

When purchasing perpetual care, determine if the people in charge of the perpetual fund are bonded or insured, which almost every state requires.
A perpetual fund is a separate bank account and/or lawful saving instrument, that is used as the principal fund for maintaining the property. Owners or operators may and often do use the interest earned from the perpetual fund to operate the overall function and appearance of the entire Jewish Cemetery while maintaining the appearance of individual grave sites paid for that eternity.

Owners may not spend the actual perpetual fund without lawful order.

What to do if you see degraded conditions or other serious lack of maintenance?
Call the cemetery owner, operator, or superintendent and politely voice your concern with specifics. Ask for action and an approximate date when the problem will be resolved. If the date for resolution is longer than a few weeks, and you haven’t seen any action taken, write a brief letter, addressed to the owner or operator confirming your earlier attempts and requesting reasonable action on their part. Anything placed in writing will serve as a dated proof of concern.

If no actions are observed and without a reasonable cause for the delay, your next step is to call your local appointed or elected Consumer Protection Representative, providing your details and documentation. If there is no Consumer Representative, call your local politicians with the same details.
On serious matters of overall neglect, a call or photograph to the local news station, newspaper, or regional Federation may also be useful. Anti-Semitic postings or other vandalism requires a call and or photograph to local law enforcement.

How do you maintain the implied right to review and provide service within Jewish Cemeteries?
Jewish veterans often have standing, which is a legal term indicating members of a local or regional Post have the implied right to maintain the site of the graves of buried veterans and often the related family members. By observing various legal holidays and other publicized events, Post members often can establish a rapport and standing within each Jewish Cemetery.

Often a stone or other veteran memorial erected within the property of the cemetery allows for standing. An act of Congress set aside a date before Memorial Day when individuals can place flags on veterans’ gravesites.

Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, is set aside as a day to honor living veterans and their families. While not an official act, family members and persons representing families of deceased veterans often place flags upon the grave sites.

MLK Day of Service is a day to provide meaningful actions to improve each community and educate citizens, often utilized to educate children and young adults as to the service provided by veterans. As an option, veteran grave sites are often cleaned or U.S. flags are placed as a sign of respect by the community.

It is an honor and mitzvah for veterans to remember each other for the sacrifice and service provided to the general public and to the Nation, that no others experience. Together we served and should be reposed forever in peace.

Volume 74. Number 3. 2020

By Cara Rinkoff
More than 215 members, associate members, and patrons registered for JWV’s 125th annual convention, which also happened to be the first virtual convention for our organization. The five-day convention, originally scheduled to take place in Jacksonville, Florida moved online due the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to the difficulties of holding votes online, the Convention Rules Committee approved a measure moving votes on all but the election of our new National Commander and Vice Commander to the next in-person convention.

The Opening Ceremony on Monday featured a video greeting from Secretary Robert Wilkie of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is the second time Wilkie has appeared at a JWV National Convention, and he also spoke in-person at NEC in February 2020.

At our first business session, more than 100 members tuned in as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer joined us for a question and answer session. Dermer spoke about the recent diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, saying he believes this is only the beginning. He thinks other countries in the Middle East will find it vital to work with Israel in the near future. “I think to the extent that you have leaders in the Arab world who would like to propel their countries forward and to be a force for modernization, then I think working with Israel is very important.”

Dermer also spoke about how Israel is dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic. He and PNC Harvey Weiner made a friendly bet about which country will develop the first vaccine for COVID-19. If Israel develops it first, Weiner owes Dermer dinner, but if any other country has the first vaccine, Dermer will treat Weiner to dinner.

Our second business session featured attorney Amy Van Fossen. She discussed aid and attendance benefits, which is important because it “is tax free and can be used for a variety of purposes… the intent of the benefit is for medical expenses.” Fossen said a common misconception is that you cannot receive Medicaid and the aid and attendance benefit. You can find her slide presentation with more information on VA benefits and Fossen’s contact information in the convention section of our website at

Approximately 100 members also joined our third business session to hear a discussion on anti-Semitism with American Zionist Movement President Richard Heideman and U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr.

Heideman spoke about the rampant anti-Semitism Jews are experiencing around the world and right here in the United States. He said, “We have seen a reemergence of such hatred, such intolerance, such bigotry, such anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist, and Holocaust denial that we must go back and reanalyze where we went wrong. What did we miss in training our young people? What did we miss in sending messages to our community and I mean the community at large… How is it possible that anti-Semitism has become all too acceptable?”

