Honoring Jewish Veterans
High school and college students enrolled in the Robert Israel Lappin Jewish Youth Leadership Seminar interviewed Jewish Veterans and learned how service to our country is a special kind of leadership.
Name of Jewish Veteran’s Wife interviewed: Laurna Adelman
Name of Interviewer: Lauryn Chotiner
Date of Interview: August 16, 2020
Laurna Adelman, age 96, lives in Philadelphia, PA and Ventnor, NJ. The interview was conducted in-person, and she welcomed me into her home. I was able to meet this special interviewee through my grandmother, who knows her from her synagogue. I think she feels that being a veteran is a form of leadership. She and her husband both helped the Jews who survived the concentration camps and made that their priority when they lived in Germany. That is a leader of strong ethics! I learned about how she supported the displaced persons in Germany as well as about Soviet Jewry. Before this interview, I did not know much about the USSR, KGB and the Jews who were refused visas to go to Israel because of their religion. Ms. Adelman inspired me to find more passion to speak up about antisemitism and to take action. The interview experience was fascinating. While I thought I would speak to her for 30 minutes, we wound up spending 90 minutes together. At 96 years old, she was as bright and vibrant as someone much younger. She spoke passionately about fighting antisemitism and her experiences in Germany.
It was an honor to interview Laurna Adelman, a 96-year old “Bubbie” who is proud of her message and story that she enjoys sharing with others. Her husband was a Jewish war Veteran and she followed him to Germany with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) when the concentration camps were just liberated. They spent about two years in Germany.
Ms. Adelman began by sharing her background, noting that her grandfather (her mother’s father) was an Orthodox rabbi who came to the United States in 1902 after being sponsored by his brother. He left his five children and wife in Russia and went straight to work in the USA. He was not given any money from the government and worked very hard for two years until he saved enough money to bring his family to the United States.
Her father came to Philadelphia, sponsored by his sister, when he was 16 years old. He was able to use a horse and buggy to sell sewing supplies. At that time, there were no department stores, so people bought fabric and sewed their own clothing. Her father met her mother and they opened a store in south Philadelphia. The store sold silks, threads, and sewing supplies. Her parents were strict Zionists and proud Americans. They had four children. They saved to send two of their children to college at University of Pennsylvania and two of their children to Temple University. She was proud to say that her parents also never took money from the government. Her parents were hard workers. Her father was president of his synagogue and a volunteer fireman.
Ms. Adelman went to Temple University and she shared her parents’ value of getting an education. She studied to become an oral hygienist. She met a dental student at Temple. He became a lieutenant in the service and he went to Germany three months after they were married. He spent two years in Germany. He was the only Jewish person on the hospital staff there. She joined him in Germany as part of the Air Corps and that is when she really learned and understood what happened to the Jews in Germany. She had no idea when living in America of the serious atrocities that took place in Europe and was amazed by how little people were made aware of what truly happened in Germany.
She spent time helping the Holocaust survivors, who were placed in the displaced person camps. Those camps were not a good condition for the survivors to live, but “at least they were no longer being killed.” She helped the Air Corps people to clean up a synagogue in Germany for these Jews to go to (Weisbond Synagogue). She shared that Jews who met in the displaced persons’ camp and decided to get married struggled because they had no parents alive to walk them down the aisle. She helped aide those Jews, choosing to be the person to walk down the bride on her wedding day. Since these Jews had no money, she asked an airperson for an old parachute and found someone to sew the parachute into a wedding dress for the bride. This was one of the many mitzvot she did while in Germany.
Ms. Adelman became pregnant in Germany at the age of 21. She decided to return to the United States at that point and her husband opened up a dental practice. She had four children, all of whom are now grown and belong to synagogues. She sent all her children to Gratz College to become certified Hebrew school teachers. All her children went to Israel at the age of 16. She spent 20 years raising her children.
However, she was not done helping others. Once her children were grown, she found a new passion – helping the Jews in the USSR. She dedicated her life to “Not being silent!” and participated in demonstrations, talks, and advocacy work to support the Jewish people mistreated in the USSR. She shared: “I have a message, will travel!” She became a leader in Soviet Jewry. She went to Russia and helped those who wanted to leave and go to Israel. She helped send thousands of cards to those in the USSR, always with a “Return Receipt” included, out of her own expense. She received $700 from suing the USSR postal service when they did not deliver the letters she sent. She went to the Soviet Union twice to get “refusenicks” out of Russia. Refusenicks were Jewish people who were refused visas and then lost their jobs and were persecuted – all for being Jewish and wanting to leave and go to Israel.
When in Russia, she would take pictures, letters, birth certificates, college certificates, etc. and help bring them to Israel since Soviet Jews were unable to take them out of the USSE. She was followed by the KGB. She was body searched and held back from her plane to the United States by the KGB; yet, a non-Jewish person on her trip stood up on the plane and told the other passengers to stand on the plane – they refused to sit, preventing the plane from leaving the USSR, until Ms. Adelman was allowed back on to return to America. Ms. Adelman continued her fight to help Jewish Soviet Refusenicks. She went on the radio and made people aware of this issue. She even spoke at the House of representatives.
She has been to Israel 24 times! She has many Russia friends in Israel, all of whom she met and helped to emigrate to Israel. She is very proud to be a Jew, and has felt respected by her non-Jewish friends for her Jewish advocacy. Her message to me was clear: “I want you to be Jewish and not be afraid. Be proud of being American and being a Jew.”
In regards to her leadership, she shared, “I do it because I can. I’m American, I’m a Jew, and I have to do it. I want to do the right thing.” She continues to advocate for Jews and Israel, calling up her senators, representatives, and government leaders weekly. The advice Ms. Adelman shared for this Jewish generation in fighting Antisemitism is: “Speak up!” and “Don’t be afraid!” I admire her courage, passion, and advocacy for Jews throughout her lifetime.
My military experience covered a two-year period from August 1965-August 1967. I had joined the ROTC program while attending Northeastern University (1960-1965) and following graduation I received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the USAR Signal Corps. The University had two branches, Engineer or Signal and since I was in the Business program I was assigned to the Signal Corps.
During the 60’s there was tremendous social unrest in the country and of course the assassination of JFK in 1963. I recall the day, time where I was and where I was headed when the country learned of his death. His words at his inauguration had a major impact on me. “Do not ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I felt then that with the Vietnam “conflict” heating up it was the best way I could serve our country and to fulfil my obligation, as opposed to seeking ways to avoid the draft. Yes, one could also take the approach better to serve as an officer than as an enlisted man.
If I may, let me go back a little bit in time. My father’s family lived and worked in Salem, Ma. My grandfather was an uneducated immigrant from Russia and eventually started a very successful furrier business, Dexter’s Furriers, with two locations in downtown Salem. All five sons worked in the business. They were workaholics, six and sometimes seven days a week.
One brother left to seek a career in music but the others remained in the business. They weren’t religious and never affiliated with a synagogue (Temple Shalom).
My mother came from Brooklyn, NY and grew up in an orthodox family but they were never affiliated with a synagogue. Zidy was a tailor working in the garment industry. They lived, breathed and socialized within the Jewish community but neither my mother or her sisters were active in the synagogue community. Perhaps it may have been due to the early death of my grandmother. She passed away when my mother was a very young girl.
As a newly “minted” 2nd Lieutenant, my first set of orders sent me to Ft. Gordon, to attend the Basic Officers training program, which ran for 10 weeks. Essentially one learned about protocol, rules regulations and some training similar to what enlisted men go through (physical training, firing various arms, gas masks, etc.) Most of us left the Post on the weekends and checked out the sights. The “class” came from all parts of the country so we made new friends for the period we were there. On the news front, Vietnam was heating up as the military presence started to grow. It was moving from what was termed a conflict to that of war.
Following my “graduation” from the officer’s basic training program I received orders to proceed to Fort Benning, Georgia for Jump School (Paratroop). At that moment I realized that I had indicated my desire to do this with two other friends and applied for it two years previously. I had totally forgotten about it. OMG. Too late to back out now so off I went. What an experience and confidence builder it turned out to be. For two weeks the physical training is demanding and yes you survive. On the cables at 5:30 AM and straight out till 5 PM each day. Never walking, always running and doing all sorts of physical condition training and learning how to exit an aircraft, rotate your body and hit the ground, shifting and turning to absorb the “impact.” The third week you make five static line jumps in mass formation from a height of 1250 feet. On Wednesday one gets to do it twice because on Friday you attend a graduation ceremony (albeit very brief) and sent onto your next assignment. The training is rigorous and one is not just exhausted at the end of each day, you are physically wiped out and collapse in your bed (forget dinner) only to repeat this the next day. What I got out of this three-week experience was self- confidence and belief in myself that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind up to do. Not to mention the best physical shape I had ever been in at that point in time.
During this time, I had met Judi and we had a brief courtship and I wanted to see her so I requested to be assigned to Fort Monmouth, NJ and attend Advanced Radio Officers Course in lieu of going to the 101st Airborne in Kentucky. My request was approved and while home on leave, I dated Judi for six consecutive nights before reporting for classes. Two weeks later I proposed and well that is another story for another day.
On April 7, 1966 I departed for Vietnam on a contract carrier (Braniff Airways) from Oakland, CA with stops in Manilla, Philippines and Guam before landing at Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). As we approached the airport there were huge clouds of billowing black smoke coming from a corner of the base. The Viet Cong had mortared the base earlier the previous evening and hit an Ammunition Dump. Great welcome to Vietnam.
I was assigned to the Strategic Communications Command whose primary mission was to establish, maintain and operate major relay communication stations from Pleiku, DaNang, Nha Trang and Saigon and connect the traffic to the Defense Communications Network worldwide. As a junior radio officer, I had the assignment to install and maintain radio backup to the major relay station located in the central highlands (Nha Trang). Outside of the first three weeks in the country, I was in the field except for two R & R’s, each of five-day duration including travel time.
I returned to the USA in early April and with four months remaining on my two-year commitment. I was assigned to Ft. Lee, Virginia which is just outside of Petersburg. My assignment (you’ll laugh at this) was to fill a slot on the TV station at the base as a “Director.” In reality I reported to the post at 8 AM daily and was back at the off base apartment by 8:30 AM every day. The rest of the day Judi and I would tour all the historical sites within driving distance.
Absent, so far, is my religious experience during my time in the service. The answer is I had none. Perhaps due in part to not growing up in a religious household. My parents did not keep kosher; my sister never attended Hebrew school although I did and had a small Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth El on Lewis Street in Lynn, November 1955. Rabbi Hamburgh and Cantor Morton Shanok officiated. I remember the Kiddish in the basement with the Israeli and American Flags made of chopped liver.
With the exception of my tour overseas, all of my assignments were TDY (temporary duty/short duration). While overseas I was in the field for all but four weeks and accessibility with chaplains were not embedded in small detachments. I had a total of 48 men split up in three locations who reported to me directly or indirectly. There was only one combat incident in the entire year there and I was not there when it occurred.
Name of Veteran Interviewed: Dr. Richard Aronson (RA)
Date of Birth: November 29, 1930
Interviewed by: Ella Fogelman (EF)
Date of Interview: July 23, 2020
During his service, Dr. Richard Aronson went through survival training in Alaska, as shown above.
Dr. Richard Aronson served in the Air Force from January 24, 1952 until December 15, 1955. He was an Airman First Class during the Korean War. He served in America and the territory of Alaska.
EF: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
RA: Yes, I was curious to know what would happen during my service. There was also excitement for the new part of my life.
EF: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
RA: There were only two or three others Jewish soldiers. I remember only one challenging time- another soldier didn’t like Jews and didn’t even want to be near them.
