PNC Paul Warner presenting Representative Gus Bilirakis with a certificate of appreciation.

 

Rep. Gus Bilirakis’s Speech at the 123rd Annual Convention

It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Before I begin, I would like to welcome Secretary Wilkie to the Tampa Bay area and to his new position. I have enjoyed working with him in the past, and look forward to continuing to build upon that relationship in order to benefit our nation’s heroes.

That is my primary mission in the United States Congress—serving those who have served our nation.

It is wonderful to see so many of you come together — united in your faith– to promote Americanism, preserve the spirit of comradery, instill a love of country and service in others, advocate for your fellow Veterans, and honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.

First and foremost, I want to thank each of you for your service. I want you to know that I understand the price of freedom is not free, it is paid by men and women like you—those who have bravely defended our country and the sacred ideals we cherish.

Sadly, some of these heroes never return and others live with wounds, both visible and invisible, that they carry with them throughout their lives. Families of our Veterans also pay a high price so that all of us may enjoy the blanket of security our military provides.

So, it is not enough to recognize your service with a simple thank you – but rather we must continuously seek ways to honor your service and sacrifice.

As Vice-Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, I have made it a priority to ensure that our Veterans receive the best possible care and all of the benefits they have earned through their dutiful service to our nation.

We have made significant progress in recent years, but there is still more work to be done. I would like to take a moment to share some of the highlights of our work in this area.

A total of 26 bills that will improve the lives of Veterans have been signed into law since January of 2017.

Improving access to care and benefits within a timely manner continues to be a priority. Our work to finally rectify the injustice that kept Blue Water Navy Veterans from accessing care and benefits due to their Agent Orange exposure is something that will make a tangible difference in the lives of so many Veterans. The Senate must take immediate action, as these Veterans cannot afford to wait any longer.

Speaking of waiting, with half a million Veterans waiting on a VA decision about their disability claims as of 2017, modernizing the appeals process for disability claims was extremely important. It has been a year since this critical legislation was signed into law. I believe we still have more work to do in this area because, in my opinion, Veterans are still waiting way too long, however, this law is a huge step in the right direction.

The MISSION Act is another important victory for Veterans who were struggling to navigate the VA CHOICE and community care programs. This new law ensures Veterans receive timely and convenient access to care, whether through the VA or a community provider – a decision which will be made by the Veteran and his or her doctor.

Improving Educational Benefits for Veterans has been another important theme for our Committee. Through the Forever GI Bill, we expanded educational benefits and removed the time restriction for use.

House and is awaiting Senate action, will also ensure Veterans are not penalized when a bureaucracy delays processing of the GI payment.

Ensuring accountability and oversight of the VA is one of the primary functions of our committee. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed into law one year ago helps achieve this goal by streamlining the process of firing or disciplining senior VA employees while expanding protections for employees who report wrong doing.

One additional measure that is very near and dear to my heart is the Transition Improvement Act, which passed the House the end of July. As you know, we spend a minimum of six months preparing service personnel for their military assignments and a maximum of one week preparing them for successful reintegration into civilian society.

We owe these brave more than that, and local Veterans in my community who were able to provide direct input into this bill, tell me that this is one of the most serious challenges currently facing the men and women who are exiting the military. I am hopeful that the Senate will take action on this important issue.

Our committee will not rest until Veterans have access to high quality care and the benefits they have earned.

For me personally, I am focused on ensuring Veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their service in the middle east, and as a result are suffering illness and disease have access to medical care and disability benefits they need. This is the agent orange of our era –and we have to learn lessons from the mistakes that were made and the countless Veterans that suffered and died while the government took decades to do right by our heroes. We cannot let that happen again, which is why I have filed legislation to address this issue immediately.

I also want to provide you with a brief update about this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. It reflects a real win not only for active duty military personnel and Veterans, but for all Americans who can have great confidence that this legislation will make our nation safer. The bill supports necessary increases in topline funding to support our troops and readiness recovery.

As part of the rebuilding of the military, it increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Naval and Air Reserve, as well as Air Guard, in accordance with the full request by Secretary Mattis.

