By Gershon Katz
It’s widely known that Jewish members of the U.S. Armed Forces have served on many lands, fighting to protect America’s national interests or helping other nations break free from the yoke of tyranny. Our service men and women have deployed to some of the world’s most inhospitable places. A soldier, sailor, or airman may have briefly enjoyed leave in one of the world’s most beautiful places, but would probably relegate the experience to memory. With this in mind, you may take it for granted that after serving our country overseas, veterans have headed back to America.
You won’t find JWV posts in swampy Guadalcanal, frigid Chosin, or beautiful Paris. However, many of our brother and sister Jewish veterans and their families have made their home in the land of milk and honey, the land of Israel. Not only are we surviving and thriving here, but we’re organized, too. We’re proud to assemble for fellowship and service under the banner of Jewish War Veterans Post 180, headquartered in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people. At one time, four JWV posts existed in Israel. They were in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Netanya.
As a result of attrition and consolidation, JWV Post 180 is now the only post operating in the Jewish state. Although small in number, we are a vibrant post whose members meet several times a year for camaraderie, good food, and enlightening entertaining appearances by a range of guest speakers. Post 180 not only provides its members with good times, but also contributes to the well being of Israel and its people by supporting various causes in the community.
Our members, who represent a cross section of American-Israeli society, are proud of their service to the United States. We have relocated to Israel to live a more spiritual life. Unflinching in our love for the United States and our admiration for those who currently serve in her armed forces, we are also proud citizens of Israel and supporters of the Israel Defense Forces. Included among our members are parents and grandparents of English speaking veterans of the IDF. We avail ourselves of many opportunities to show support for the defenders of our second homeland. We make financial contributions to IDF and veterans’ support organizations, and we cheer for our soldiers at ceremonies and events. We’ve also devised a way to show support in a personal manner – many of our members carry small cards which they present to soldiers wherever they meet them. The cards bear an expression of gratitude and a wish for the soldier’s safety, in both Hebrew and English.
Our Post Commander, Abraham Kriss, has lived in Israel for 18 years. He’s been a JWV Post 180 member for all of that time. He currently lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Sarah. He served in the U.S. Army between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, spending 18 months in Korea. One of his three children lives in Israel with his wife and seven children, and three of his grandsons have completed service in the Israel Defense Force. His fourth grandson currently serves in an IDF combat unit.
Rabbi Yaakov Iskowitz is the chaplain of JWV Post 180. He served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army for 20 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was stationed in Missouri, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Korea, and in both Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Germany. His career included five years on the staff of the U.S. Army Chaplains’ School. Born in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Iskowitz made aliyah to Israel in 1988. He is married with seven children, plus grand- and great-grandchildren.
Rabbi Alan Greenspan, who served as a U.S. Army chaplain, retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He and his wife, Gaila, live in Efrat, south of Jerusalem. Rabbi Greenspan served from 1962 to 1987, including a stint in Vietnam, where he led Passover Seders under very trying conditions. A memorable posting for Rabbi and Mrs. Greenspan was their three-year tour of duty in the Panama Canal Zone, where they served military personnel and Jewish canal workers. The Greenspans came to Israel on aliyah in 1989.
Our leaders and members include several other career service members, and a number of other veterans who served in war and peacetime in various locations. We have quite a few associate members, whose family members served in the U.S. armed forces.
Our group has met with several interesting people in the past few years.
In 2018, we heard from Tom Sawicki, Director of Programming in Israel for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee/American Israel Education Foundation. Sawicki coordinates visits to the region by members of the U.S. Congress and other politically influential individuals. A journalist by profession, he keeps AIPAC’s national office up to date on developments in Israel and the Middle East, and is in frequent contact with political, media, and academic leaders in Israel.
In early 2019, we heard from Ziva Mekonen-Degu, who at the time served as Executive Director of the Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ), Ethiopian Jewry’s flagship organization in Israel. Mekonen-Degu made aliyah to Israel from Ethiopia in 1984 at the age of 11. Accomplished academically and professionally, she has served and advocated on behalf of the Ethiopian Israeli community and other populations in need.
At our next meeting, we met with Uri Ehrenfeld, a retired member of Israel’s security forces. Ehrenfeld was a POW during the Yom Kippur War. He is fortunate to have survived not only the battle, but cruel treatment at the hands of his Egyptian captors. Still suffering from the effects of this ordeal, Ehrenfeld came to us as a representative of the Zahal (Israel Defense Forces) Disabled Veterans’ Organization. Ehrenfeld is active on many fronts on behalf of veterans, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His energy and knowledge in veterans’ affairs is matched by his Positive Mental Attitude (PMA).
Our captivating speakers are not only drawn from the ranks of Israeli society or American supporters of Israel. At our most recent meeting, we were graced with the presence of His Excellency Mario Bucaro Flores, Guatemala’s ambassador to Israel. Shortly after the U.S. embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Guatemala followed suit. This is not the Central American nation’s first presence in our capital. The Guatemalan embassy was located in Jerusalem from 1956 to 1980. Ambassador Bucaro, a veteran of Guatemala’s air force, is a warm, engaging individual. He is an eloquent representative of his country. He expressed his country’s official position that Israel is the natural, historic homeland of the Jewish people. He also expressed his personal joy at serving in a place where he feels appreciated and at home.
As this piece is being written, in person meetings of JWV Post 180 and other groups throughout the country have been on hiatus for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the virus’ effect on the health of people throughout the world is severe, people’s solidarity with their fellow human beings has grown. This was expressed directly in our post leadership’s recent virtual meeting with National Commander Harvey Weiner, Chief of Staff Barry Lischinsky, and staff member Christy Turner. We haven’t started online JWV meetings in Israel yet. In the meantime, let’s express our support for one another in a spiritual way, via prayer and mitzvot.
Our post especially enjoys meeting with the JWV-USA mission to Israel each spring. This year, the trip unfortunately did not take place. Hopefully the coronavirus crisis will be abated soon by scientific advances and concerted public health efforts. We look forward to greeting the 2021 JWV-USA contingent in Israel, with joyous shouts of “This year in Jerusalem!”
Volume 74. Number 2. 2020