EF: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? If so, how did you deal with it?
RA: Yes, I got into a fight with the antisemitic soldier. I was a boxer before, so I won the fight. After the fight, no one bothered the Jews because they didn’t want to mess with me.
EF: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
RA: On a plane and we were supposed to look for Russian air crafts. I was told to put on a parachute. I had never used one and was very scared, but ended up not needing it. I flew in a tiny airplane to get to radar sites and it was very fun.
EF: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
RA: American Defense Medal
EF: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
EF: I am proud that I served. Today I am involved in the Korean War Veterans Association. I felt like it was my responsibility to serve the country, and if need be, I’d do it again.
EF: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
RA: I learned to take orders and eventually give orders, but mostly I was in oral surgery and I worked with the doctor closely. This inspired him to be the best he could be.
Dr. Aronson thinks his service is a form of leadership because he directly gave orders and he was a leader. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. I think that some veterans are leaders based on their rank and position, but others are just a part of the team. I learned from the interview that it may take patience and hard work to become a leader, but it is almost always worth it in the end. I was inspired by Dr. Aronson telling me that he would serve in the forces again if he was needed even at his age. I admire his patriotism and how he believes that service is a responsibility for our country. I am very honored that Dr. Aronson opened up about his experience in the armed forces to me, and I am very grateful to have this opportunity and learn about him and his story.
Name of Jewish Veteran: Gene Bass
Date of Interview: August 2, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Jackson Selby
Mr. Bass was drafted into the military and served from 1943-1946. He served during WWII in the infantry, 40th Aircraft anti-aircraft artillery. Countries he served in included: U.S., Britain, France, Belgium, Austria and Germany.
Memories he recalls about his service: glided down to battle fields; Battle of the Bulge; bombing of London; fighting on the Rhine River (guns and grenades); advancing with General Patton; and listening to Winston Churchill announcing the end of the war. He drank with Russians. Hearing Churchill announce the end of the war and celebrating with other soldiers was memorable for Mr. Bass.
There were a few other Jewish soldiers with him. He experienced antisemitism. There was name-calling and they weren’t allowed to celebrate certain holidays. He dealt with antisemitism by reporting it to authorities.
Mr. Bass saw lots of combat and there were a few casualties in his unit.
Mr. Bass was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal at a ceremony pinned by French captain in Florida much later after the war.
After the war Mr. Bass became an actor with the support of the army. He learned to play the harmonica and still plays it today.
Name of Veteran: Arthur Bernstein
Interviewer: Johanna Bernstein
Date of Interview: 11/9/20
Arthur Bernstein is a WWII veteran, and he said being a veteran makes him a better citizen. He enlisted in the Merchant Marines and served from June 1945 – April 1946. He was restless and enlistment was recommended to deal with it. When asked why he picked this branch, his answer was Boats, boats, boats. Mr. Bernstein’s rank was 3rd Deck Officer and he served at sea. He recalls his first days in the service as confusing.
There were other Jewish merchant marines serving with Mr. Bernstein. He said he did not experience antisemitism during his service.
When asked if he learned anything about leadership during his service, he said yes. He eventually became a manager of a business. Mr. Bernstein’s advice to the younger generation is to fight for your beliefs. Be vocal.
Interestingly, Mr. Bernstein also served in the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, which was the underground army of the Yishuv (Jewish community) during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. He served from July 1946 – July 1947. Mr. Bernstein’s rank was Chief Deck Officer. Mr. Bernstein was in France, Denmark, Sweden, Palestine, Italy, Algeria, and Tunisia. He recalls his first days in the Palmach as loaded with pride and responsibility to train his crew.
All of the other servicemen with him were Jewish. There was a yeshiva student on board who conducted services.
Though Mr. Bernstein did not see combat, they had a physical encounter with the British. He was not armed. There were 18 men injured during the encounter with the British.
A memorable experience he had during his service is documented in the book Voyage of the Ulua. Mr. Bernstein was a prisoner of war on Cyprus. Security was not very tight, and he escaped after a few weeks and got another assignment.
Mr. Bernstein was awarded a medal from Ben Gurion for successfully bringing Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine.
He made close friendships while in the service. He said the whole crew stayed in touch for about 60 years.
Mr. Bernstein added: I am an old man now. My fluency in language and thought is impaired due to a stroke, but when the times of serving in Aliya Bet are recalled, I swell with pride. Can you imagine serving on a Jewish ship bought by fellow Jews and manned by Jewish volunteers from North America? We were young, arrogant and fearless. We accomplished our mission, but we were still caught and imprisoned.
Faye Berzon, Member of the Cadet Nurse Corps
Interviewed by Carole Greenfield
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
FB: Back in 1944, I was thinking about going to Nursing School at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Then I heard about something called the Cadet Nurse Corps. It had just been established. The US Public Health Service, under the Bolton Act, provided money to entice women to enter nursing because all the RNs staffing the hospitals had gone off to war. There was no way to take care of patients in the hospitals. They needed nurses desperately. I was going into nursing anyhow, so I thought why don’t I sign up for this? It paid full tuition, room and board, and a stipend of $25/month for three years. We had to sign we would do essential nursing for the duration of the war. We did not know how long the war would last. We would have to stay on with nursing after we completed the program but that was OK with us. During the last 6 months in training, we could elect to do something other than working medical surgical unit. I elected to work at the VNA of Boston, which was remarkably interesting because I had no other public health experience.
Let me tell you about what happened while I was a student in training for three months. How much do you think I knew? Nothing! I was made the nurse in charge at night alone and at 10:30, I went up to get a report from the evening nurse. Over in the corner was an intern. He said “Your first night?” I said “Yes. I’m scared to death.” He stayed up with me the whole night. Well, he survived, I survived and the patients survived so I thought I guess I have it made.
We did many things you would not believe. We were the housekeepers, we had to clean the utility room, took care of the patients who got better over time because often we did not know what we were doing. We didn’t have enough education. Very often, we used our heads and improvised and we did the very best we could. If it weren’t for us, hospitals like Mass General, Beth Israel and the Brigham would have all had to close their doors because there was nobody else to take care of the patients. We did it all. We were very important people for the facilities we entered.
One of the nice things was if we wore those uniforms (see photo), we could walk to Fenway and pay nil like the soldiers in uniform, so that was one of the perks. But we didn’t have much time off. We worked from 4AM-11AM and 3:00PM -7PM. We worked 7 days/week. Once in a while they gave us a weekend day off. It was wartime and it was a difficult time for everybody.
After a while, the war ended, and we could do what we wanted to do. Some people opted to go do nursing at the VA, or we could do it with the Army and Navy (and one or two did sign up for the service afterwards). We didn’t have to do that- we just had to do essential nursing. That’s what we did during our period as cadet nurses.
CG: How old were you when you joined the Cadet Nurses?
FB: I was 18 years old in Sept. You could not go into nursing school until you were 18 because you could not take the state board exams until you were 21.
CG: You were in charge of the ward with 3 months of training?
FB: We would go into class; they would tell us what to do and take us into hospital to watch the patients -and that’s what we did. We had just started giving medications when they put me in charge of the ward.
CG: Were you scared?
FB: Yes- I was scared but I had to do it. It was not unusual. Other people had the same experiences. We were scared of what we were doing but we did it.
CG: What years were you in the Cadet Nurses Corp?
FB: 1944-1947 (I graduated nursing school in 1947) I immediately became head nurse when I graduated for 4 years. Then the Director of the School of Nursing asked me to teach in the School of Nursing. They needed an assistant to one of the nursing instructors. I said I don’t have a degree. (I had a year of college before nursing school.) She said you have a year of college and know all our procedures, so why don’t you try it? So, I said OK and I did. And lo and behold, the woman I was assisting became pregnant and left. Leaving me as the next person up and in charge of the nursing program.
I did this for a couple of years and was also taking some courses. But then in 1956, the US government had something called Public Law 911. 911 needed people to teach nursing. They were only happy to finance me again. I went to BU, they paid tuition, room and board and a $250/month stipend. I got my bachelor’s degree. I worked at BI for another year. I used the same grant, (911) to get my master’s degree a year later. My education didn’t cost me anything.
I went on to teach. I left Beth Israel and went to Simmons College. I then got married and My husband said, “Oh-women in our family don’t work. You have to stay home.” I stayed home for the summer and said this is not for me. I was in the process of writing a book on drugs with four other nurses, so I was looking for something part time. So, I went to Catherine Labourbe School of Nursing. This was situated at the Carney Hospital. The Director of the School of Nursing was a nun. I went to see Sister Cecilia. She asked “Can you start tomorrow?” I said “It’s September and I’m Jewish and I need to have the High Holidays off.” She said, “ Oh that’s fine-no problem.”
I stayed there for a couple of years and then BU invited me to join their faculty. I went to BU and I taught there. They were getting ready to close their school of nursing. Associates degrees of nursing were getting very popular. I went to Massasoit (Brockton) in 1970 for a faculty appointment. I became part of the administration in charge of all the health programs and also Chairman of the department. I left Massasoit in 1992 and meanwhile I was working on a doctoral degree at U Mass. Of course, it didn’t cost me anything to go there because I was on the faculty. I got my education for nothing.
The community colleges all provided nursing programs for 2 years instead of 3. Of course, we had accelerated programs for students. We were anxious to have men and women and we were very successful. Many went on to get bachelors degrees. Today, that’s the thing to do- get a bachelor’s initially. Many used community colleges for two years and then move on so it doesn’t cost as much to go to school.
I retired from Massasoit, went back to school at UMass Boston and did a gerontology program. I became an ombudsman in a nursing home. The Ombudsman program is run out of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Ombudsmen go into each nursing home once a week to find out if they are having any problems. If any residents have any problems, the ombudsman interferes on their behalf. If a nursing home didn’t comply, and make things better, they were reported to the state and attorney general.
Today some of nursing homes I see do not comply very well with rules and regulations which are necessary. They need people to intercede and get things right for the residents.
When I started using a walker, I then retired from that. I became a member of Council on Aging and Disabilities in Sharon until I moved to Orchard Cove 4 years ago.
CG: Were there other Jewish nurses in the Nurse Cadet Corp?
FB: Three quarters of my class were in the Nurse Cadet Corp. Only one classmate wasn’t Jewish. It was not until later on that there were a lot of non-Jewish students at Beth Israel.
CG: When you got married were you forced or urged to stay home?
FB: My husband didn’t realize I was much happier when I was at work. We didn’t have any children. We had a different kind of life. We spent a lot of time traveling. Very often we went to Israel, which was near and dear to us.
We donated an ambulance to Magen David Adom. When my husband died, I donated a medicycle. I got email from a woman in Israel. She met a woman who is an EMT whose name is Berzon driving a vehicle that I donated with Berzon written on it. I could not find a relationship between them and the family. Magen David Adom called because they could not believe it, either.
CG: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
FB: No- as a matter of fact, we are trying to get the US Government to recognize us as doing yeoman’s duty during this period of time. Finally, Massachusetts has just signed a Cadet Nurse Corp memorandum creating July 1, 2021 as Cadet Nurse Day. They will put up a plaque commemorating the Nurse Corp in Nurses Hall at the State House. That will take place in July, so I must live until July 1, 2021 to attend the ceremony. We are all in our 90s. The class of 1945 was the last class to come through.
We are all in our 90s so now there are not many of us left.
Barney Frank started this (recognition of Nurse Cadet Corps) in Congress. He got it to pass there but not in the Senate. Elizabeth Warren has picked this up and it’s her baby. She’s trying to get it through Congress.
CG: What are you asking for?
FB: We are asking for recognition. We want them to say that we are like veterans because we staffed the hospitals that would have closed without our being there. That’s what we want to be recognized for. Otherwise there would have been a disaster in the US.