The two men answered several questions from members, and Carr discussed the importance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the importance of having countries accept the group’s definition of anti-Semitism. But in addition to just defining anti-Semitism, Carr said, “It [IHRA] goes on to provide examples, 11 of them to be precise, with an overarching additional example that provides a window into the contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism.” He added, “One of my top diplomatic asks when I go overseas is that a country that hasn’t adopted it formally, adopt it. And we’ve had great successes as more and more countries are lining up to embrace the IHRA definition.”

Carr also noted that while it’s obvious the internet and social media did not cause today’s anti-Semitism, “It is carrying this contagion further and faster than we’ve ever seen before and it is one of the chief reasons we’re seeing anti-Semitism rise today.”

During the convention members also attended important committee meetings and participated in a leadership workshop. You can find information on what happened at those meetings in the Committee Reports section of this issue.

Finally, on Thursday, JWV elected its new National Commander and first-ever National Vice Commander. NC Jeffrey Sacks and NVC Alan Paley both addressed the more than 100 members who attended the session which included their election. Sacks announced his new appointees for positions including Chief of Staff and National Adjutant.

We hope to welcome all of you to our next convention in-person, which will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 15-20.

Volume 74. Number 3. 2020

By Harvey Weiner
How does one tell the incredible story of a Jewish-American Vietnam War hero so that it is believable?
Melvin “Mel” Lederman was born in Brooklyn, New York and lived in Brookline, Massachusetts at the time of his death in Vietnam.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1948 in Alaska, where he contracted a virulent rash, leading to his being on partial disability. After his honorable discharge, he sought education under the G.I. Bill and earned a B.S. and a M.S. in Human Genetics from Michigan, an M.S. in physics from Yale, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. After a series of residencies and fellowships, including a chief residency in a VA hospital, he became Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1968, he was offered a surgery partnership in California. He seemed to be every Jewish mother’s dream!

Alas – not every Jewish mother’s dream! He was unmarried. He was a skydiver and a hunter. And, he turned down that job offer in California to join the Navy at age 40 and to volunteer to go to Vietnam.

In one of the letters he wrote from Vietnam, Lederman said, “Someone has to do the job of taking care of the kids, and it is obvious that I am it, so by conscience, I have been doing the best I know.”

Although he already satisfied his military obligation and was too old to be drafted, he joined the hospital ship USS Repose as a Lieutenant Commander. Before deployment he earned his jump winds at Fort Bragg.

While treating the wounded on the ship, Lederman realized the men were returning too late for any effective medical treatment to make a difference. He instead decided the best course of action was to treat the wounded on the battlefield. He started flying with the medivac helicopters and flew more than two dozen missions.

On at least one mission, he fought the enemy with his M-16. He was wounded on several occasions and received four Purple Hearts.
On one mission, he saved a wounded pilot’s life, but did not receive the Air Medal because he was not on flight status. I, along with many others in the Army, did not receive the Combat Infantry Badge because we were not assigned to an infantry position. However, there is now a Combat Action Badge for soldiers who engage in combat, but are not members of an infantry unit. Lederman was attached to HMM-364, known as the Purple Foxes, and he got nickname “Super Doc,” which he affixed to the naval identification tab on his flight jacket. He also went out on missions with the Navy Seals, but these unauthorized missions do not appear on his military record.

On November 29, 1969, shortly before his scheduled return to the U.S., Lederman was killed in action when his helicopter was shot down on a mission. It took 47 years for the Navy to award him a fourth Purple Heart, which they did in 2016. He was the only U.S. Navy doctor and the only Harvard Medical School graduate killed in Vietnam.

Two weeks before his death, Lederman was on a medivac mission in the Qui San mountain range northeast of Danang. A Cobra helicopter had been shot down and, under hostile fire, Lederman’s helicopter landed in an attempt to save the two pilots, who were believed to still be alive. Lederman and two others left their helicopter to search for the Cobra pilots, but found only their dead bodies. He helped bring them back to the helicopter, but then went back alone to the Cobra to retrieve their personal gear. The Cobra disintegrated moments after he left it. Upon his return to base, Lederman immediately counseled and treated one of the two other soldiers on that mission, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

For that mission, Lederman and the two others were recommended for the Silver Star by the elite Squadron Awards Board. It appears this recommendation never reached the appropriate personnel at the Department of the Navy. As it has done in the past, will the JWV be of help?
Opposite the Massachusetts General Hospital is the Esplanade on the Charles River where the Boston Pops gives its annual Independence Day concert. The playing field there is named Lederman Park, where a monument in his memory is planned. However, more than $400,000 must be raised to fund the monument.

You can read more about Lederman and the memorial project at

Volume 74. Number 3. 2020