It allocates funding to provide the largest pay raise for our troops in nine years, begins to rehabilitate and replace worn out equipment, starts overcoming the crisis in military aviation by putting more aircraft in the air, restores America’s strength at sea, makes critical investment in missile defense and nuclear deterrents, allows key investments in other critical military capabilities to confront aggression, and address threats around the world, including those from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

It also protects the United States from malicious technology from Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei by banning those companies from doing business with the United States Government or any entity that does business with the United States Government.

Additionally, it advances innovative technologies that will reform the way our nation will fight and win wars.

Finally, it includes language I authored which extends the travel benefit of riding on military aircraft, whenever there is space available- to those Veterans who are 100% disabled. This is something that is currently only enjoyed by active duty and military retirees.

President Truman once said that “America was not built on fear.  America was built on courage, imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

I would qualify that statement…it is the courage and unwavering determination of men and women, like you, who answered the call to serve who made and continue to make our country great.

We all owe you and your families a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid; however, I renew my pledge that I will continue to serve as your voice in Washington and to always ensure that my actions and record of service reflect my heartfelt gratitude for your service.

Thank you. May God Bless you and continue to Bless the United States of America.

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

By Anna Selman, Programs and Public Relations Coordinator

Members of the Healthcare Committee of the Military Coalition (TMC) got an opportunity to tour Express Scripts’s Factory and Innovation Center at its headquarters in St. Louis, MO.  For those of you unaware with Express Scripts, they fill mail-order prescriptions for our active duty, veterans and their families.  They fill about 1.2 billion prescriptions a year for about 80 million patients.

The chief impetus for this invitation was recent changes to TRICARE, especially for our retirees.  For those of you who were unaware, Congress passed new legislation regarding TRICARE that took effect on January 1, 2018.  TRICARE Standard was renamed TRICARE Select, and with the new name, comes new changes.  The first major change is that there is an annual enrollment period.  If you miss the window to enroll, you will have to wait until the next year.  Currently, there is no enrollment fees, but in 2020, enrollment fees will begin.  The second major change is the pricing.  For example, there is now a standard price for prescriptions throughout TRICARE, regardless of where you get your prescription filled.

This is the major reason why Express Scripts invited the Military Coalition to their facility in St. Louis.  They wanted to see what our members had to say about the changes, and they wanted to see if there was any suggestions on areas they should be working on.

From their own data, Express Scripts found out that most beneficiaries were unaware of the changes in TRICARE, even though they led a massive information campaign.  They also found a huge trend of beneficiaries moving their prescriptions to Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) pharmacies and to retail pharmacies.  As with every change, people tend to move to what is familiar, but from what our trip showed, familiar might not always be better.

Their St. Louis facility was very impressive.  Their assembly line was remarkably efficient, and you could see thousands of prescriptions being filled within the hour that we toured the facility.  Throughout the line, you could see thousands of checks being done from the name of the bottle, the pill size, the pill color, the weight of the bottle and so much more!  Their main prescription errors came in the shipping process, but they were overall lower than the average error rate for your retail pharmacy.

In the afternoon, we got to see the Express Scripts Innovation and Technology Center, where they were inventing some really great advances in the pharmacy world.  One of the products that I found interesting was a “narcotic deactivator.”  Basically, it was a small charcoal-activated bag that you could put your leftover narcotics in, and once sealed and crushed in the bag, would completely deactivate all the narcotics.  This could be an amazing advancement in our opioid crisis.  Currently, Express Scripts is working on patenting the product before it can be available to the public.

The second advancement that I found interesting was the Kiosk system that is currently being rolled out in the Arizona area.  Basically, it would be a glorified pill-vending machine.  Your physician could send the prescription into the system, and all you would have to do is scan the code you received from your provider and pay through an ATM-like card reader.  Then, the pills would dispense, and you could go on with your day.  If you had any questions on your prescriptions, there would be a calling system where you could speak with a live pharmacist.  Currently, Express Scripts is looking to market the product to military bases, where the machines could drastically improve wait times.