CG: Did you make any close friends?
FB: We made lots of friends. My class used to have reunions all the time. People married and moved but would come back to attend. There are only 2 in my class left. Another woman is in Lynn. We always stayed in touch with each other, either by telephone or writing. One lady moved to Israel and I used to visit her when I went there.
CG: How did your service/experience effect your life?
FB: My service set the stage for the rest of my life. I was there and saw everything that was happening. I knew what was going on in the world and this made me more conscious about what was going on in the world and outside Massachusetts.
I continue to be cognizant of nursing. As soon as I graduated, became member of American Nurses Association. After 40 years of membership, one becomes a life member. In 1987, I became a life member. I get everything from them. That is how I saw the article in the Massachusetts Report on Nursing about Massachusetts upcoming recognition of the Nurse Cadets.
Somebody on the north shore called a year ago, and asked if I could go to a meeting in Salem. I said I’m sorry- I am in a wheel chair and cannot travel. They said they could come here, but I wasn’t feeling well at that point so no. So they had my name and knew I was involved.
Many years ago, there was a group that started. It had meetings in Quincy at one of the nursing homes on the shore there. Every year, we would be invited to go there and started working on getting recognition. This is nothing new. It was started a long time ago. We had people who would come from all parts of the state. This is a long time coming and finally MA is recognizing us but I don’t know about the government.
CG: Nobody knows about the government. How did your service inspire leadership in you?
FB: Well. at three months they picked me as the person in charge. That started me. I’m a very strong willed person. I was able pick up and run with this.
CG: Why did you decide to be a nurse in the first place?
FB: Many women were teachers. I didn’t want to be a teacher. What do women do? They are nurses or teachers. I thought nurses – they really need nurses, so that’s a good thing for me to do. I want to do something other than teaching. I put them both together.
Along the way, I became a charter of the Nurses Council of Hadassah in 1990 with Nancy Falchuk. She said she did not think there were any Jewish nurses in the Boston area. Nancy and Rachel Alpert put an ad in Jewish Advocate and got 400 responses! Well- I guess there were! We started Nurses Council of Hadassah. I became a charter member. This was something I was very interested in. We had a lot in common.
After our first trip to Israel, I really became active in the nurse’s council. My dear friend from my BI days became director of nursing at the two Hadassah hospitals in 1990. She knew we were coming, and she had all her friends lined up to meet us when were there. I became a life member when I got back. At that time I was in Milton. All the meetings were luncheons because the ladies weren’t working, so I never got to a meeting there. And it wasn’t until I got involved in the nurses council that I had contact with other Hadassah members.
CG: Where are you from originally?
FB: I was born and brought up in New Britain, CT, south of Hartford. I applied to three schools of nursing: Beth Israel in Boston, Mt. Sinai in New York and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Guess where I wasn’t accepted? I wasn’t accepted to Johns Hopkins but that’s ok- I wasn’t going to go there anyhow. You had to apply to more than one school, but I really wanted to go to Boston.
CG: Did you meet your husband through nursing?
FB: Somebody gave my husband my phone number and I met him on a blind date. During the summer, when I was teaching at Simmons, I worked part time at BI as a supervisor. When my husband’s mother had her blood work done, he had me paged and he had me meet his mother.
My husband (who lived with his mother) told me to call him at a certain time at night. They had telephone service –she answered the phone for his business. I would call and His mother would answer. One day she said “ Do you have any news for me?” “No, I don’t.” “Don’t tell Harry I said so, but if he hasn’t asked you, you ask him. It’s OK.” They were getting ready to invite me to come for Pesach. Passover was coming. I told Harry I’m sorry I can’t come-your mother makes me uncomfortable.” The next day he came back and proposed. I got engaged on March 18th and we got married on June 18th.
CG: Where did your husband and mother-in-law live?
FB: Dorchester. She was a widow at that time. They had an apartment. Then we bought a 2-family house. We lived on the first floor, she lived on second floor. She broke her hip and her daughter insisted she live in Alabama. Unfortunately, she went there and died there. She and I were very good friends always. We never had a bad word between us ever.
CG: It sounds like she did a good job raising her son, too. Why do you support Hadassah?
FB: My husband was very involved. I’m a Keeper of the Dream. Nancy Falchuk, whom you must know, was very good at asking people for money. My husband had bought some stock, and the stock had multiplied and multiplied and became very expensive. When it came due, we would have had to pay so much money in taxes it did not pay to do that. If we gave money to a charitable organization, we got the benefit tax-wise and the organization did not have to pay any taxes. So we gave the money to Hadassah. From them on, Nancy Falchuk thought we were very wealthy people. She kept asking for money from my husband. I told him stop spending so much money and save some for us! Anyways, he was happy to do it. We are happy to see Hadassah growing. Whenever we went to Israel, we went to the hospital and they took us around. When they were setting up the Clinical Master’s program, Nancy came crying for money again. He made another donation for that. That’s where I am. I’m also a Keeper of the Gate. That’s my story with Hadassah.
We have a chapter at Orchard Cove and I’m a member and happy to help them when they need it, but I’m not interested in being an officer. I ‘ve been through all the being in charge of things and I don’t’ need that anymore.
PS from FB after the interview: My most famous patient was certainly Robert Frost.
Name of Jewish War Veteran: Sol Black
Date of interview: 7/20/20
Name of Interviewer: Haley Zunick
Sol Black enlisted in the Marines and served from 2001-2005. He enlisted he wasn’t sure what he wanted to with his life yet and he thought it was a way to challenge himself and travel the world. He served during the Iraq War, serving in Iraq and Liberia. Sol was a sergeant.
His first days in the service felt sort of like a culture shock. I attended boot camp in South Carolina that felt more challenging than war. No matter how much you prepare you are never really ready.
There were very few other Jewish soldiers who served with him, maybe around three out of around a thousand people. I experienced antisemitism–many “cheap-jew jokes”. I dealt with this by first starting with conversations but at some points it ended with violence if they wouldn’t stop. What I discovered from this is that a lot of people had his back and wanted to help him. He also learned from his mother that some people can only get things through violence.
He saw combat in Liberia and Iraq and in his unit there were 23 dead in three weeks at the Battle of Fallujah. The first time he was involved in a bomb, knowing that it could blow up in your face at any second, was an experience that makes you appreciate life.
Sol received a Navy achievement medal from the Battle of Fallujah because he ran from place to place setting off bombs and blowing things up.
Sol made some of his best friends in the service, including the best man at his wedding. He said that experiencing war and near-death experiences together creates a very special bond.
Haley Zunick: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
Sol Black: It gave me direction in life. It made me completely change my outlook and appreciate it.
Haley Zunick: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
Sol Black: I learned that it is critical to earn people’s trust. Int is also important to find things in common with people so you are able to motivate them.
Haley Zunick: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
Sol Black: It helped me trust others and find similarities between us also.
Haley Zunick: Were there any times that were more challenging than others?
Sol Black: Part of my job was crawling towards bombs and dismantling them, which is pretty much blowing them up in a controlled matter. At first that was very nerve-racking and it became shocking to watch my progression as I became less nervous about being right next to a bomb with the possibility of it blowing up.
Haley Zunick: Sol thinks his service is a form a leadership. He had to take on many leadership roles in order to fulfill his duties. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because it takes serious responsibility, as well as being an inspiration to later generations. What I learned about leadership from the interview is that leadership is about earning trust from others and finding things in common with people. I was inspired when I heard about his experience with antisemitism. It was really motivating to see how he overcame the difficulties and challenges of being Jewish. I think the interview experience was a very important experience to hear about the wars from someone who witnessed them first-hand. It is interesting to hear about how they felt and what they were going through.
Name of Veteran: Stanley Block
Born in 1938
Name of Interviewer: Lauren Greenwald
Date of Interview: July 29, 2020
Mr. Block served in the Army from 1954-1967. He is a Korean War Veteran. He got his draft notice a week before turning 17, so he didn’t take it seriously. Finally, he showed up to the office a week later and a lady signed him up to a random branch. He didn’t know what to expect. Mr. Block served in Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, and he earned the rank of Major. He hated his first couple days in service. This was because at 17 years old he didn’t take orders very well, and didn’t like being told what to do. He was also the modest type of person, who didn’t particularly care for going to take a shower with no privacy. He really needed to adjust to being in the Army. There were about half a dozen Jewish soldiers who served with him. One time, there was this Jewish soldier who was kosher, and he couldn’t go overseas with the troop. He had to be generally discharged, which is a dishonorable discharge. Mr. Block really didn’t experience anything bad because he was Jewish. They didn’t have a rabbi, but there was a priest who did a pretty good job helping them through prayers. If they had a synagogue near them on Jewish holidays they would go to it to worship.
Mr. Block saw combat. He took a flight from California to Korea, and it took 12 hours. They landed in the capital of Korea, Seoul. He was in charge of the supplies. For example, he dispersed cars and other supplies. One night, there was a big fire and four men drew their guns on him and his unit. They told them to get out of here, so they left. The next day they came in and all four of them were dead. There were always a lot of casualties. A lot of men got frostbite because it was so cold. They even had trouble firing guns, because it was so cold.
Mr. Block was awarded a good conduct medal.
Mr. Block made some of his best friends while in service. Sadly, two out of the four of them have passed away. Marvin is his best friend, and they talk every day. They grew up together. They brought three other Jewish guys with them into the service, but sadly, two of the four have already passed away.
Being in the service affected Mr. Block’s life. He developed some anger issues, because of his time in service. He gets very frustrated when he drives. He said, “It is very hard to be a man when you are still a boy.” He was referring to the beginning of his time in the army. He was still a boy and quickly had to learn the hardship of life as a soldier, and become a man, but he had a hard time dealing with anger after seeing combat and being in the Army.
Mr. Block thinks his service is a form of leadership. He thinks what he did was very honorable, and it takes a certain kind of person to be able to serve in the military.
I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. I think serving your country is incredible, and takes a person who can follow directions well, is selfless and can be a leader to others.
What I learned from the interview is that it’s important to not only be able to give directions, but also be able to take directions. I also learned that leadership comes in many forms. I was inspired by Mr. Block’s motivation to help our country. He didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, and was called into service after high school. The interview experience was very meaningful to me because he is so passionate about the time that he served.
Name of Veteran: Jeffrey Blonder (JB)
Interview Date: June 8, 2020
Interviewed by: Alyssa Ardai (AA)
Veteran Jeffrey Blonder enlisted in 1986 with the Navy Reserves. He served until 2014 when he retired. He was in Afghanistan for 15 months between 2008 and 2009. The highest rank that he achieved was Senior Chief Petty Officer.
AA: If you enlisted, why did you enlist?
Answer: He always believed in serving the country. At a young age, he was interested in the military, but due to college and working as a computer consultant, he didn’t have enough time. At work, he was talking with someone who explained that if you joined the Navy Reserves it didn’t take up much time, drill a few hours a month plus two weeks a year outside of the US, so he decided to enlist.
AA: Which branch did you serve in?
Answer: Navy Reserves
AA: Why did you pick this branch?
Answer: Besides a colleague telling him, the Navy Reserves had a program that gave out a higher rank based on civilian experience. This was the Naval Intelligence Program where he participated in work like spying.
AA: What was your rank?
Answer: Senior Chief e-8 enlisted
AA: What country or countries did you serve in?
Answer: For his two weeks a year outside of the US, he served in Japan, Italy, and Germany. He also served in places across the US. During the War, he was in Afghanistan for 15 months.
