By Ensign Rand Burke
A few summers ago, I served as the Jewish Foundation Summer Fellow at the Cedar Village Senior Living Community just outside of Cincinnati. During my time there, I, with the help of my supervisor, was able to interview many residents of the community who were veterans of the U.S. military. There was a good-sized population of Jewish veterans of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, many of whom were veterans of World War II. My project for the summer was to interview the residents and collect the stories from their days in the military. By conducting interviews, I was able to engage the veterans as they remembered what their lives looked like during their military service. Through this, I learned how their stories illustrated the courage, honor, and legacy that they carry with them today.
Each interview offered a unique look into the experience of the individual. Through our conversations, I learned about what they did, who they met, and how the military impacted their lives. Although each interview offered different insight, there was one unifying factor: each veteran expressed an unquestionable sense of duty. They enlisted in the military because it was the right thing to do. These men represent the, often forgotten, population of Jewish war veterans.
In the Torah, we read, “You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to serve (Num 1:3).” We learn that all those Israelites who are capable of serving were commanded to serve. Today, we, as Jews and Americans are not commanded to serve in the military, but we know from the time of Moses to the Present Day, Jews have maintained a history of military service. In the United States, less than one percent of the population chooses to serve in the military and many Jewish Americans are a part of those who have heeded the call. On Veteran’s Day not only do we remember the stories shared, but the courage also displayed, and the loss endured by our Veterans, so too do we honor their experience and remember the sacrifices they made to ensure our freedom.
Rabbi Bonnie Koppel, a retired Colonel, and Army Chaplain reminds us that, as Jews, we have a special relationship with Veteran’s Day in that it is our responsibility to consider the often forgotten, yet equally important stories of Jewish Veterans. She writes, “As Jews, we especially appreciate the tremendous blessing of living in a democracy where we enjoy the free exercise of religion, a unique experience in Jewish history. Too often, Jews in the military are invisible in the Jewish community; we just don’t think of Jews serving in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. But, they are there, and it behooves us to recognize them – especially on Veteran’s Day, acknowledging their vital role as the guardians of the freedom we can never take for granted.” I take this day seriously. Many of my friends and family members are veterans and I remember growing up hearing their stories. The camaraderie, sacrifice, courage, and inescapable sense of duty and service inspires me this Veteran’s Day because it is our duty as Americans to remember the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by our veterans. It is the service and sacrifice made by those men and women of our armed forces that ensure that we as Jews enjoy the freedoms and liberties given to all Americans.