The day ended with the members of their team asking the members of TMC where they should focus their efforts in the future.  A large portion of the Committee suggested that they should be looking at the effects of prescription pills and suicide – possibly looking into doing a study with DOD and the VA.

One suggestion that I made was looking into helping the VA with its female health care issues.  For those of you that were not aware, a piece of legislation recently passed that guaranteed female veterans the right to fertility care if their ability to conceive was affected by their service.  Currently, women are lucky enough if they can find an OB/GYN at their local VA.  They are going to have a tough time finding a fertility specialist and getting their specialty medications.  This is really an area in which Express Scripts can help our female veterans.

Overall, I found the trip very informative.  If you have not heard about the changes in your TRICARE benefits, I highly suggest you visit the VA website for more information and make sure you do not miss the 2019 enrollment period.  In addition, you should look at your TRICARE plan and see what the best plan is for you and your family.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018

By Herb Rosenbleeth, National Executive Director

Robert L. Wilkie, who is currently serving as the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs, while also serving as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, has been nominated by the President to be the Secretary of the VA.  About a week ago I attended a meeting of the Veterans Day National Committee at which Acting Secretary Wilkie participated.  He told us that no one was more surprised than he was when he was selected to be the Acting VA Secretary.  He said he had absolutely no idea who might be selected to be the Secretary and that he had no reason whatsoever to think it might be him.  He said he was taking one day at a time and doing the best he could each and every day.

Acting Secretary Wilkie said he has three major goals.  First, to calm the waters at the VA.  He said when VA employees say it is difficult to work not knowing who is going to be in charge he said he tells them it is their job to take care of veterans, that it doesn’t matter who is going to be in charge.  Second, Wilkie said he wants to finalize the electronic record system of the VA and combine it with that of the Department of Defense (DoD).  And third, he said he wants to see legislation passed which would provide the same benefits for caregivers of those veterans who became disabled before 9/11 as is now authorized for those veterans disabled after 9/11.

Wilkie, the son of an Army artillery officer, was born in Frankfurt, West Germany.  His father, Robert Leon Wilkie Sr. (1038-2017) retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel.  Wilkie grew up in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, graduating from Fayetteville, North Carolina’s Reid Ross Senior High School.  Wilkie Jr. received his bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  He later obtained his law degree from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans and a Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.  He also holds a Master of Science (MS) degree from the United States Army War College.

Mr. Wilkie has an outstanding professional background.  He first served on Capitol Hill as Counsel to Senator Jesse Helms and later as legislative director for Rep. David Funderburk of North Carolina.  He served on the Committee on International Relations and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Later, he served as counsel and advisor on international security affairs to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

An intelligence officer in the United States Naval Reserve, Wilkie served as special assistant to the President for national security affairs and as a senior director of the National Security Council where he was a senior policy advisor to then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as well to her successor, Stephen Hadley.  Wilkie developed strategic planning for the implementation of the Moscow Treaty, the Millennium Challenge Account, Iraqi Reconstruction and NATO Expansion.  In 2009, Wilkie was awarded the Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian award of the Department of Defense.

Wilkie was nominated to be Under Secretary for Personnel and readiness by President Trump on July 25, 2017.  This nomination was confirmed by the Senate on November 16, 2017.  If confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie would be the tenth Secretary of that Department.  He will bring a strong Department of Defense background to the position at a time when the VA and DoD are seeking to work more closely together.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018

By Ben Kane, Programs Assistant

The known history of humankind comes not just through academics and books, but through oral testimonies. As of late, they are often recorded for posterity through writing or filming, but long ago these stories and the lessons within them were passed through entire generations. Oral testimonies provide crucial glimpses into the past, into a different world, into a world that oftentimes humanity would be wise to avoid creating again. Using these sources, and through the lessons in the stories of those who came before, humankind can plot a course into the future that allows for peace to flourish.