AA: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
Answer: During his first days in service, he had no background in what he was doing. He was 30 years old when he joined. He said it was weird walking into the reserves and seeing younger people, and it took a while to get the uniform. He was trying to learn what to do and stay out of the way.
AA: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
Answer: Over the years there were a couple, but very few. He tried to look for them, and over the years, there were 1-2 a year in the unit. He tried to celebrate the Jewish holidays; for Hanukkah, he invited shipmates to help light a menorah that his wife shipped over, along with dreidels. For Passover, his wife shipped over kosher for Passover food. For Shabbat, you weren’t allowed to drink wine/alcohol since Afghanistan is a dry country that doesn’t believe in alcohol, but he was allowed to drink Concord grape wine for religious purposes only.
AA: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
Answer: Fitting in sometimes was hard to do. A drill would fall on holidays like Rosh Hashanah so he’d have to reschedule for a different date.
AA: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
Answer: At Passover, he was sent food to eat from his wife. Dreidels were sent over for Hanukkah. He tried to practice Shabbat as much as he could.
AA: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
Answer: Occasionally there were comments on Jews without knowing that you’re Jewish. Even if they knew he was Jewish, they would make the comments behind your back
AA: Did you see combat?
Answer: Yes, with about five or six casualties in unit
AA: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
Answer: He met a woman two days before she was killed while in Afghanistan. His wedding anniversary was coming up, and the German Air Base had an exchange place to get a gift. At the designated spot on base, Blonder noticed three unfamiliar faces and struck up a conversation with them. It was very brief, and he didn’t get her name. The next day, it was brought up that someone from the Air Force was killed by a bomb on a road that he traveled on numerous times. Two days later, while watching CNN, he saw the girl’s face that he had talked to three days prior. While doing research, it was found that her name was Lt. Schulte, from St. Louis, and she was Jewish. She was remembered as a fellow Jew and soldier. It had a profound effect on Blonder’s life and reminded him how precious life is and that we should cherish every encounter we have with people as important.
AA: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
Answer: Yes. He received both the Navy and Army Commendation Medals. You had to be nominated for both of them. He also won an award. His base raised the second most money for the Combined Fund, which is similar to the United Way. While he was in Afghanistan, he was the head of that charity effort.
AA: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
Answer: He learned how to appreciate life more. After he met that person in passing, he learned that any time you meet someone, it’s important to remember them. You don’t realize who they are or what they are, and the smallest moments should be important to you.
AA: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
Answer: Yes, he learned leadership. Leadership skills were entrusted with him since he was the senior enlisted leader on base. He taught leadership to the Afghan army. Now, he is very active in the veterans’ offices, by being a part of the Jewish War Veterans (Commander), the Disabled American Veterans, and the American Legion. The Jewish War Veterans is the oldest veterans’ organization in America, and they serve over 600 Jewish Veterans in Massachusetts. He wants to support, to fight antisemitism, and to serve all veterans without caring about their race, color, creed, or religion.
JB: “We need to make sure we promote that Jews do fight and die in war. This is a revolutionary war in current times. Jews serve in a higher population than any ethnic group in America, even while representing a low percentage of the population as a whole. It gives them a sense of community. Jews have always supported and fought for the underdog. Jews are fighters and have a whole history. Fighting is a part of our blood.”
AA: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
Answer: He got to see people in stressful situations and learn to react properly. Make sure people react and create leadership opportunities and remove obstacles to achieve whatever your goal was since people were leaders.
AA: Do you think your service is a form of leadership?
Answer: Yes, Mr. Blonder thinks his service is a form of leadership. Leadership skills were entrusted with him since he was the senior enlisted leader on base. He taught those skills to the Afghan army, and he continues to play a role by being a Commander of the Jewish War Veterans groups. He got to see people in stressful situations and learn to react properly. He wants to make sure people react and create leadership opportunities and overcome obstacles to achieve whatever your goal was since people were leaders.
Alyssa Ardai: “I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. Veterans have to go through a lot during their combat and see many gruesome things. Veterans have to put themselves out there and be willing to risk their lives for our country, while also being a role model to the next generation. People need to put themselves out there and be willing to do any task thrown out at them. What I learned from the interview is that leadership can be gained and created at any moment. You must always be confident in what you do, and always be willing to learn. I was surprised by how much information I was able to get from Jeffrey. Some people don’t want to talk at all about their past experiences since the past might haunt them, while others want to give out as much info as they remember so their memories are never lost. The interview experience was very meaningful, and I will continue to cherish every moment that I have with people, as if it was the last.”
Name of Jewish Veteran: Ilya Bratman
Date of Interview: August 17, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Eric Llyod
When did you serve in the armed forces? Graduated from college in 1999, started service in 2000 until finishing in 2008.
Why did you enlist? Graduated from college with a degree in film, and couldn’t find a job and wanted to do something interesting.
Which branch did you serve in? Army – 1st Armored Core, Signal
Why did you pick this branch? Picked army – much simpler choices than the other branches, chose signal for military job.
What were your dates of service? 2000 – 2008, 3 years active, 5 years reserve
Did you serve during a war? Iraq (2003 – 2004)
What was your rank? Sergeant
What countries did you serve in? Korea, Germany, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Very nerve wracking and anxious, with elements of excitement going through basic training.
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Yes, very few.
Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? Anti semitism due to ignorance, as some soldiers come from backgrounds where they don’t interact with any Jewish people.
How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? Didn’t practice that much, besides observing holidays and occasionally attending services.
Did you see combat? 1st armored division.
Were there many casualties in your unit? Yes – but overall there weren’t many in the Signal unit.
Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. The people – building a sense of comradery between the different soldiers, getting to know each other. Besides that, it would be celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Saddam’s palace, which helped reconnect him with his Jewish identity.
Were you awarded any medals or citations? RCOM of valor, various service ribbons
How did you get them? Serving in the army and in Iraq.
Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Yes – made very close connections with the other soldiers and tries to speak with each other whenever they can.
How did your service and experiences affect your life? Nothing else has affected him as much as his time in the army, and that your time in the military is something that stays with you forever.
Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? Yes – In the military there are multiple levels of responsibility, as how you behave reflects the United States and their interactions both domestic and abroad.
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? It’s important to say how unique the Jewish experience is in the military, and how many Americans, let alone people in the world, have never come in contact or met a Jewish person, and that when you go into a field where you work both within the United States and abroad you act as a leader and an ambassador of the Jewish people.
Eric Lloyd: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because the experience, knowledge and insight that you gain from your service is inordinately as a leader of a group or a community. What I learned from the interview is it’s more than what most people think; It’s about honor, loyalty and being committed to serving your community. I was inspired by Mr. Bratman’s belief that his time in the army truly distinguishes himself from the average person, and that his time in the military shows true loyalty, and that people who wish to take up a leadership role should put themselves in a position of responsibility for others.
The interview experience gave me the opportunity to get to know not only a fellow Jewish person that is a veteran, but one that holds influence over a large group of people, as Mr. Bratman is the Executive Director at the Hillel at Baruch College, which has more than 2,000 members. After the interview I felt as though the answers given were fulfilling and exceeded any expectation of mine, as the stories of Mr. Bratman truly elucidated any questions I had regarding the Jewish presence within the United States Army.
Date of interview: Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Name of interviewer: Danielle Frankel
Name of Jewish War Veteran interviewed: Julian Bussgang
Birthdate: March of 1925
Where does the veteran currently live? Dedham, MA
How was the interview conducted? Zoom
Do you have a personal relationship with this veteran or was the veteran assigned to you? Mr. Bussgang is a family friend’s father, and I was connected to him by Lynda Bussgang, who
runs the multigenerational program at Hebrew Senior Life.
Does the veteran think their service is a form of leadership? If yes, please explain. It seems that Mr. Bussgang does believe that service is a form of leadership. He volunteered to serve when he was not required to do so. Additionally, as he became more experienced and involved in the army, he climbed up the ranks and eventually led his comrades in war.
Do you think being a veteran is a form of leadership? Please explain. I definitely believe that being a veteran is a form of leadership. We salute these men and women who fight for our
nations for a reason. They have utmost bravery and are willing to die. While some veterans may have more leadership qualities than others and may rise to higher positions, I believe that all veterans have a certain degree of leadership.
What did you learn about leadership from the interview? I learned that leadership comes in
many different forms. Mr. Bussgang volunteered to fight in the war and go abroad, while many of his brothers stayed in Palestine. While maybe his leadership wasn’t exactly someone standing on a podium addressing a crowd, he was a leader in his own way, and that is inspiring.
Were you inspired by anything you learned during the interview? Explain. I was inspired by Mr. Bussgang’s determination after the war. His family had close to nothing and they had been shunned from their home. He wasn’t going to let his traumatic experiences fighting in the war stop him. He excelled wherever he went and became extremely successful.
What did the interview experience mean to you? I found it so amazing that a man of 95 years
old was so sharp and could remember such specific details from his time in the army. His storytelling was incredible, and he spoke so confidently about his experiences. His willingness to share what he endured along the way was inspiring and I’m so lucky that I was able to meet him (virtually).
Are you left wondering about anything? I didn’t explicitly ask Mr. Bussgang if he thinks that
being a veteran is a form of leadership, so I’m wondering what exactly his answer would be and
what reasoning he would use to support that. I would also love to read his book, entitled Refugee,
Soldier, Student: A Memoir.
Interview Questions and Answers:
1. Where and when were you born?
March of 1925 in Lvov, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine)
2. What was your childhood like?
Mr. Busggang was from a prosperous Jewish family in a city that was 30% Jewish until 1939 (the onset of WWII). He had two parents, and a sister who was 1.5 years older than him.
3. What was your education like?
He went to a private elementary school in Lvov because he was too young for public school. In 1939, his city was bombed, and so his family fled to Romania. There, he attended a French school for Polish refugees. After spending some time in Romania, his family relocated to Palestine, where he attended a Polish school. Amazingly, his math teacher was an ex-Polish prime minister!
4. When did you serve in the armed forces?
The Polish army was formed, and they came to Palestine to scout out some potential soldiers. Mr.
Bussgang volunteered to fight at age 18.
5. Did you enlist or were you drafted?
Mr. Bussgang completely volunteered to join. There was no draft, and no enlistment. He purely wanted to fight the Nazis because they had invaded his home, Poland.
6. Which branch did you serve in?
Mr. Bussgang served in Anders’ Army also known as the Polish Army. He began in a tanks unit in Egypt (near the Suez Canal), then was admitted to a Polish officer school in Palestine. Only a few men became officers, and he was one of them! He left as a cadet whose strong suit was mathematics. He joined the anti-aircraft utility in Italy, and by the end of the war he was a Lieutenant. Following the war, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, and then Captain of Reserve.
7. Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
In his first days of service (in the tank unit) he had to learn how to drive this vehicle which did not have a proper steering wheel, and rather utilized brakes for turning. One day, the officer that was commanding his unit got injured, so Mr. Bussgang decided that he would rather not continue in the tanks unit. That was when he went to officer school in Palestine, then the anti-aircraft utility. He was still in combat at this time, and it was very dangerous work. They had to be especially skilled when it came to shooting the German planes in order to protect the infantry. While Mr. Bussgang had started as a young soldier, he soon was promoted to a leader of his unit.
8. Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
There were a few Jewish soldiers with him in Palestine, because most of the Jewish soldiers from Palestine wanted to stay there.
9. Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you were Jewish?
The army had a Rabbi, despite the fact that most of the soldiers were Catholics. Occasionally, they would all go to church together to pray.
10. How did you or the other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
There were Jewish services conducted by the rabbi who had been a prisoner in the Soviet Union. Around 30 to 40 people from all different units joined for high holidays and Shabbat. When Mr. Bussgang was in Italy, he would sometimes attend an Italian synagogue.
