On Nov. 11, communities across the country held events in honor of Veterans Day. Two gatherings in Montgomery County, Maryland, focused specifically on Jewish veterans of the United States military, recognizing those who currently or previously served, and remembering those who have perished in the line of duty. The events were also an opportunity for civilians to witness the intersection of American Jewish identity with U.S. military history and culture.
Jewish War Veterans Memorial Commemoration
In the afternoon, approximately 100 people attended the Third Annual Veterans Day Program at the Jewish War Veterans Memorial, which is in front of the Bender JCC in Rockville, Maryland. The event honored Jewish veterans and commemorated those who gave their lives for this country. Organized by the Jewish War Veterans Post 692 and attended by the officers from Post 567 of Leisure World, the program featured Lt. Col. (Ret.) Sheldon Goldberg, who spoke on the topic of “American Jews and the Great War.”
The program opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the “Star- Spangled Banner” by the Voices of Vets, Inc., led by Kassie Sandacz. Rabbi Moishe Kavka gave the invocation. Attendees were then welcomed by Joe Fridling, Commander of Post 692, and Michael Feinstein, CEO of the Bender JCC.
Goldberg, who serves as a docent and historian for the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, shared his expertise on the many Jews who made history during WWI. He concluded with a presentation of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s proclamation certificate honoring the Jewish veterans who served in the armed forces of the United States.
Voices of Vets, Inc., joined by musician Lauren Waller and pianist Todd Simon, entertained the audience with patriotic songs.
Rabbi Paul Levinson concluded the program with a moving appeal for the support of Israel, the blowing of the Shofar, and the chanting of El Maleh Rachamim (the Jewish prayer for the departed).
Dining Out With Jewish Vets in Kemp Mill
Later that day, Goldberg also addressed veterans, military spouses, and other guests at a special dinner honoring current and former American Jewish military servicemen and women. The Kemp Mill Jewish Community Veterans Day Dining Out was held at Young Israel Shomrai Emunah (YISE) in the Kemp Mill community in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Formal military dinners are a tradition in all branches of the United States Armed Services: A “dining in” is an occasion for military members of a unit to meet socially at a formal military function, while a “dining out” includes guests and civilians. Military traditions are maintained at both the dining in and the dining out ceremonies. These events serve as an opportunity for military members of all ranks to create bonds of friendship and to feel pride and loyalty to their organizations and to the great country they all serve.
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant (Ret.) Scott Schlesinger, a longtime member of the Kemp Mill Jewish community, approached Young Israel Shomrai Emunah’s (YISE) Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum and President Sammy Franco with the idea for a dining out event that would not only honor American servicemen and women on Veterans Day but also serve to highlight how many Orthodox Jews from the community are currently serving in the military. Rabbi Rosenbaum and Franco enthusiastically agreed to host the event at YISE, and Kemp Mill Synagogue (KMS), Ohr HaTorah, Chabad of Silver Spring, and Silver Spring Jewish Center subsequently signed on as co-sponsors.
The dinner, catered by Signature Catering, drew 100 people, including 20 active and retired service members. Programs enumerated the “Rules of the Mess” for the uninitiated. “At military ceremonies, Rules of the Mess are followed to ensure the proper decorum,” explained Schlesinger. “Some of the rules are a bit humorous, like the prohibition against listing bow ties, and others quite practical, such as no work talk.” Navy Captain Aaron Werbel presided as president of the Mess, and Schlesinger was vice president of the Mess.
There was even a traditional “grog ceremony,” full of laughter and camaraderie. Grog is a concoction of alcoholic beverages that “are less than delicious” when combined, said Schlesinger. Any violators of the Rules of the Mess are sent to a giant punch bowl full of grog (aka. the grog bowl) by the president or vice president of the Mess to drink from as their punishment, he explained.
Members of the Joint Base Andrews Honor Guard did a formal flag ceremony, bringing in the U.S. flag and placing it in its position of honor. Formal toasts were made to the United States of America, the president, and the chiefs of the military branches. An empty table was reserved to remember American prisoners of war and those missing in action, and taps was played in their honor. The Kol Chaim band also played a medley of the military service songs.
While military members and veterans of the Jewish community serve in different units and branches in the U.S. military, they are all members of a larger military community, said Schlesinger. Orthodox Jewish servicemen and women also share a lifestyle that offers unique challenges and rewards, he added, and this was an opportunity to celebrate that connection.
By Fred Shapiro and Debbie Katz
Fred Shapiro is currently the president of the Leisure World Center for Lifelong Learning and adjutant for the Jewish War Veterans Post 567. He served as religious chair and president of the Jewish Residents of Leisure World and recently completed service on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council.