Oral histories have been shared to communities around the world since before written history became the norm. Thanks to the technological improvements of the 20th and 21st century, humanity has expressed a renewed interest in oral histories, in no small part because they can be recorded for future generations. Even if the sharing of your specific story is not video recorded, the resurgence in popularity of oral histories ensures that finding an audience for your story won’t be too difficult, if you simply look in the right places. Jewish community centers, local high schools, local colleges and college Hillels are just a few of the places where it would be wise for a veteran to share his or her story.

Members of the individual posts of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA have been sharing their stories with their communities for years, but the hope here at National Headquarters is to mold it into an efficient, popular program that we have named “Project Maggid”. One of the main goals of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA is to disprove the myth that American Jews never served in our nations armed forces. On the contrary, the Jewish people have served since the very beginning. What better method of proving this than to share ones’ story?

Our members have shared many different stories with people, and we welcome members from all walks of life to share theirs. We have had stories shared by Jewish guards from Nuremberg to Guantanamo Bay, by American Jews in the IDF, by Jewish Dachau concentration camp liberators, and stories of those who escaped the Nazi regime before the Holocaust, to name a few. Not a concentration camp liberator? Don’t worry – your story is no less important for others to hear! Veterans from all modern conflicts, such as the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars are also sharing their stories.

The younger generation would, thanks in part by your efforts, be more likely to develop into upstanding citizens who can rise above hatred and discrimination. They will know that many Jews have served in our nations armed forces and have, along with their families, sacrificed a great deal in defense of our land and liberty. The sharing of your story can impact the community in other ways as well. If you’re at an event with other veterans, they may be inspired to share their stories as well after watching you speak. You may also introduce citizens and communities to our organization who otherwise may never have heard of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. There are many reasons to share your story, and we invite you to do so!

Any veteran interested in sharing their story and wants to take the next step can contact JWV Headquarters, and we will be able to assist you. Upon request, the Programs Department at JWV Headquarters can provide additional direction on how to shape your story into something that listeners from all walks of life can appreciate.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018

By Herb Rosenbleeth, National Executive Director

JWV will be the host organization at the Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in 2021. It seems far off, however, the time will go quickly!

Each year one of the organizations which serves on the Veterans Day National Committee becomes the host organization on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1996, the year of JWV’s 100th anniversary, JWV was the host organization. It was a day we will always remember!

On the morning of the Arlington Cemetery program, Past National Commander Bob Zweiman was seated on the dais with President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown, and the leaders of the other Veterans Service Organizations. PNC Zweiman gave an eloquent, rousing speech to a standing room only packed house at the Arlington Cemetery amphitheater. He said it is a tragedy that no one really cares about our veterans, noting that “our government has a moral and a real obligation to provide for our veterans.” The crowd cheered and applauded throughout PNC Zweiman’s speech and several times during the speech, President Clinton nodded approvingly. PNC Zweiman closed with the words “For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” The entire crowd in the amphitheater rose to their feet, applauded, and cheered. What a great day for JWV!

Next came the Veterans Day Reception hosted by JWV at the Ft. Myers Officers Club. It was a perfect setting and was extremely well attended, including the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Jesse Brown. The spirited program went off smoothly.

Fast forward to Thursday, November 11, 2021: JWV will again be the host organization. Our National Commander will be on the dais and will address the crowd. Our reception will follow.  JWV is in the process of raising the money necessary to fund the reception. Tax deductible donations may be sent to JWV, Attention: 2021 Reception.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By PNC Sheldon Ohren

Tax time is here. While most attention has been paid to the federal tax overhaul, most provisions will not affect tax returns filed for 2017.

There is one change you may wish to consider as you fill out your forms. The tax law expanded the availability of the deduction for medical expenses not just for 2018, but also for 2017. The deduction previously applied to medical expenses over 10 percent of adjusted gross income, but the law lowered the bar to 7.5 percent for those two years.  So if your adjusted gross income is $40,000, you can write off medical expenses over $3,000 rather than $4,000. But there is a catch, you must itemize to take the deduction. After 2018, the bar is scheduled to move back up to 10 percent.

I will now focus on veterans, especially those recently returning to civilian life.