11. Did you experience antisemitism during your service?
There were occasionally jokes made regarding Jews, but there was never strong antisemitism from his comrades. These comments were never directed to him, and he only heard these “jokes.”
12. What was one lesson that you learned from your experience in general?
Mr. Bussgang learned that some people grow up with prejudice, but with frequent contact with the “victim,” prejudice can disappear. Mr. Bussgang’s comrades were more concerned with fighting the Germans than with directing prejudice towards him and the other Jews.
13. How is/was your family affected by your service?
His parents and sister were in Palestine, so they didn’t communicate with each other too much. They were greatly concerned about his safety during this time. Once the war ended, he went to see them. Mr. Bussgang relocated to the Polytechnic University in Torino, Italy, and he stayed in a dorm specifically for the Polish. Eventually, the family went to England because all Polish refugees were all evacuated by the British when the War for Independence began in 1948.
14. Were there many casualties in your unit?
There were many casualties in the anti-aircraft unit. The biggest battle was the Battle of Monte Cassino in May of 1944. Mr. Bussgang had to step into the infantry unit to go fight up the mountain which had German mines planted in it (they would explode if the Allies stepped on them). The Germans were shooting at them from the top of the mountain, but eventually the Allies succeeded, and they took over the monastery on the mountain’s summit. Mr. Bussgang also fought in the Battle of Bologna, the Battle of Ancona, and others that took place on the east coast of Italy.
15. Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
One of the scariest events was climbing the Monte Cassino mountain (with mined fields). They were visible to the enemy, and they were being shot at constantly. Mr. Bussgang also remembers when the American troops landed on the coast of Italy, but they were surrounded until the Polish broke through and permitted them to enter Rome.
16. Were you a prisoner of war?
No, but because he spoke Italian and English, he helped the prisoners of war after the war had ended.
17. Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
Mr. Bussgang was friendly with both Jews and non-Jews. Some were from the officer school, some were from fighting in combat, and some were from when they’d been wounded and had to be transported to hospitals. He shared a room with two men and they became very close friends. He stayed in touch with them until recently, when they died.
18. How did you perceive the enemy? Did you come into direct contact with them?
The Germans saw themselves as superior to Poles, Italians, and French. The Allies found letters that German soldiers had written to home, and they usually contained terrible comments about the people they were fighting against. Today, Mr. Bussgang is not interested in visiting Germany, has never wanted to buy a German car, and won’t invest in German companies. However, when he meets a German, he is always perfectly corial towards them.
19. What was it like coming home? How were you received?
After studying in Torino, Mr. Bussgang resettled in England with his family. The Polish Resettlement Corps offered to either find jobs for them, or pay for university. Mr. Bussgang enrolled as an external student at the University of London, where he just had to take exams. He studied mathematics, then switched to electronic engineering. He ended up applying for a visa to America, but there were quotas which meant that he would have to wait for at least 5 years until he could immigrate. His family had arrived in the US earlier on, and eventually Mr. Bussgang could join them. The problem was that he had a final exam to take which would get him a BA from the University of London. The consulate wouldn’t allow him to stay for 3 months, but Mr. Bussgang didn’t want to wait for 5 more years. Luckily, the University of London sent his exam to Columbia University in New York City. From there, he applied to MIT graduate school, and became a “special” student, because he still didn’t have the results back from the University of London final exam. During this time, he worked as a technician while attending university part-time. The exam finally arrived from the University, and Mr. Bussgang passed in the top group. It was after this that he became a full student at MIT. He got his masters degree, then worked in Lincoln Lab where he made military electronics. Later on, he got a PhD from Harvard in applied physics. He started working for Radio Corporation of America, then started his own company which involved contracts with the government and NASA. Mr. Bussgang was even a consultant for NASA for the trip to the moon! Through all of this, he was determined to perform as well as he had in Poland.
20. Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
He definitely did, especially when he was promoted and had people to command. He always tried to understand other people to the best of his ability, and he learned to become friends with his employees. He claims that he was inspired by his dad to become a leader.
21. How did you meet your wife?
Mr. Bussgang went to a party where there were girls from Wellesley College (where his future-wife was attending). They remembered each other from the party, and started dating. They both lived in Cambridge, and her father was from Poland, so they had several similarities. They later got married!
22. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
Mr. Bussgang has unfortunately not succeeded in retrieving his family’s real estate in Poland though hehas tried numerous times. Mr. Bussgang is extremely proud of how he’s rebuilt his life.
Name of Jewish Veteran: Harvey Chafitz
Date of interview: July 8, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Jayla Odorczuk
Today I interviewed Harvey Chafitz, who is a Jewish War Veteran. He served in the military as a Lieutenant Colonel. When he was a student at Northeastern University Harvey joined the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) at Northeastern University. He served in the Engineering Corps. This was a branch of the Army that he could participate in. When he graduated from Northeastern he also graduated from this program as a second Lieutenant in 1962. Harvey enlisted in the Army. He worked for the Army Signal Corps.
After graduation from college, Harvey served during the Vietnam War Era. He never actually served in Vietnam so he did not see action over there and was never a prisoner of war. He did win certain medals for doing regular tasks in the army and received certain medals of honor like the Vietnam Medal and army commendation.
From 1962 to 1984 he worked in the army. This was his active duty. He traveled around the United States working on many military bases. He traveled to a summer camp called Fort Gordon in Georgia for four months but worked on a military base in Alaska for the longest time, He met many Jewish soldiers during his time serving and didn’t face any challenges being Jewish. He also did not experience antisemitism while he was on active duty.
During his time in Alaska, Harvey stayed at Fort Richardson where he was an office manager and had the responsibility for people and equipment. About 150 people would work for him at a time. On the base, there was a Jewish Chaplain who lead services every Friday night and on high holidays. He was close with the Chaplain and he even did the bris for his son. Harvey’s most memorable experience while in Alaska was experiencing a huge 9.2 earthquake in 1964. He also experienced very cold temperatures which reached to 50 degrees below zero on some nights. He made many friendships during this time and still keeps in touch with them by meeting with them over zoom calls and email. His service leadership inspired him to volunteer in his community and take charge of getting things done when needed.
Jayla Odorczuk: Mr. Chafitz thinks that his service is a form of leadership because he explained what he did to make a difference and how it helped him be a leader. I also think being a veteran is a form of leadership because there are times when you have to make decisions and listen to your comrades. Even though he listened to his comrade’s ideas, he was the leader and the one who had to make the final decision.
What I learned about leadership from the interview is it takes hard work to be a leader, but also you have to listen to the ideas of others and find a compromise. Leadership can be fulfilling because it helps you make a change. I was inspired by Harvey still connecting to his Judaism by going to services during the high holidays and on Shabbat. Alaska is not a very Jewish populated state and I was impressed he found a Jewish community and found the time to participate.
I found the interview inspiring because I was able to learn about the experiences of older generations. I had always heard and learned about the Vietnam War Era, but it was fascinating to hear about it from an individual that lived through the experience of being an officer in the army.
Name of Jewish War Veteran interviewed: Herbert Cohen (The veteran is deceased so I learned about him through his daughter Deb)
Date of Interview: July 18, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Kendall Huot
- When did the veteran serve in the armed forces? The veteran served from 1941 – 1945.
- Did the veteran enlist or were they drafted? The veteran enlisted.
- Which branch did the veteran serve in? The veteran served in the Army.
- Why did the veteran pick this branch? The veteran served in the Army’s 524th engineer topographic company because of the skill set and knowledge he had from working as a civil engineer.
- What were the veteran’s dates of service? February 14, 1941 – October 31, 1945.
- Did the veteran serve during a war? If so, which one? The veteran served during World War II.
- What was the veteran’s rank? Technician fifth grade.
- What country or countries did the veteran in? The veteran served in the United States, Ireland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
- Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with the veteran? Yes.
- Was there anything challenging for the veteran during their service because they were Jewish? Not personally but some other Jewish soldiers were not treated as well as others.
- Did the veteran practice their Judaism during the time they served? Yes, the veteran would always find a way to pray and celebrate Jewish holidays even from a fox hole. The veteran would also send home souvenirs of war (guns, bullets, grenades and other artifacts) which his family would donate to support the establishment of the Jewish state, Israel.
- Did the veteran ever experience antisemitism during their service? No, the veteran did not personally experience antisemitism during his service but other Jewish soldiers did.
- Did the veteran see combat? Yes.
- Was the veteran awarded any medals or citations? The veteran was awarded the American Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
- Did the veteran make any close friendships while in the service? Yes, the veteran became close friends with a man named Charlie Immershein from New York. The two friends would get together once a year to spend time with each other until they were both too old to travel.
- How did the veteran’s service and experiences affect their life? Although war can change certain aspects about a person, it does not change their core and Judaism was the core of the veteran’s life. When the veteran completed his service and returned home, he and a group of his friends started The Interfor Club to give scholarships to Jewish high school students who were going onto college. The veteran was also one of the founding members of Temple Ner Tamid and was very active in the Jewish Community Center in Peabody. After the war many Jewish people were shut out of jobs because of their religion but the veteran never changed his name or his beliefs, he maintained his Jewish identity and worked for Stone and Webster as a structural engineer for 35 years. The veteran’s service shifted his perspective about family members serving. The veteran told his daughter that if she was a boy and was drafted during the Vietnam War, he would send her to Canada to live with his cousins. This statement and perspective are very significant coming from a decorated war veteran.
Kendall Huot: I believe being a veteran is a form of leadership because veterans have served and protected our country and are seen as role models and people we can look up to in society. Veterans have sacrificed a lot to protect our country and they have many valuable lessons and morals that they can instill in us and the rest of society.
During the interview I learned that there are many different ways that leadership can manifest itself in a situation and sometimes it’s the smaller things that a leader does that ends up making a bigger and more effective impact.
I was inspired that the veteran did not change his name or religious identity when looking for a job after the war even though many people did because it was hard for Jewish people to get jobs at that time as they faced discrimination. This inspired me because the veteran remained proud of and maintained his religious identity even when it was not easy and he faced adversity.
This interview experience was very meaningful to me because I believe it is important that younger generations of Jews carry on the stories and traditions of their elders as well as learn about leadership from their elders. In addition, the interview experience was a meaningful learning experience for me as it taught me about Jewish culture and history in the United States during a time where Jews were being persecuted across the world.
I am left wondering about what stories and experiences the veteran would share with me about Jewish culture during the war and leadership if the veteran was still alive today.
Name of Veteran: Joseph Cohen (JC)
Interview Date: August 5, 2020
Interviewed by: Jasmine Fridman (JF)
Joseph Cohen served during the Korean War. He was drafted in December of 1952, serving until December of 1954. At the time, the United States was in the Cold War with Russia, and Cohen was trained and learned many skills, such as typing and mountain-climbing, when he and another group of men went to Alaska, the other half going to Korea. Most of Joseph Cohen’s experience during the war took place in Alaska, so he was still in the United States at the time.
Early on in Cohen’s experience serving in the armed forces, he witnessed a man named Cotton picking on and taunting a soldier that was in a bunk across from him. Having enough of this behavior, Cohen turned to Cotton and stood up for the soldier being bullied. As a result of Cohen’s bravery, however, he became the one that Cotton was constantly picking on, but as he thought back on the event, he did not regret standing up for a person that he empathized with.
JF: Did you face any challenges due to the fact that you are Jewish?
(JC): On one occasion, Cohen and a group of other Jewish soldiers wanted to go to the main base for the Passover seder, due to the fact that it is an important Jewish holiday, and when they returned from it, they were met with the person in command, who was someone that was not known for respecting Jewish people. The officer told the group that they had missed some important training, completely disregarding the importance of Passover, and forced them to carry heavy loads and train more, separate from the rest of the soldiers that night.
