While the baseball spectators at Nationals Park ran for cover from a sudden rainstorm, a bright sun in a nearly cloudless sky shone down on the American Jewish Veterans Memorial. Approximately 60 members of the local community and the JCC attended the third annual event, held on May 26 on the grounds of the Bender JCC in Rockville, Maryland.
Lt. Col. Sheldon Goldberg, USAF (Ret.) and docent at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, acted as master of ceremonies and introduced Rabbi Moishe Kavka, who gave the invocation. Christina Gunter, a vocalist from Voices of Vets., Inc., sang the National Anthem.
Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg and retired Navy Capt. Rabbi Irving Elson, director of the Jewish Welfare Board, Jewish Chaplain’s Council, provided the welcome for the event. They each shared personal thoughts about Memorial Day and of the families who, along with those service men and women who paid the ultimate price protecting our freedom, also served in their own way. Finally, Michael Feinstein, Bender JCC CEO, also welcomed those gathered and expressed his thanks to JWV Post 692 for holding these commemorations.
Retired Col. Erwin Burtnick, Cmdr., Department of Maryland, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, gave the keynote address. He spoke of the numbers of men and women this nation has lost since its birth and the 7,000 lost in the last two decades in various combat operations around the world. He urged everyone to pause and reflect on the service and sacrifice of these American heroes and the thousands of Gold Star Families who carry the heavy burden of their loss. He also mentioned that this year marks 75 years since D-Day, when 160,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, and more than 9,000 were killed or wounded.
As WWII veteran numbers diminish and D-Day passes from living memory to history, he encouraged all to continue learning about this “Greatest Generation” of service members and to remember their sacrifice. Those heroes, he said, paved the way for all who serve today in the finest military the world has ever known.
Following his presentation, Burtnick, who is also a commissioner on the Maryland Veterans Commission, presented in the name of Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owings, Gov. Larry Hogan’s Proclamation for Memorial Day to JWV Post 692 Post Cmdr. Joe Fridling.
The program came to a musical close with the Voices of Vets, Inc., featuring Kassie Sandacz, lead vocalist; Ariana Sarita and Christina Gunter, vocalists; and Todd Simon on the electric piano perform “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Sandacz singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and everyone joining in on “G-d Bless America.”
Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton then addressed the assembled crowd, reminding them of the importance of remembering this day and how events like this help the community draw everyone closer together. Rabbi Elson, who had retired from the Navy as deputy chaplain of the United States Marine Corps, came forward again to give the benediction, concluding the outdoor program.
Following the outdoor program, refreshments were served in the JCC Gallery and the video “True Honor,” the story of Jewish Medal of Honor recipients, was screened by Col. Goldberg.