As we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we realized that the people in our community who serve or served in the U.S. Armed Forces have little or no relevance to the rest of us–whether they are observant or not. Today, few Jews are members of the U.S. military, and were it not for the IDF there would be even fewer Jews ever facing combat, though this is not necessarily a bad thing.
What is bothersome is how Jews who served in the U.S. Armed Forces are often treated by their fellow Jews. Their service to America is generally ignored, while Jewish groups and individuals extend themselves to the fullest to honor Lone Soldiers and IDF veterans. We raise millions upon millions of dollars and goods for the IDF, yet rarely, if ever, does this translate into honors and donations directed toward American Jews of any denomination who have served in the U.S. military–including lonely old Jews in veteran’s homes who served during World War II. For the members of our community, visiting old Jewish war veterans in the Paramus Veteran’s home seems to be too too much trouble. Most of those old men with their funny-looking hats are considered “old jokes.”
We understand that our community’s hearts are directed toward Israel and those who fight its battles–but what about those American Jewish soldiers who make it possible for American Jews to do whatever they please? Jews have fallen in every American war, including the Revolutionary War (Frances Salvador, a plantation owner from South Carolina, was killed in a British-incited Indian skirmish in 1776.) In 1896, 120 years later, Jewish Civil War veterans organized the Hebrew Union Veterans that eventually became the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. There were seven Jewish Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War. Since then, thousands of Jews have died in combat for the U.S. and thousands more have been wounded. Thousands of Jews have been awarded combat medals. During World War II Jews, served in the Armed Forces beyond their numerical proportion in the general population and received more than 52,000 awards, including Congressional Medals of Honor. And since WWII, there continues to be a Jewish presence in all of America’s conflicts.
Our schools and Jewish institutions would do well to offer hakoras ha tov to honor our American Jewish veterans on Veterans’ Day. In addition to our Israeli heroes, we should also teach our children about the American Jewish men and women who have put their lives on the line for the rest of us and have received little in return but apathy, ridicule and sometimes even hostility. We should encourage them to visit these old soldiers and appreciate those who still serve.
Perhaps by learning about these special American Jews, our community might develop some respect for those who have given of themselves beyond the call of their social and religious affiliations to do their duty to the people of the United States of America–the country that allows the American Jewish community to openly support the IDF and serve in its ranks.