By Eric Spinner

Fifty-one years after being killed in action in Vietnam, members of JWV’s Nassau-Suffolk District found the neglected headstone of Steven Gershnow at New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. They found the headstone on June 11, 2018, but it took until September 17, 2020 to complete the restoration.

Like so many others in his generation, Gershnow enlisted in the United States Army and went to Vietnam. Just three weeks after his deployment in June of 1968, he died after coming under attack in Bin Duong Province. The Woodmere, New York native served with 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, D Company. Gershnow was just 23 years old.

Our JWV team, consisting of Department of New York Commander Jack Holzman and Ensign Lawrence D. Solowey Post 652 Commander Gary Glick contacted the cemetery’s groundskeeper Thomas Whelan after finding the neglected gravestone. It turns out that getting a gravestone restored is not such a simple procedure, and it took 27 months to get through all the red tape.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

Veterans Day, November 11, began as a perfect fall morning. A light breeze unfurled the stars and stripes just above the Texas and Israeli flags on the three flagpoles at the Jewish Community Center in Austin, Texas.

The Color Guard, Commander, Chaplain, and guests of Post 757 gathered in person for the first time, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Color Guard was anchored by announcer Mike London, Bugler Gregg Philipson, Flag Holders/Raisers Alana Pompa and Bob Kaplan, and Rifleman Chuck Mandlebaum. Rabbi Dan Millner delivered the blessing, and Commander Charlie Rosenblum offered the closing remarks.

It was heart-warming to see a class of very young children of the Austin Jewish Academy, all sitting quietly, taking it all in behind their masks.
Commander Rosenblum thanked all those attending, including the JCC team who helped to make the event happen.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

By Lou Michaels

The Department of Minnesota celebrated its 75th anniversary with a dinner at Mancini’s Steakhouse in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday, October 28. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, strict CDC guidelines were followed, including a restriction on the number of guests who attended in person. There were 85 people who attended the dinner in the main room, 25 in an outside room, and many more via Zoom.

JWV National Judge Advocate Peter Nickitas served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event which Department of Minnesota Commander Lou Michaels organized. The Department Chaplain Irving Rosenbloom offered opening and closing prayers.

A number of distinguished guests were present in person, including National Commander Jeff Sacks, National Chief of Staff Robert Nussbaum, Department of Wisconsin Commander Kim Queen, Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Shaun Menke, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke, DAV National Commander Stephen Whitehead, AMVETS State of Minnesota Commander John Flores, American Legion State of Minnesota Commander Mark Dovrak, Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas, and Prime Minister of the Winter Carnival Royal House of Spire Joe Johnston.
During the event, the Department received proclamations in honor of its 75th anniversary from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Governor Tim Walz.
Royalty from the St. Paul Winter Carnival, established in 1886, bestowed honors on some of the distinguished guests by “knighting” Sacks and Nussbaum. Sacks is the third consecutive National Commander to attend the annual dinner and receive this honor.

The day also happened to be Sacks’ birthday and we celebrated by presenting him with a large cake at the close of dinner.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

By Barbara Leap

During the final throes of World War II, when May Brill was 20, she decided to follow her two brothers into the military.
Her reasoning: “What about me? It’s my country, too.”

While her brothers were in the Army and Coast Guard, Brill thought the Navy might be a good fit for her. But there was a problem. The year was 1944 and the Navy wouldn’t accept women for another four years. It did have a women’s auxiliary called the WAVES, and that’s what Brill joined.
Now 96, Brill is engaged in a new battle. She wants to make sure the world knows that women in all branches of the military have served, fought, and died for their country.

“Women veterans are invisible,” Brill says. Now she’s spearheading a project encouraging female veterans to order a cap designed with their military branch, and to wear it daily like their male counterparts.

The longtime resident of Cherry Hill, New Jersey launched her project with a single cap, her own, designed with the U.S. Navy insignia. She has arranged for the Keystone Uniform Cap Corporation in Philadelphia to produce them for other veterans for $45.

Three of Brill’s friends, Air Force veterans Selina Kanowitz, Julia Coker, and Army veteran Constance Cotton, are helping her to promote this effort.

Despite approaching the century mark, Brill, energetically continues her involvement in volunteer activities, including serving as honorary commander of JWV Post 126 of Southern New Jersey. Last year she established the Norman and May Brill Memorial Legacy to permanently provide public forums at the JCC each Friday in May in honor of all veterans.

Brill is so busy, she jokes that her four daughters, 11 granddaughters, and four great-granddaughters, “have to make an appointment to see me.”