The first thing to know is that pension payments received after retirement from the military are taxable and should be reported. If you also receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs you do not need to report these disability benefits on your personal income tax returns. They may include the following items: (1) Disability compensation and pension payments paid either to veterans or their families; (2) Grants for homes designed for wheelchair living; (3) Grants for motor vehicles for Veterans who lost their sight or use of their limbs, or (4) Benefits under a dependent care assistance program.

The Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a Federal tax credit available to employers who hire veterans and individuals from other eligible target groups with employment barriers. Veterans who have service connected disabilities, are unemployed for at least four weeks or are receiving SNAP food stamp benefits are also eligible to help their employers through the WOTC.

Employers may also consider taking advantage of these generous tax credits once you are hired. The credit can vary from $2400 to $9000 (dollar for dollar tax reductions) depending upon your circumstances.

In addition, there are federal tax credits available to the general public as well, (e.g. child tax credit and the earned income tax credit). Various state credits may also help, consult your tax advisor for more information.

Lastly, general tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing and accelerating deductions as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning. For example, you may consider one or more of the following: (1) Selling any investments on which you may have a gain or loss or (2) Prepaying deductible expenses such as charitable contributions this year (2017) using a credit card. This strategy works because deductions may be taken on when the expense was charged on the credit account and not when the bill was paid.

This is far from a comprehensive review. These are some of the highlights, and I recommend you have a thorough review of your tax situation with your tax professional.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By Jennifer Brande, Post 126

The #MeToo movement is the latest word in the American vernacular. With Hollywood, politics and everything in between being touched by the accusations and proven acts of sexual assault and harassment, the one completely glaring missing area is the United States Armed Forces. Occasionally it comes to light, such as the Marines United Facebook group, which went to great lengths to not make the pervasive sexual military culture invisible to the public so that their pristine image of duty, honor and country would not be tarnished. Another example, would be the Army Major General, who was brought back on to Active Duty to be prosecuted for alleged rape multiple times with a minor, decades after the offenses occurred, although that example is not standard and the litmus to see if this will happen in the future is unknown at this time.

The statistics from a 2017 report found that 4.3% of female service members and 0.6% of men have experienced some form of sexual assault. The movement takes on different names in other countries around the world such as “גם אנחנו” which translated into English is #UsToo and was popularized by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. No matter what the hashtag attached to it is, this issue is not being addressed with any sense of definitive certainty.

The armed forces is supposed to be a sacred trust where the words “esprit de corps, brotherhood and battle buddies” are constantly preached, yet even with service members who are specifically trained to work on the prevention of these atrocities, the reporting is slowly coming into a more clear picture. In the last reporting period, military report rates actually rose 9%, which experts agree that number will rise as people find their voice to speak out becomes stronger due to the high visibility of people in the higher ranks or positions of authority being disciplined. The most important part of this report does show that military assaults dropped from 20,300 in 2014 to 14,900, but is this because of actual disciplinary action or people leaving the service (sometimes by way of retirement where they keep their benefits, despite allegations), or by reassignment elsewhere?

The mission of the Jewish War Veterans is defined as: Seeking to prove that Jews do proudly serve and fight in the US Armed Forces. As we fight to keep our 120 year old organization strong and thriving, we need to be doing more to ensure that, with our long history of honorable service, we are at the forefront of making sure that we are a part of that solution, as well as ensuring that if something does happen, we are the people who can be there to support our troops.

What are we, as a service organization planning to do about this epidemic? Have we considered having our own military sexual trauma teams available at every post, meeting or event? Is there a way to recruit more Jewish medical professionals into the armed forces to join our ranks and provide a lifeline for those who will need help, or come forth with a claim in the future? What can we do that no one else is doing to help keep our battle buddy, friends and brothers/sisters safe, while also providing for those who need help and may not be Jewish? We have our national and local conventions, and fight on Capitol Hill for so many important missions and we need to extend this to include military sexual trauma.