JF: Were you or any other Jewish soldiers that served with you allowed to practice Judaism while you served?
(JC): Since the majority of people serving were not Jewish, specific services were not available to Cohen. Despite this hardship, Cohen still found time to pray and practice Judaism with others, even if it was not as pronounced as the events he would partake in if he was back at home.
JF: Did you experience antisemitism while serving? If so, how did you deal with it?
(JC): It was very common for the soldiers and other people in charge to torment and constantly say negative things to the Jewish people serving. One episode consisted of people telling Cohen to “go back to Jerusalem, where [he] belongs,” which accentuates the prejudice and hate that Jewish people had to deal with at that time. Even though some of his experiences with anti-semitism were very upsetting, Cohen remembered Passover and how the Jewish people were coming out of Egypt and escaping a hateful environment. Cohen compared his own life to that, illustrating how he was hopeful for a future where Jewish people are treated with more respect.
JF: Did you make any close friendships during the time that you served?
(JC): Joseph Cohen prayed and practiced certain aspects of Judaism with others, but he unfortunately was not able to form any lasting friendships, possibly due to the fact that he was treated with disrespect and discriminated against for the majority of his time serving.
JF: Did you learn anything about being a leader while serving?
(JC): Cohen learned the importance of standing up for himself, and to be strong for others even when he felt weak. He felt that, although many of his experiences while serving in the war were unpleasant, they toughened him up in a way that nothing else could ever have done.
JF: Joseph Cohen does think that his service was a form of leadership because he compared his experience to the time the Jewish people first marched out of Egypt, so he believes that he was a part of the group of pioneers that set a precedent for others to come. I definitely think that being a veteran is a form of leadership because it gives one the opportunity to be a role model and have others look up to their acts of service, especially since they are part of an important piece of history.
What I learned about leadership from the interview was about the significance of going through with certain challenges that initially seem difficult, but how they bring such a great sense of achievement once one gets past their fears to complete it. I was completely inspired by Joseph Cohen’s resilience when he was met with hateful remarks and actions that were directed at the fact that he is Jewish. These acts of hate were clearly upsetting, but I was in awe of how he described how he dealt with them, and fought against them rather than complying to awful things people would say to him.
The interview experience was so enlightening to me because before this interview, I had never met or talked to a Jewish War Veteran, so I am very glad to have had the opportunity to ask the questions I wanted an answer to. Also, this experience was so special to me because it made me feel good knowing I had information from a primary source, rather than a source online that anyone can access.
Name of Veteran: Michael Coltin
Interviewed by: Matthew Henderson
Date of Interview: August 6, 2020
Michael Coltin is a Vietnam War Navy veteran. He served from July 25,1971- July 24, 1973. He was drafted when he was a senior in college. He picked the Navy because he could teach.
Mr. Coltin was assigned to San Diego, California. During his first days in the Navy, he worked at the Naval Hospital. He did training and other assignments. He went to school for 15 weeks to become a medic.
There were no Jewish soldiers serving with him. Mr. Coltin did not experience antisemitism or any other form of discrimination. He lived in the North, moved to the south. He was ridiculed as the Yankee. He alone observed the high holidays when he was in the military, but he did not go to a synagogue.
Rabbi Joseph Davidson
Name of Veteran: Rabbi Joseph Davidson
Interviewed by: Ellior Rose
Rabbi Joseph Davidson was drafted into the armed forces and served from August 3rd, 1970- February 7th, 1972. He served during the Vietnam War, but he did not have to go to Vietnam. He was a chaplain’s assistant and achieved the rank of Specialist 4th Class.
Rabbi Davidson never forgets his first days – very scary, scary to think that he might be going into combat, intimidating, people were constantly barking orders at him and telling him what to do. The first thing was to take an oath, which was intimidating and hard for him because he went to Washington University which was very liberal, and he wasn’t such a patriot then.
He got on a plane with everyone else who was drafted from Denver (drafted in Denver even though he didn’t live there). That morning he had shaved his mustache because he didn’t want to stick out and have anyone notice him. He flew to Seattle and then took a bus to Fort Worth, Washington for basic training.
The first people they saw were in jumbo fatigues because they were headed to Vietnam, which was scary to see them in full gear. Their drill sergeant told them what to do and then they filed in and got their buzzcut, uniform, all had the same glasses, got to where they were staying and packaged their regular clothes to send home. He only had army clothes, business suit, uniform, and some khakis. From then on everyone did everything the drill sergeant said. He had two drill sergeants, one was young, and one was old. During basic training they were stripped of their individuality and turned into a group with skills to survive in combat. If someone was wearing gloves EVERYONE had to wear gloves. Overall, it was very scary, intimidating, and physically demanding. He was in great shape by the end of basic training.
One anecdote he remembers was when he ran his first mile, he got ¾ of the way through and walked the rest, but his drill sergeant made him do another one but running the whole time. In basic training unit there was only one other Jewish soldier
Rabbi Davidson had one Jewish friend in a different brigade and still has contact all of these years later. Had Jewish friends in different units because they met on Shabbat together. The only challenge for Rabbi Davidson because of Judaism was that Shabbat services were on Sunday in basic training. In addition, back then he was “kosher style” and it was difficult to do in basic training He was supposed to ship out on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, so he went to drill sergeant to ask if he could move the flight to a day after, but he couldn’t guarantee that he would get clerk training, and could be in the infantry. Therefore, he had to travel on Rosh Hashanah because the last thing he wanted to do was be in the infantry.
Rabbi Davidson practice his Judaism by praying and studying some Jewish books that he brought with him. He was also a chaplain’s assistant, so he helped lead services and he was a resource for other soldiers.
Rabbi Davidson didn’t experience anti-Semitism, but something that did happen to him was that he took a couple of Hebrew books with him and someone came up to him and was super surprised that he was reading it but thought it was very cool.
Though he did not see combat, Rabbi Davidson met with many people who went into combat. He saw wounded people coming back – a guy with plate on his head and huge wound in his arm. There were no casualties in his unit.
All of it was memorable, but basic training was the scariest. He pointed out that the rifles they used are now used in school shootings like the AR-15 which is the civilian version of what he used. In basic training he remembers that he saw a demonstration of a weapon that penetrated army vehicles and blew up inside. A different memory he has of him and his five friends, who all finished college, was playing bridge together. There were a lot of younger kids who were crazy, wanted to go save the world, and wanted the most dangerous jobs, so he and his five friends stuck together. He had good memories of playing games with friends and other chaplains. Additionally, he remembers a priest in another brigade who loved the Jews and wanted to convert them. He even learned Yiddish to do so which was funny. One last memory he has is that he met his wife at high holiday services and went on dates on the weekends when she came down from nursing school.
Rabbi Davidson received national defense award, a good conduct medal, and a sharpshooter medal. He didn’t want ribbons and medals because he didn’t want to go to war. He received the first one because everyone received it; the second for having good conduct; and the third because he happened to be an excellent shooter, but luckily never had to go into combat
Rabbi Davidson made lots of friendships including other chaplains’ assistants, some Jewish friends as well as friends of his Jewish friends. He had a friend in the navy who asked him to go on an oceanographic cruise with him, so he agreed. On the cruise he got very seasick, worked eight hours on and off daily for three days.
Years later he had a lot of bitterness about serving, but on the other hand he did meet his wife and got some money from his service. To this day he is still not very patriotic and remembers that the army was too patriotic for him. It was an experience he can call on in his daily life. Every day he wanted to quit but he persevered. He learned not to quit on anything, and it taught him that you must have the mindset that you have to continue on. In addition, his service made it so much easier for him to go to school at rabbinical school because he had his tuition paid for. In fact, he would have rethought his career if he didn’t have that benefit
Rabbi Davidson said in the army you see a lot of different leaders. Drill sergeants and some officers are usually bully leaders, who are intimidating and an unquestionable authority, but there were other officers who had empathy and compassion for draftees. There was one chaplain who acted as an officer first and then chaplain. He was there to be in the army, and not super qualified yet in being chaplain. The guy was never really sure of his religiosity, and he just wanted to be in charge.
Rabbi Davidson learned in the army that it isn’t always the leader that holds the power. He was inspired to be a leader that worked with others instead of in a chain of command. He now is a leader that has the mindset that there is “no person that he is better than and no one who is beneath him.” He was inspired to be more of a collaborative leader who coaches people, but let’s others showcase their skills.
Rabbi Davidson wants me to know that it was a scary time especially because everyone around him was either going or coming back from Vietnam. He thought he would be sent there too, but he got lucky. He also wants me to know that he had some great experiences but also some very scary ones.
I think that being a veteran is a form of leadership. Veterans are able to draw from their past experiences in order to lead others in many different paths of life. Serving in the military shows leadership because the veterans were courageous and brave enough to lead their country into battle. What I learned from this interview is that good leadership does not always come from the person in charge. Sometimes the person in charge can be corrupt, or have an ineffective leadership style, so it takes someone, maybe a peer or friend, to step up to inspire or guide a community of people.
I was inspired by everything I learned during the interview. Not only did it give me insight into how hard serving in the military truly is, it also inspired me to persevere in my own life and to be a leader who is compassionate and helps others (which was not always what leaders were like in the military). I now feel inspired to work harder for what I want to accomplish and while in situations where I am leading, or part of a group being led to collaborate with others. The interview experience felt very special to me. Before this interview, I had only heard about military service and war through textbooks in history class. The interview provided me with firsthand insight into what the life of a soldier looks like and how it feels.
The only thing I am wondering about is if military service has changed for current soldiers, or how it looks during a non-war time.
Name of Jewish Veteran: David Farkas, Veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
Date of Interview: August 12, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Alex Janower
David Farkas is my maternal grandfather. I call him Saba, which means grandfather in Hebrew. My Saba grew up in Israel. He attended an all-boys, religious elementary and high school and then served in the reserves in the IDF for two years. Afterwards, he studied engineering at the Technion. He met his wife (my Savta) and they raised their first daughter, my mother, in Haifa. When they had their second child, my uncle Jeremy, they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where my mother and her brothers attended an orthodox Jewish day-school until college.
My Saba and I are quite close. He’s a very quiet, shy man. He is most often found listening to audiobooks – a state in which most people would not approach him. I, however, am not shy to wake him up from his audiobook trance. He taught me to love reading, puzzles, the Hebrew language, and tinkering with things. I admire him wholeheartedly.
When did you serve in the armed forces?1964-1966 and then 1967 for the Six Day War
He almost chose to skip service to go to university and then go to serve after. He went to the Technion after his service – he wouldn’t have qualified before but he learned a lot about engineering in the IDF. Knew he wanted to go to Technion before his service. He was in the same class at the Technion as kids who skipped service for it (“they were kids! We were disciplined and studied!” the kids were noisy and terrible vs the ones who had been in the army were better. You can see the difference in maturity very clearly.)
Did you enlist or were you drafted? Drafted. Wouldn’t have enlisted – don’t want to risk life. Fixed communication equipment – technician. (He’s an engineer.)
Basic training lasted three months to be a soldier. Soldiers that “really did the fighting” (tanks, foot soldiers, etc.) needed more like six months of basic training but served for the same amount of time.
Why did you pick this branch? What was the process like? Didn’t want to sign up for the years to be a pilot but wanted to be a pilot. Plus, even more crazy training! Started the basic training and then left/failed. Carrying someone 10 miles in the middle of night – even worse to be carried than a carrier! Felt like the commanders were super excessive and unreasonable with their demands during training!
Do you regret not being a pilot? Wouldn’t have wanted to do it. Glad he didn’t. Was honored that he was recruited for piloting, though!
