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

By PNC Edwin Goldwasser

This year, Veterans Day had special meaning for me inasmuch as my wife, Iris, is the President of our Jewish War Veterans National Ladies Auxiliary, and it brought back memories of my days as National Commander – where I attended official functions on behalf of JWV.  The one problem we faced this year was Veterans Day occurred on our Sabbath, and we therefore could not attend the official events at Arlington.  The question then came about as to what we could do to make the day more meaningful?

It was decided to have Shabbat services in our chapel Saturday morning along with other events planned in our building, the Museum of American Jewish Military History, throughout the day for the local Jewish Community’s participation.  Rabbi Bruce Kahn, a retired Navy Chaplain, officiated one of the most meaningful services for JWV that I can say I have ever attended.  We had just about 22 people participated – some from the local area together with some of our members and Auxiliary members.  The service concluded with a lively discussion on that day’s Torah portion, “What price are we willing to pay for our land?”  As veterans on this Veterans Day, this subject was extremely meaningful and provoked much thought.

Our JWV/JWVA members then proceeded to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to attend the ceremonies and presentation of wreaths.  Our group consisted of our National Commander Paul Warner and his wife, Norma; National President of our Ladies Auxiliary Iris Goldwasser; PNC Michael Berman; PNP Rita Panitz; PNP Elaine Bernstein; NED Herbert Rosenbleeth and his wife, Francine; and our in-house staff photographer, Christy Turner.  The program ended with all the organizations placing wreaths – ours by National Commander Warner and PNC Berman, a Vietnam veteran.    Some other organizations in attendance were the American Legion, DAV, AmVets, VFW and Military Order of the Purple Heart to name a few.

After that ceremony, we all proceeded to the Korean War Memorial to pay homage to the veterans of the Forgotten War.  A service was conducted at this Memorial, which is just across the reflecting pond from the Vietnam Wall. Prior to the placing of wreaths, young Korean ladies in traditional dress each placed a white rose on the names of the many countries that participated in the Korean War, which as a Korean Veteran myself, I found very moving.  At this memorial, the National Commander and the National Auxiliary President together placed our wreath in front of the wall.

Although the temperatures were extremely cold and it was difficult to be outside for long periods of time, Veterans Day was truly a very heart warming experience.  We were there to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and it was a very moving ceremony.  We were grateful to be included in the proceedings and proud of our Commander, JWVA President and all who participated as a part of JWV/JWVA.

Volume 71. Number 4. Winter 2017

By Anna Selman, Programs and Public Relations Coordinator

Just as U.S. Military Forces were storming Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence Building in 2003, our soldiers stumbled upon a treasure trove of Jewish Iraqi artifacts that belonged to a 2,000 year old community.  The sacred writings and belongings of the Iraqi Jewish Community were badly damaged through years of neglect and the intense fighting of the Iraq War.  U.S. Forces quickly developed a plan to save the thousands of relics, and in 2003, our government and the Iraqi provisional government came to an agreement that after the documents were restored in the United States, they would be returned to the Iraqi government.  To date, the U.S. government has spent over 3 million dollars and 10 years to restore and digitalize the archive, which included thousands of manuscripts from the Jewish community of Iraqi.

This summer, in yet another blow to the memory of Jewish Middle Eastern History, the Trump Administration announced that they would not ask for an extension regarding the Iraqi Jewish Artifacts and would return the artifacts to the Iraqi government in early 2018.  In fact, these items were meant to be returned to the Iraqi government in 2014.  However due to the war with ISIS within Iraq at that time, the U.S. decided that the Iraqi government was not a suitable guardian of the documents because they were unable to provide the proper upkeep.

In almost unanimity, the Jewish communities of the United States and Israel have demanded that the archives either stay in the United States or be given to the government of Israel for safekeeping, and it is understandable why.

These artifacts belonged to the Jewish Iraqi People, whose community can be dated back to the destruction of the First Temple.  After almost 2,000 years living in Iraq, the Iraqi Jewish community was subjected to horrific violence during World War II by the Iraqi government – families were murdered and the community was brutalized.   After the establishment of the State of Israel, around 130,000 Iraqi Jews left for Israel in what could be describe as “Eichmann-style” conditions during Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.  The Jews of Iraq had their citizenships revoked and all of their belongings were made property of the Iraqi government.  Many were left penniless refugees in the State of Israel and in the United States.

Now, what is left of the Iraqi Jewish community is demanding that the artifacts stay somewhere that is accessible to their community, and there is a precedent for our legal system to demand the artifacts stay with the descendants of the original owners.   The Republic of Austria vs Altmann was a case where Holocaust Survivor Maria Altmann sued the government of Austria for the portrait of her aunt.  The Austrian government stated that their former government, not them, played the part in confiscating the painting and that the painting was part of their “cultural heritage”.   Whereas Altmann stated that the paintings were the property of her family that were illegally obtained after the Nazi government confiscated her family’s belongings and revoked their citizenship.  Ultimately, it was decided that the Austrian government and the museum were in violation of international law, and the paintings were given back to Mrs. Altmann.

Mrs. Altmann’s case helped spur hundreds other cases of Nazi looted artifacts from the Jewish community, where the belongings were returned to their rightful owners.  It is befuddling to me that there is a clear national and legal consensus about returning looted Jewish artifacts during WWII in Europe, but when it comes to Jews from the Middle East, we still question whether they have the same rights as their European brothers and sisters.

As some of the last memories of the community, it is imperative that these artifacts be preserved for future generations.  The Iraqi government has proven that it is unfit to be a preserver of history and should not have control of these relics.  When anti-Semites start shouting that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East, these artifacts are crucial historical reminders that Jews have lived alongside their Muslim and Christian neighbors for millennia.  The artifacts in question should be returned to Iraq’s Jewish community, now located in the United States and Israel.  It is their history, and the best way to preserve it is to return it to them.

Volume 71. Number 4. Winter 2017