By Cara Rinkoff
More than 215 members, associate members, and patrons registered for JWV’s 125th annual convention, which also happened to be the first virtual convention for our organization. The five-day convention, originally scheduled to take place in Jacksonville, Florida moved online due the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the difficulties of holding votes online, the Convention Rules Committee approved a measure moving votes on all but the election of our new National Commander and Vice Commander to the next in-person convention.
The Opening Ceremony on Monday featured a video greeting from Secretary Robert Wilkie of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is the second time Wilkie has appeared at a JWV National Convention, and he also spoke in-person at NEC in February 2020.
At our first business session, more than 100 members tuned in as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer joined us for a question and answer session. Dermer spoke about the recent diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, saying he believes this is only the beginning. He thinks other countries in the Middle East will find it vital to work with Israel in the near future. “I think to the extent that you have leaders in the Arab world who would like to propel their countries forward and to be a force for modernization, then I think working with Israel is very important.”
Dermer also spoke about how Israel is dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic. He and PNC Harvey Weiner made a friendly bet about which country will develop the first vaccine for COVID-19. If Israel develops it first, Weiner owes Dermer dinner, but if any other country has the first vaccine, Dermer will treat Weiner to dinner.
Our second business session featured attorney Amy Van Fossen. She discussed aid and attendance benefits, which is important because it “is tax free and can be used for a variety of purposes… the intent of the benefit is for medical expenses.” Fossen said a common misconception is that you cannot receive Medicaid and the aid and attendance benefit. You can find her slide presentation with more information on VA benefits and Fossen’s contact information in the convention section of our website at www.jwv.org/programs/building-membership/national-convention.
Approximately 100 members also joined our third business session to hear a discussion on anti-Semitism with American Zionist Movement President Richard Heideman and U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr.
Heideman spoke about the rampant anti-Semitism Jews are experiencing around the world and right here in the United States. He said, “We have seen a reemergence of such hatred, such intolerance, such bigotry, such anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist, and Holocaust denial that we must go back and reanalyze where we went wrong. What did we miss in training our young people? What did we miss in sending messages to our community and I mean the community at large… How is it possible that anti-Semitism has become all too acceptable?”
The two men answered several questions from members, and Carr discussed the importance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the importance of having countries accept the group’s definition of anti-Semitism. But in addition to just defining anti-Semitism, Carr said, “It [IHRA] goes on to provide examples, 11 of them to be precise, with an overarching additional example that provides a window into the contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism.” He added, “One of my top diplomatic asks when I go overseas is that a country that hasn’t adopted it formally, adopt it. And we’ve had great successes as more and more countries are lining up to embrace the IHRA definition.”
Carr also noted that while it’s obvious the internet and social media did not cause today’s anti-Semitism, “It is carrying this contagion further and faster than we’ve ever seen before and it is one of the chief reasons we’re seeing anti-Semitism rise today.”
During the convention members also attended important committee meetings and participated in a leadership workshop. You can find information on what happened at those meetings in the Committee Reports section of this issue.
Finally, on Thursday, JWV elected its new National Commander and first-ever National Vice Commander. NC Jeffrey Sacks and NVC Alan Paley both addressed the more than 100 members who attended the session which included their election. Sacks announced his new appointees for positions including Chief of Staff and National Adjutant.
We hope to welcome all of you to our next convention in-person, which will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 15-20.
Volume 74. Number 3. 2020