Did you serve during a war? The Six Day War. Brought him back for it a few days before. Stayed in the army two weeks afterwards. Served in a mobile unit. Fixed equipment. Followed the war down in the Sinai Desert.
What was your rank? Reserves are lowest, subservient rank. Same rank as foot soldiers but more valued. Would’ve been a foot soldier if he was more disposable, but technicians have valuable brains!
Where did you serve? Camp during time in reserves was close to the Ben Gurion airport! It was like a day job for him. Walked in a parade through the city. Didn’t know why he was included in it, really. During the war was in Sinai and around Beersheba.
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Early recruitment in August. Usually they come on the first day of high school, he went early for flight school. Then failed flight school and waited at the recruitment camp and was a waiter for the officers in the officer’s club for two months until the other recruits came!
Did you see combat? No combat. Saw bloated bodies of Egyptian soldiers
Tell me about a memorable experience. Friend from home was a driver. Water tanker! Saba was in the desert and baking and they were all thirsty and forced to drink water from a well in land that was captured (stank like rotten eggs and tasted terrible) and they put powdered sugar and cherries into it to make it better. His friend showed up and was a “life saver” with fresh water from Israel! Still won’t eat cherries or drink cherry things because of that!
How did serving affect your life? When he worked in the family nursing home before his service, he resented the busy work, but appreciated it after working in the army. Thinks every kid should go to basic training in order to be better behaved. Thinks that service promotes people to listen more before they argue, etc. Thinks troubled kids with no respect should go to the army. Thinks it would reduce criminality because people would have more respect!
Did you learn about leadership? Not really a subject that came up at all. Always taught to be subservient.
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Everyone was Jewish.
How did you practice Judaism during the time you served? It is easy to be Jewish in the IDF. Great Chief Rabbi in the army who made it easy for religious soldiers.
Did you ever experience antisemitism? No, not in the Israeli army.
Alex Janower: My Saba does not think that his service was a form of leadership. He served in the reserves and often refers to the foot soldiers and other fighters as “the real soldiers,” thus discounting his own service. His role felt like a 13-month day job to him and he felt as though “anyone with some brains could’ve done it.” He does believe, though, that he gained critical life skills from his service such as discipline and patience. These skills, I believe (he doesn’t agree, funnily enough) shaped him into a more effective leader.
From this interview I better understand how some “following” roles can shape someone to become a more effective leader. Something that inspired me from the interview is that my Saba fervently believes that every teen should serve in the military. Although, I might add, he doesn’t think that myself or my sisters should because he wouldn’t compel me to serve the US and doesn’t think that I understand enough Hebrew to serve Israel. This belief reinforces the importance of discipline, patience, etc.
The interview experience was really meaningful to me to hear about my grandfather’s past and his outlook. I’d never heard his stories from the IDF before because he always passes off the topic claiming that he has no stories and doesn’t remember much. Even though his time in the IDF felt quite uneventful and tame to him, I can still recognize that his service affected him immensely and that he cares about Israel and the Jewish people with an impressive passion. He regards his impassioned patriotism so casually and normally because his love for Israel is so ingrained in him… this causes me to feel more connected to Judaism and our homeland.
Martin Fisher (Jay Fisher)
February 6, 1938-June 20, 2020
Sofia Vatnik (SV) interviewed Jay Fisher (JF), Martin Fisher’s son, on July 28, 2020. Martin Fisher passed away before the interview.
Martin Fisher served in the Coast Guard from 1955-1959, between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
SV: Do you think being a veteran is a form of leadership?
JF: Yes, I think you can find a way to lead even if you are in a lower rank. This type of job puts you in a position to become a leader. For example, looking out for other crew members and being responsible for your safety and theirs is a big leadership role. I do think being a veteran is a form of leadership because you are constantly in charge of people’s safety and there are many responsibilities that come with being a veteran. Depending on your capacity, you can demonstrate leadership even if you’re on a lower rank. People are not naturally leaders when joining the service, but they can work themselves up to being a leader. Serving your country sets you up to be a leader in the future.
SV: How did your father or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time he served?
JF: He was stationed in New Jersey for a bit. They would connect with guys who were serving and invited them to the local temple. He visited temples in New Jersey or the Coast Guard helped locate local houses of worship for the men.”
SV: Did your father see combat?
JF: My father had an honorable discharge and was recommended for reenlistment. He rescued a couple of boaters in Hull and was in the newspaper for it. He primarily rescued people and stood watch as his duties for the coast guard.
SV: How did your father’s service and experiences affect his life?
JF: As a coast guard Martin was doing something that was for others and it was not always an easy path. More than being about yourself, it was also about the community, platoon, the crew. His service taught him about others and how to live with others in rough conditions, and to always look out for one another and the fact that someone’s life could depend on a ship mate.
SV: What did your father do after he left the Coast Guard?
JF: He became a baker at a bakery on the North Shore. He was particularly proud of the challahs he would make (I can personally vouch for how delicious they were as he actually baked the one for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah). He then worked in Charlestown to repair and maintain ships. He was by the water and not on the water.
SV: Are there any stories or anything else you would like me to know about your father? JF: My father was in the Jewish War Veterans, Junior Vice Commander of the Malden Chapter, and he used to march in the parades.
SV: What do you think was the hardest part of the coast guard from your father’s experience?
JF: Antisemitism, some from crew members. Martin grew up in projects that were mostly Irish. He and his brothers had to stick together because they were the only Jews in the projects. His mother was a community organizer in the projects and ended up hosting John F. Kennedy when he came to the projects to visit.
SV: What I learned about leadership from the interview is that not everywhere you go will there automatically be a place for you to lead but you can work your way up to being a leader and find places that need a good leader and be that good leader even if you are in a lower position. The interview taught me that sharing people’s experience from before my time is very valuable. We can learn so much from what previous generations did and compare it to ours. It seemed like back then people my age were doing so many more things in the real world than kids would do now. I feel so lucky to be able to speak to someone whose father was a veteran and things like this should never be taken for granted.
Michael M. Fuenfer
Interviewed by: Mallory Herron
Date of Interview: July 29, 2020
Mr. Fuenfer enlisted because it always had seemed like something he would do. His father and grandfather served, and he wanted to give back to the country. He served in the United States and Afghanistan.
Mr. Fuenfer served in multiple branches of the armed services. He was Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1981 and served as a Flight Surgeon in the 123rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing; KY Air National Guard until a service transfer to the 11th Special Forces Group (Airborne); anad U.S. Army Reserve in 1985. He has served in a number of operational medical posts in CONUS and OCONUS since that time.
Mr. Fuenfer held many different ranks throughout his career. In addition to being a Captain of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, he served as Battalion Surgeon, Assistant Group Surgeon, General Surgeon, Asst. Chief, and Officer in Charge of Air Evacuation. Mr. Fuenfer did not face any antisemitism during his service. He practiced his Judaism by going to Hillel for Friday night services occasionally, and services on high holidays.
He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with OLC, the Army Commendation Medal with OLC, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal (6th Award), the Army Service Ribbon, Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon (with OLC), Armed Forces Reserve Medal (2nd Hourglass Device and Mobilization Device), Army Senior Flight Surgeon Badge, Special Forces Tab, Air Force Training Ribbon, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Force Flight Surgeon Badge, Honduran Parachutist Badge, Canadian Parachutist Badge, Expert Field Medical Badge, British Army Parachutist Badge, Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon-3, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Army Expert Marksmanship Badge (pistol, rifle), Kentucky national Gaurd Merit Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Order of Military Medical Merit, AMEED “A” Proficiency Designator, Legion of Merit.
Mallory Herron: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because they are able to inspire those who want to go into service and give advice to those in service. As well as when they served, they would have to step up as leaders to be the best unit they could be. What I learned about leadership from the interview is that leadership comes in so many levels.
I was inspired by how Mr. Fuenfer believed that you should give back to your country. Although I myself won’t necessarily give back in terms of military service, I believe community service is very important. It was a really interesting chance for me to learn more about someone’s life, as well as their point of view of their service experience. It was an incredible experience that I would not have had the opportunity without this course, so I really enjoyed it.
Rabbi Myron Geller
Name of Jewish Veteran: Rabbi Myron Geller
Date of Interview: July 14, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Evan Roth
When did you serve in the Armed Forces? He was commissioned in 1959 and active from 1960 to 1965 where he was then discharged and decided to pursue graduate school. Later on he resumed his duty from 1976 to 1997 where then he retired from the Reserves.
Did you enlist or were you drafted? He enlisted and was endorsed by the Commission of Jewish Chaplaincy.
Why did you enlist? He was very young, about 22 years old when he was ordained and thought it was a good way to gain experience and be exposed to more of the World.
Which branch did you serve in? He served in the Army.
Why did you pick this branch? He picked this branch because it had the largest amount of Jewish personnel.
Did you serve during a war? Rabbi Geller served at the beginning of the Vietnam War, also the Berlin Blockade, and the Cuban Missile Crisis while he was in France.
What was your rank? He ranked from First Lieutenant to Colonel.
What countries did you serve in? He not only had the honor of serving in our country, the United States, he also served in France and Germany.
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Rabbi Geller’s first assignment was at the Chaplain school where newly commissioned priests, ministers, and Rabbis got to undergo their first taste at the military and were taught basic fundamentals such as to march, salute, address other officers, etc. After everyone’s first week at the school, they were told to get ready to be inspected in their quarters. He stood nervously at attention in front of his partitioned cubicle where his bed, desk, and closet stood. When the deputy commander of the school came in, he a 6’foot tall colonel Lutheran Chaplain, and Rabbi Geller a brand new, very short 1st lieutenant rabbi. The commander was able to see the anxiety and fear in him and decided to put him at ease. The commander leaned over and asked with a smile, “Rabbi, do you know where I can get a ham sandwich?” They both exploded with laughter, with Rabbi Geller coming to the realization that despite the big difference between their rankings, they were both still normal human beings
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? It ranged from time to time, but while he served in Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX, there were about 300 other Jews.
Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? In El Paso they had no problem getting Kosher meat because fortunately the community had a full- service Kosher butcher shop. Poitiers, France did not have any Kosher meat, so they ordered the meat from Paris which was shipped by train about four hours away without refrigeration. They were notified by the arrival via postcard from station master. It worked for most of the year but summer not so much. A Kosher shop ended up opening up in Tours later on and they would drive the two- hour distance to shop there. When his son was born, they brought a mohel from Paris to Poitiers to perform the brit.
How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? They celebrated Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach holidays at the Army Chapel at Poitiers, France where he was stationed and lived with his wife for three years. Soldiers and dependents that were assigned to 14 different military sites along the western half of France were able to leave to come to Poitiers for those holidays. Other times he traveled to each site once a month to meet with soldiers and lead a service. When he wasn’t on the road during Shabbat, he held Friday evening services in the Poitiers Army Chapel for local Jewish soldiers and for all the French Jewish Families who were local residents.
Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? It was exceptionally challenging for him. Fort Bliss was a huge place that he served in and was commanded by a Major General. Even though he was low ranking he served alongside higher ranks. The Rabbi who preceded him was replacing illegally ordered supplies for Passover just before he was transferred to Korea. Rabbi Geller then became the Jewish Chaplain running the Passover mess hall with all the supplies that were ordered. He was blamed for what the other Rabbi did because they couldn’t tell Jews apart. A report was written saying what he did even though he actually didn’t do it. Because of this, his promotion to Captain was delayed a year. This was one of his rare experiences with antisemitism.