There is so much that can be done and the narrative for the #MeToo Movement should read that we lead the way in actions and deeds, just as we have for over 120 years and will do in the future. Be the voice for the silent and fight for those in the shadows.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By PNC COL Carl A. Singer

America needs a “Universal Service” where every young woman and man contributes to society via mandatory service.  As witnessed within Israeli society, such service is a vital resource, a badge of honor, and the price of admission so to speak as a full-fledged membership of society.  This calls for a draft!

Why?  Our military is overused, understaffed, and not representative of our population.  Today’s Military is  deployed worldwide and we are relying too heavily on the Guard and Reserve which are being grossly overused with multiple deployments – all to avoid having a draft.  Today there are approximately 1.3 Million brave women and men in the U.S. military.  Only about 0.4% of the population is serving.  That’s only 1 in 250!  But for crisis events, our 16 year long war is not on America’s conscious.  For the men and women who are serving and for their families – we are at war.  For the rest of us it is pretty much business as usual.

The Vietnam era draft which, ended in 1973 was grossly unfair.  Despite a draft lottery which gave an illusion of fairness, local draft boards were gerrymandered and subject to political influence.  For example, Shaker Heights, Ohio, a wealthy Cleveland suburb.  Its local board was carved out to include a portion of inner city Cleveland.  The latter supplied sufficient draftees so the former was a source of easy deferments.  Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are many tales of questionable deferments – easy to come by in certain draft boards, impossible in others.  A doctor’s letter asserting “severe allergies” was sufficient for a friend of mine.

Additionally, the demographics of today’s U.S. military do not reflect this great nation’s people.  The poor and immigrants are disproportionately represented.  They see the military as a way to serve, a pay check, a source of training, and an opportunity to later go to college or receive occupational training via the GI Bill.  Thankfully, there are additional patriot young women and men who choose to serve – but most do not consider the military within their plans.  They are takers, not givers.

It is no secret that our military is being stressed.  Reinstituting a draft is considered political suicide.  Thus in a misguided attempt to avoid having a draft, administration after administration has in essence “drafted” the Guard and Reserve instead.  In short, the military makes do by grossly overusing its existing assets.  This cannot go on forever.  One can logically speculate that the disproportionate rate of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the high rate of military suicides are symptoms of the current situation.

I cannot pretend to design a new draft in a paragraph or two – but here are a few points: (1) To assure fairness local draft boards should be eliminated.  The draft pool should be on a state wide basis.  This helps level the playing field so to speak; (2) National health and fitness standards will be established.  All physicals will be done at the Department of Veterans Affairs – personal physicians will be out of the equation; and (3) there should be a four-year college deferment.  School deferments beyond these initial four years (say for Medical School) shall be tied to a commitment for extended service upon graduation.

The measure of success for a new draft program will be the quality of those drafted.  The measure of fairness will come in a decade or two.  When looking back, no one will be complain about this new draft as having been unfair or biased.

The benefits would be enormous.  I steadily heap praise on our World War II veterans – not only for their service in uniform, but also for what they did upon coming home.  Some historians say that World War II ended the great depression.  To me this is an understatement.  Bolstered by the GI Bill, they went to school, learned trades, became professionals and thus ushered in a booming age of prosperity.  They truly rebuilt this great nation!  Today, universal service can similarly provide a generation of trained, motivated and disciplined young men and women to reinvigorate our nation.

I am not a sociologist, but I believe that in addition providing our military with young men and women from across American society a universal draft would benefit all of our maturing youth.  The opportunity to serve, be it in the military or in another significant capacity will have a positive influence and provide lifelong benefits.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

By PNC Dr. Robert Pickard

Just before Rosh Hashanah this 5778 (2017) I was asked to be the representative of the Jewish War Veterans USA on a phone conference call from the White House.  I accepted the honor.  I was #23 of a small group of leaders of Jewish organizations from America.

I was instructed by the WH that we Jewish leaders were to list concerns of the Jews of America.  I did my homework.

First Jared Kushner got on the line to introduce the President and to tell us how happy the President is to have a Jewish daughter.  Mr. Trump then declared what a great asset the Jewish Community of America is and then wished us a “sweet year” (the traditional blessings said to one’s family and friends at Jewish New Year).