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

JWV Post 1 held a ceremony in New York on March 13 to celebrate the 124th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish War Veterans and Post 1. National Commander Harvey Weiner participated in the ceremony at the site of the founding meeting, which is now the DoubleTree by Hilton Metropolitan. In the lobby, a plaque reads:

“On this site on March 15, 1896, in the Lexington Avenue Opera House, the Hebrew Union Veterans Association which became the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, the oldest active veterans organization in the United States was founded.”

Singled out for special mention at the ceremony were the seven Jewish Civil War veterans who organized that first meeting: Jastrow Alexander, Isadore Eckstein, Isadore Isaacs, Jacob Jacobs, Joseph Steiner, Joseph Unger, and Joseph Wolff.

Post 1 Junior Vice Commander Rabbi Andrew Scheer said during the ceremony, “I am heartened when I see American flags on the grounds of the historic 18th and 19th century [Jewish] cemeteries in Chinatown, Greenwich Village, and Chelsea where Jewish veterans from Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, are buried.”

He added, “Their sacrifice is a reminder that although our membership in Jewish War Veterans today continues a tradition begun in 1896, we are part of an even longer, unbroken lineage of proud and patriotic Jewish military service that stretches back before our nation was even founded.”
During the ceremony Scheer also led memorial prayers in honor of those seven men who attended the first meeting.

Volume 74. Number 2. 2020

By Barry Lischinsky

On Sunday, December 15, members of JWV and the JWVA gathered to celebrate North Shore Post 220 member Lillian Aronson’s 102nd birthday. At the age of 26, Aronson volunteered to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She became a career soldier, spending the next 20 years on active duty and achieving the rank of a Sergeant First Class. During the birthday celebration, JWV National Commander Harvey Weiner presented her with a Centenarian Certificate and a JWV Commander’s Coin.

JWV MA Department Commander Jeffrey Blonder presented Aronson with a certificate from Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey and JWV MA North Shore Post 220 Commander Alan Lehman presented her with a certificate from Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton. Aronson is still an active member of both the Jewish War Veterans and the Disabled American Veterans.

Volume 74. Number 1. 2020

Jersey Shore Post 125 represented the JWV with a tent at the 29th annual Oceanfest celebration on July Fourth in Long Branch, New Jersey. An estimated 225,000 people attended the event, and many stopped by Post 125’s tent to express their appreciation for the service of Jewish veterans. More than 20 volunteers manned the tent that day, including officers from National, the Department of New Jersey, and the Ladies Auxiliary. Oceanfest served as the season finale for Post 125’s year of activities.

The Post decided not to brave the cold weather, and moved its traditional Veterans Day Poppy Drive to Labor Day in 2018. Dedicated volunteers sold poppies at multiple locations, exceeding fundraising expectations. The money raised from the sales allows Post 125 to continue supporting programs and assisting the residents of New Jersey veterans’ homes.

Post activities during the fall months honored surviving World War II veterans with speakers from both Monmouth County’s active veteran services office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. On Veterans Day, Post 125’s Gerald Levine, who serves as the Honorary Commander of the Department of New Jersey, lead a 21-bell salute in the city of Long Branch, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice. That ceremony also included a reading of the names of the victims from the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.

Following a winter slowdown, Post 125 hosted another World War II veterans’ event and ran an extremely successful Memorial Day poppy drive. The Post elected Levine as Honorary Post Commander, while the Department of New Jersey named Post 125 as its Post of the Year, and further honored Levine as its Person of the Year.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Gary Ginsburg, Commander, Post 41-NY

Consul General of Israel Dani Dayan and JWV Post 41 Commander Gary Ginsburg

Nearly 1,000 refugees and Holocaust survivors arrived in the United States’ only refugee camp on August 5, 1944. Exactly 75 years later, 200 people gathered to remember them at The Safe Haven Museum, which is located at the site of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York. Among the crowd were 19 of those refugees, as well as their families, friends, and community leaders.

The Consul General of Israel in New York, Dani Dayan, was just one of the many speakers at the event. Dayan expressed his “most sincere thanks and appreciation to the people of this small city with a population of about 18,000 – Oswego, New York for opening the space of Fort Ontario and their hearts to these Holocaust survivors during 1944, which was a most difficult and violent time in history.”

While many of us think of Oswego, New York in terms of only three things – a State University of New York college campus, a nuclear power plant, and severe winter weather – the Safe Haven Museum and story of the Fort Ontario Refugee Shelter is both an extraordinary and positive chapter in both Jewish and American history.

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Ben Kane

On August 19th, a Jewish war veteran named Neil Schaffer passed away in a Los Angeles hotel room. He had no known family, only a few friends, no job, and no home to call his own. In March of this year, the JWV was made aware of his passing, and sought to recognize him in a manner that befit a member of the tribe. JWV-CA Chaplain Dov Cohen and Department Commander Greg Lee led the efforts to memorialize Mr. Schaffer.

