by Greg Woodfield
On the wall of David Magidson’s home study is a framed photo. It was taken in Washington DC and David is standing in a group with Barack Obama. The picture is one of a number on quiet display and there is a humble pride in the way David singles it out. Yet it is not vanity from being photographed next to a two-term sitting president at the nation’s capital that means so much to him. It is the reason that he was there that is crucial. He is representing Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. David explains, “Every year we go to Congress for a week, and we talk about veterans and we talk about Israel. And we get stuff done. That is a measure of the regard in which the organization is held.”
This past president of Temple Judea is passionate about his continued role as a national officer in the organization. While JWV has a distinguished history, David is still fighting to correct erroneous perceptions that linger about the Jewish contribution to the military. According to David, “It remains crucial to let everyone know that Jews have served the United States honorably and courageously and continue to do so.”
David, who spent a year in Madrid studying Spanish before his Army service, speaks with humor and nostalgia about his introduction to the military in 1967. After being commissioned, he was posted to the Miami field office of the 111th Military Intelligence Group as an operations officer. Upon leaving the Army, David stayed in Miami and graduated in law to add to his undergraduate degree in Spanish from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Thus, his involvement with the Jewish War Veterans also began. He joined Coral Gables post 243, rising to become post commander, then National Judge Advocate followed by in 2005 by the top job of National Commander.
More than half a million Jews served in World War II, and David recognizes this figure might be a surprise even to Jewish people. To him, it is perception influencing reality. The perception even within our own communities that Jews have traditionally sought non-military roles in life. And the reality that Jews served here as early as the American Revolutionary War. David cites three significant victories accomplished by JWV in recent years. He explains that “First there was no GI Bill after Vietnam and we played a significant part in getting it reintroduced. After, we had a Congress bill passed in which we got the President and the Defense Department to revisit all the Jewish servicemembers who won the Distinguished Service Medal, but not the Medal of Honor. We believed many didn’t get the higher honor because of anti-Semitism. Many were upgraded and now we have 17 Medal of Honor recipients.”
JWV’s latest battle felt particularly painful on an emotional level. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, claimed American Jews never send their children to fight for their country. Her comments in November last year drew withering criticism in the United States. And a hasty apology left out Jewish Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, further inflaming the situation. David was one of the past JWV national commanders to sign a letter to Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. demanding Ms Hotovely apologize directly to Jewish veterans of all conflicts. This she did. That home truth was illustrated following David’s powerful words at the Friday night Shabbat service before Memorial Day this year, which was dedicated to veterans.
After he spoke, a haunting slideshow of the 58 Jewish servicemembers who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan emphasized the commitment and sacrifice. They were people, not statistics. According to David, “After I spoke, Rabbi Jonathan Fisch asked all those who had served in the military to stand up. People stood. He then asked those who had brothers or sisters or father or mothers who served to stand up. And the number of people on their feet grew and grew. We had nearly three quarters of the congregation standing up.”
Closer to home, David’s son Ben was an intelligence officer attached to an infantry battalion, serving 15 months in Afghanistan. David recalls: ‘I remember when Ben finally came back and for some reason I’m looking through his duffel bag. And I say “what’s this?” He says casually, “It’s the Bronze Star”. I say, “I never knew”.’