I thought I was going to be able to voice certain concerns, yea fears I have as a Jew in America today.  This was not possible.

This was only a few short weeks ago soon after Charlottesville VA and the Nazi torch-lit march on that campus, al a 1930s Germany.

Here is what I wanted to convey to the President.  I have not been able to connect with the aid at the WH ( Matthew Saunders ) who put that teleconference together.  Perhaps your staff can connect with Matt Saunders for me.   We were led to believe that this call would be about the concerns and fears we Jews have in America today.  I offer the following:

In answer to the question of what are the over-riding concerns of the American Jewish Community today:

POSITIVES:

JWV (Jewish War Veterans USA) and all American veterans applaud President Trump’s stance in support of all veterans.

JWV applauds President Trump’s honoring all Medal of Honor recipients including our Tibor Rubin who was an unsung and discriminated against US veteran and Holocaust survivor who saved lives of US soldiers in a Korean POW camp when he could have been free himself.

JWV applauds President Trump’s appointment of Dr. Donald J. Sulkin M.D. a practicing physician to head and fix the broken VAH system.

JWV applauds President Trump’s new GI lifetime benefits to veterans and dependents.

JEWISH CONCERNS & FEARS NOW IN AMERICA:

I was chosen to be the official representative of the Jewish War Veterans USA to relate to you our very greatest concerns and fears for the greater American Jewish Community today.  Concerns after the Hitler-like torch-lit march on the campus of a noted university in VA.   FEAR is the emotion we feel after the word from the President that the violence in Charlottesville was “many sided” and that there were “good people on both sides” of that Nazi induced riot.  We Jews and all Americans should be concerned and yes, fear, the threat of Neo-Nazism, White Power, KKK, etc  in America.  There are no “good” fascists nor Nazis, nor White Power, nor yet Black Power in America.  Racial, ethnic, religious bias is an anathema here.

Mr. President, my father was a soldier during WWII.  He was part of the GREATEST GENERATION which fought and died to free the world from Nazi tyranny.  We Jews lost 6 million innocents at the hands of the Nazis.  “Never again” is not just a slogan.

President Trump , you are said to be a master of PERCEPTION.  The perception of the Jewish American Community today is that the Government has taken a step back from religious protections in America.  Many of us believe that the White House is not doing enough nor saying enough to combat Nazism in any form or name in America.

No group which espouses racial or ethic superiority has a place in America.  The First Amendment does not condone starting riots and the cause of the Charlottesville riot were the Nazis.   These are they who are shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

That is not to excuse the violent nature of the Black Power, Weathermen, Farakahn people etc. who may be justly prone to violence when their freedoms and very lives are threatened, as they truly are by the White Power, KKK, segment of the Nazis.

We Jews are willing to fight against Nazis and I was one of those who flew to Chicago in 1978 to counter march against the Nazis who threatened to march in predominantly Jewish Skokie Illinois.  We would prefer that the legitimate government and police organizations keep the peace.  That government needs to stop these Nazis in their tracks, not offer aid and comfort.

President Trump, with all due respect Sir, we Jews of America need you to reassure us Jews that we are safe here.  You might quote from George Washington’s letter to the congregation of Rhode Island in 1790 his famous “letter to the Jews of Rhode Island”.   He said that the US “gives to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance”.   He went on to say to those Jews to reassure them of their safety in America (Micah 4:4):   “Each (Jew) man will sit under his vine and his fig tree, with no one to make him afraid”.  Micah/Washington’s words led to the ratification of what is now our First Amendment to our Constitution.  We Jews need your voice now and always.

President Trump, we need you to quote Washington “may the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.”

 NAZIS NOT WELCOME IN AMERICA!