Chaplain Dov Cohen is the National Cemetery Foundation President, as well as the JWV National Chairman of the “End Homelessness Now” program. He helped put together several memorial programs in Mr. Schaffer’s memory—one at the Los Angeles City Hall, one at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, and ensured that he was honored at the Annual Gala at the Reagan Presidential Library. Mr. Schaffer’s memorial service at the National Cemetery was the first to be conducted in the remodeled Bob Hope Chapel and served as the start of a new program with the goal of memorializing deceased homeless veterans. The National Cemetery is currently working to provide military funerals to deceased veterans providing buglers, flag folding ceremonies, and all the other crucial parts of the military funeral before laying them to rest in a recently constructed columbarium.

The JWV department of California is very active in the fight against veteran homelessness. Posts in the area are working for the sake of veterans with groups like the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW, and more. From job and benefits assistance to working behind the scenes on pro-veteran legislation, these partnerships help ensure that veterans of all faiths have a higher chance of getting the recognition, respect, and assistance they deserve. The JWV is honored to do its part in serving the American Jewish veteran community, throughout their years of service and afterwards.

Volume 73. Number 2. 2019

By Harvey Weiner, JWV National Judge Advocate

Sometime around 1982 during the Galilee War, my wife and I were asked to host a dinner for a visiting retired Israel Defense Force (IDF) general, who was in the United States recruiting civilian volunteers to come to Israel to help the IDF in support positions. We had a pleasant evening with Dr. Aharon Davidi (z”l), the former head of the IDF Paratroopers and Infantry Corps. Over cognac, about which the general was an expert, I somehow promised him that I would eventually participate in his program if it came to fruition. As a result of his efforts, in the spring of 1983, “Sar-El”, —the National Project for Volunteers for Israel – was founded as a non-profit, non-political organization. “Sar-El” is the Hebrew acronym meaning “Service for Israel.”

Each year since then, volunteers, including those in their 70’s and 80’s, work on non-combat IDF bases throughout Israel doing support work for a one to three week period. Although such volunteers are civilians and not members of the IDF, they are led by madrachot, who are IDF soldiers. Volunteers work on a Sunday through Thursday schedule doing work such as quartermaster/supply work, base maintenance, maintenance and equipment repair, kitchen work or construction. Weekends are for traveling, sightseeing and visiting family and friends. There are frequent interesting lectures and question and answer sessions with Sar-El and military personnel. Of course, you work side by side with IDF soldiers, many of whom are now proud owners of Boston Red Sox pens. Alas, there are no JWV pens!

The free facilities are spartan and not a little nostalgic. Volunteers live in communal barracks in sleeping bags on cots with communal bathrooms. There is no central heat or air conditioning. Hot water is at a premium. Men and women are housed separately, including married couples. The mess hall food, however, is filling.

In December, 2015, over thirty-three years after I had rashly made a promise to the General, I spent two weeks for Sar-El in an army base in central Israel. Better late than never. We were a group of fourteen and worked very hard collecting, inventorying and crating military supplies, particularly tank maintenance equipment and parts. One of our speakers told us that Sar-El volunteers have unusually high productivity, presumably because they are motivated and because they only have a very short time commitment. There is both an initiation ceremony, during which the Sar-El epaulettes are placed on you, and a graduation ceremony, during which you receive the Sar-El pin and a Certificate of Appreciation.

The makeup of Sar-El volunteers is diverse. About 4,000 volunteers come per year and in 2014 they were from 51 countries. Tellingly, in 2014, France had the most volunteers with 1,161 with the U.S. having 938. France, of late, has the most people making Aliyah. In our group of fourteen, there were volunteers from Canada, England and South Africa, as well as the United States, and we were joined for a brief period on our bus by a small group from Hungary and Holland. There was also a Christian in our group, who is an avid supporter of Israel. Most of my Sar-El volunteer group were repeats and one woman in our group was there for the 13th time. The group bonded and there was a great sense of camaraderie and friendship, as well as a lot of laughs.

One day, the group went north of Haifa on a tour of the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum and there became the first to plant yellow daffodils in Israel as part of Project Daffodil, whereby it is intended to plant 1.5 million daffodils throughout the world in memory of the 1.5 million children who were murdered in the Shoah. (See daffodilproject.net )

There are no upper age limits for volunteers, and there were two volunteers in our group in their 70’s, but one should be relatively fit and healthy and willing to work. I was given one of the daily honors of raising the Israeli flag on the Israeli base followed by the singing of Hatikvah. My ancestors (and General Davidi) would have kvelled. (Many of the facts above are taken from the Sar-El website).

You can tie in a Sar-El experience prior to the JWV Israel trip, as did Membership Chair Barry Lischinsky, or you can do it independently, as I did and as National Quartermaster Nelson Mellitz did.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019