Volume 71. Number 4. Winter 2017

By Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, Post 212

From 1982-84, I was part of a three-man rabbi-priest-minister chaplain team assigned to Commander 6th Fleet on the USS Puget Sound, homeported in Gaeta, Italy. I visited all US ships in the Mediterranean in addition to frequent visits to the Marines in Beirut.  On October 21, 1983, I was sent to Beirut in order to lead a memorial service for Allen Soifert, a Jewish Marine killed by sniper fire.  I was offered a flight back to Italy the next day, but after explaining that I would not travel on Shabbat, I stayed until Sunday October 23, when the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorist attack took the lives of 241 men – 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and 3 Soldiers.  It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, and for the Marines, it was the deadliest attack since the WWII Battle of Iwo Jima.  Four days after the attack, Vice President George H. W. Bush led a White House team to visit the survivors, asking me to write a report of the bombing and its aftermath for President Ronald Reagan.  The president read that report in full to the 20,000 attendees of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s “Baptist Fundamentalism ‘84” convention in Washington, DC.

As I look back at the terrorist attack 34 years later, these excerpts from the final entry of my article provides background for the 1983 attack and some of my reflections of its aftermath:

On October 21, 1983, I arrived in Beirut to lead a memorial service for a Jewish Marine, killed by sniper fire.  The Protestant and Catholic chaplains joined me for a psalm during hat service.  We wanted to say something about our presence; we wanted to say that here and in a country where peoples of different religions were killing each other, we believed we could stand together.  Had there been a Muslim chaplain in the Navy then, I would have welcomed his presence at that service.

Because the next flight was on Shabbat, I postponed my planned departure until Sunday. It was that morning, October 23, when the truck crashed through the gate, and two hundred and forty-one Americans were killed.

For the first time, those of us in Beirut understood the “terror” in the word “terrorism.” There was an immediate reaction, a feeling that we should expand our perimeters, to ensure that the next attack would be more distant from our center.  If you can’t stop a terrorist who is willing to die, then you must make him die farther away.  In the future, I think all of us would think differently about Israel’s need for “buffer zones.”

The Marines were heroic that day, risking life and limb to save their comrades. Amidst the rubble, we found the plywood board which we had made for our “Peace-keeping Chapel.” The Chaplain Corps seal had been hand-painted, with the words “Peace-keeping” above it, and “Chapel” below it.  Now “Peace-keeping was legible, but the bottom of the plaque was destroyed, with only a few burned and splintered pieces of wood remaining.  The idea of peace, above; the reality of war, below….

Our final decision to pull back and to redeploy to the ships was inevitable given the deteriorating situation within Lebanon.  There was some hesitation, because no one wanted to send out a message that terrorism works.   But the response to the changing situation had to take one of two forms: withdrawal from our positions on land, or a massive build-up, and perhaps a military intervention to shore up the Lebanese Armed Forces.

As we pulled back, there was some talk of failure, but these Marines did not fail.  They served with strength and with courage, never succumbing to the hatred around them, never giving in to the urge to avenge their fallen comrades.  It was the international effort to negotiate peace which failed, despite the time the peace-keepers had “bought” for the diplomats.

Mark Twain once wrote that a cat which sits on a hot stove will never do so again – but it will most likely never sit on a cold stove either.  I hope we will not overreact to our experience in Lebanon, lumping all stoves together, and losing courage to try again to help when the cause seems just – even if helping means taking risks.

The Jewish teaching [based on the Biblical story of Moses intervening to save a slave who was being beaten] is “Where there is no man, strive to be a man.”  Or, as William Cohen, a Jewish poet, has translated it: “Where there is no humanity, you be humanity.”

In Beirut, we Americans strove to be human, despite the inhumanity which sometimes seemed to surround us.  For a time our presence seemed to make a difference – seemed to give breathing space for hatreds to cool, and working space for diplomats and politicians to confer.

It is inspiring how many of our men who have suffered here still speak in terms of an effort which was worthwhile, and a goal which was – and I hesitate to use the word when it is chic to be cynical – noble.

During Purim, as I sat with the Marines on the ships so close to Lebanon, we read the Book of Esther, the story of personal vendetta, religious hatred, and political intrigue.  Somehow Jews kept faith.  Perhaps this was the real miracle of the Purim story.

Volume 71. Number 4. Winter 2017