How did you deal with it? There was nothing he could do about that situation other than complain to the CJC. Then a year later he was promoted. In June of 1965 and he was invited to dinner by another Chaplain. It was a nice a dinner. Everyone invited had a good time. And soon nearing the end of dinner, he was asked by the other Chaplain to convert to Christianity. The Chaplain told him he was concerned for him. And didn’t want him to suffer a horrible fate. Rabbi Geller laughed and told him he was not at that point in his life to consider this. And he was proud to be Jewish.
Did you learn anything from it? “Don’t always fight it unless it matters. If it impacts something important, fight it. If it’s in error, let it be”.
Did you see combat? He never saw combat but he interacted with and counseled soldiers who suffered from PTSD.
Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. While stationed at Fort Bliss, Menachem Begin, then a backseat member of the Knesset who is now known as Israel’s Prime Minister, visited El Paso on a fundraising trip for UJA. The local community didn’t know what to do with him for three days so they asked Rabbi Geller if he would be his guide and accompany him during his visit. He was able to get him on a very secret visit to the B52 nuclear bombers and a meeting with the commander of Biggs AFB adjacent to Fort Bliss. They had a very good time together speaking not only Hebrew but English and Yiddish. He agreed to be Rabbi Geller’s guest at his forthcoming wedding in New York City just two months later. A snowstorm prevented his travel from Montreal but Rabbi Geller still has the telegram he sent in place of him.
Were you awarded any medals or citations? He got many medals and ribbons but his most notable one was the Legion of Merit. It was the highest peacetime medal that can be awarded to a person. For this award, Congress has to approve and the President has to agree to award this person this honor.
How did you get them? He was awarded it when he retired in 1997. His last assignment was to supervise Chaplains of many religions. Those people organized the party and invited the General from the New England area and when everyone was called to attention, a list of his accomplishments was read and was awarded the Legion of Merit.
Did you make any close relationships while in the Service? He made many friendships throughout his duty, but while he was in France, he became close with a non-Jewish Major who was married to a Jewish woman. They rented a Chateau and would hang out with them.
In La Rochelle, he stayed with a physician while he was in town. The doctor finished his residency in Boston where they rekindled their relationship. The doctor’s wife was born in a cave nearby La Rochelle, where her parents were escaping from Nazis and successfully made it out alive. They both had daughters who were the same age, who even traveled to Europe together.
How did your service and experiences affect your life? It taught him to be open to everybody. He came across many people who were not Jewish but weren’t antisemitic. They also had hopes and dreams like everyone else. He realized after childhood everyone could live peacefully. Growing up, the Army helped him become a Rabbi. He made friendships and met important people that helped him come to these realizations.
Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? The army sent him to a number of courses on leadership. His job constantly required him to take on leadership roles on the commander’s staff especially when he was responsible for how he would impact other recruits and their time in the army. In time becoming the command chaplain for New England, he made sure to be a leader to the best of his ability.
How did your service inspire leadership in you? He realized how it was for Jewish people away from home and how scary it was. They were young and learning how to dodge and use guns, and sent to this strange place. Suddenly you are in one place and then the next dealing with new people and new places. He further explained leadership is about listening and caring. It’s about responsibility willingly accepted for those with whom you led.
Evan Roth: I believe being a veteran is a form of leadership because being in the Army means setting an example and being a role model to those around you. From the interview I learned it’s always okay to make mistakes and to move past them and use them to better myself as a leader and a person. I was inspired by Rabbi Geller’s morals because I can tell he such a caring and kind person. I aspire to be a man like him one day. I’ve gotten to learn the honor of being in the Army and how dedicated you must be not only in the Army but to your goals in life. They mean so much to me and I think I’ve changed a bit of my perspective of the world.
Name of Veteran: Steve Glassman
Date of Interview: August 12, 2020
Interviewed by: Jack Glassman (Great-nephew of Steve Glassman)
Steve Glassman enlisted in the National Guard Reserve and served from April 1967-December 1969. This was during the Vietnam War. He served in the US and in Vietnam and was a Specialist Six Class Sergeant. Steve Glassman recalls his first days in Louisiana. It was a lot of physical training, you get a buzzcut, and you’re cut off from the outside world.
There weren’t other Jewish soldiers with him during training, but in Vietnam there were. In Vietnam he was able to go to a large base and attend Shabbat services. Something that was challenging for him during his service because he is Jewish is when he lived in Mississippi, he went to services at a synagogue and their neighbor synagogue was bombed two weeks earlier.
Steve Glassman was in Vietnam for a year and saw a lot of combat. There were many casualties in his unit. One night one of the barracks took a direct hit and everyone died. He said It was more nerve-racking to go to Vietnam in general. Once they were in Vietnam, they just hoped that they’d get home.
A memorable experience during his service was on Sundays in Vietnam, another army buddy and he would go to an orphanage and spend the day playing with kids who are half American and half Vietnamese.
Steve Glassman was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, alongside a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in Vietnam. He received the Bronze Star for meritorious service in hostile conditions in the most active unit in Vietnam.
Steve Glassman made close friends while in the service. He is friendly with the people he met while training in Georgia when he would attend services for Shabbat on Fridays.
Steve Glassman’s service and experiences affected his life. He was told after the experience that he was more mature. “You’ve never lived til you’ve almost died. For those who have had to fight for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know.”
He learned about leadership from some great officers who taught him to lead by example, and to not ask anything of someone that you can’t do yourself.
Steve Glassman believes the military is a good thing, and in peace time, everyone should serve their country in one way or another. It doesn’t have to be in the army.
Steve Glassman teaches at the JCC in a Hebrew high school and he works on Fridays in a Jewish day school. He also works for the ADL.
Jack Glassman: I believe being a veteran is a form of leadership because when fighting for our country or a country, you partly own the fate of the future for the country you’re fighting for. Your decisions can be life changing for the citizens of your country. From the interview I learned that leadership takes hard work. I was inspired to do more for other people and work hard for the people who work hard for you. It was really cool to hear crazy stories from my great uncle. I don’t get to see him often because I live in Massachusetts and he lives in Arizona, but it was really fun to talk to him.
Name of Veteran Interviewed: Joel Goldstein (JG)
Date of Birth: December 26, 1940
Date of interview: August 8, 2020
Name of interviewer: Lila Goldstein (LG), veteran’s granddaughter
Joel Goldstein served in the Air Force from 1967-1969. He participated in a program called the Berry Plan where all Medical students or doctors in their early training had to go into the service during the Vietnam War. His rank was Captain.
LG: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
JG: My first days in service were in basic training in Texas. They were rigorous, we had to keep our shoes shined and our hair cut short. Our uniforms had to be pressed and clean all the time. We had a mock medical drill where they had a fake airplane full of people with fake injuries and we had to cure all of the people.
LG: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
JG: No. No issues at all.
LG: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
JG: The base I was stationed at, there was a Rabbi who lived two hours away who would practice bris ceremonies and other services. He would come up as needed.
LG: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
LG: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
JG: I was at a base where they had KC135 tanker planes and B52 bombers and I used to go up on the tankers and watch the refueling from the tankers to the bombers. It was really amazing to watch.
LG: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
JG: We all got a Vietnam Medal for being in the war during that time.
LG: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
JG: I spent two years doing general practice and it taught me how to be a better doctor overall.
LG: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
JG: It led to leadership positions in medicine, I was the president of medicine staff at the hospital I worked at. I was also the Chief of Ophthalmology at the hospital as well.
LG: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
JG: My military service was a great experience and I am really glad I did it. My son was born while I was in service.
LG: Joel Goldstein thinks being a veteran is a form of leadership because one who sacrifices themselves for others can be qualified as a leader. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership although leadership is a very personal thing One can be in a position of leadership without truly being a leader. As a whole being a veteran has shown to be a form of leadership. I had never really heard the details of his service so it was really interesting to hear about his experiences. I was really inspired by the way he raised a family while in the service. His family lived on the base. He had a young son and had another while he was there. This experience was really important to me because I got to hear a part of my family’s history that I didn’t know already. It was also fun to hear since my father was born on the base while my grandfather was stationed there.
Dr. Edward Hart
Name of Jewish Veteran: Dr. Edward Hart
Date of Interview: July 31, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Spencer Reith, Dr. Hart’s grandson
When did you serve, and which branch did you serve in? U.S. Public Health Service 1966-68
If you enlisted, why did you enlist? I would like to give just a bit of background about me, my experiences with anti-Semitism, etc. prior to entering the Public Health Service: Although I was born in Brookline, my family moved when I was three years old to Woodbridge, New Jersey. My father, a lawyer, joined two of his brothers in the Hart Products Corp., which had been founded by his older brother in about 1940. It was a textile chemical company, with the main office in New York City, and the factory in Woodbridge. At that time, Woodbridge was a small town, with just one Main Street, where most of the shops were on the first floor of houses. There were very few Jews, although we did have a very small Shul in town, where I went to Hebrew School. I was the only Jew in my class and my sister, who is five years older than I, was the only Jew in her class. When I was in 4th or 5th grade we planned to leave, in large measure due to the anti-Semitism which my sister and I experienced:
I remember having a snow ball with a stone inside thrown at me, with the words: “Christ Killer” ringing in my ears. We moved to the Weequahic section of Newark, which was about 85% Jewish-the exact opposite to what we had experienced in Woodbridge: just about every kid was Jewish!
From there (when I was in 8th grade), we moved to a suburb, South Orange, which was probably about 50% Jewish; and I hung around with mostly Jewish kids until I graduated high school, although I had some non- Jewish friends from being in the Band. I had my Bar Mitzvah in South Orange.
After graduation from high school, I then went on to Harvard. There were probably about six kids from my high school class who went to Harvard, at least three or four of whom were Jewish. At Harvard, I joined Hillel, and knew a lot of Jewish kids who were also pre-med, but being in the band, again, I interacted with kids of all religions and backgrounds. In college, I really experienced no overt Anti-Semitism, although it was known that certain clubs, etc. did not allow Jews to become members. We just accepted that because of the many other choices we had.
After graduation from college, I went to Medical School at New York University School of Medicine in Manhattan and probably a third to half the class was Jewish. In a class of about 125, there were seven or eight females. (Recently, nationally, I read that 51% of incoming first year medical students were female). Quite suddenly, during my internship year at Bellevue Hospital (1963-64), I saw many Residents (a year or two ahead of me), suddenly being drafted because of the onset of the Vietnam War and they therefore were unable to complete their residency training until their time in the service had been completed (probably about 2-3 years later). The government then introduced the Berry Plan/CORD Program. This was a contract that you made with the government: you would be allowed to finish your Residency training, but you had to then agree to join the Armed Forces or the US Public Health Service as a specialist physician. My residency in Pediatrics was in Philadelphia, and there many Jews in the Medical Profession, or in training, who were Jewish, and again I really did not experience outward anti-Semitism.
At the end of my residency, I was placed in the US Public Health Service Hospital here in Brighton under the CORD program. This was during the Vietnam War, so I considered myself very fortunate to be doing my two years of service in Boston! I practiced general pediatrics, and the children whom I cared for came from Service Families of many types. The Public Health Service Hospitals were established to care for the children of Coast Guard Service families, but a wide variety of service families chose this as their primary source of care: children of active and retired Army, Air Force, Navy, as well as Coast Guard service men and women, were our patients.
Were there other Jewish people who served with you? In addition to both inpatient and outpatient services at the hospital, I did a Well Baby Clinic once a week at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, so as to help out an overworked colleague pediatrician friend (also Jewish), who was serving his two years as part of the Berry Plan.
What is your most significant memory during your time of service? My most significant memory of my service is not a happy one. During one of my clinics at the hospital, a new patient presented for routine care. This baby was about a year or so old. The parents came from Maine, and the father was a veteran Army soldier and thus eligible for care. It seemed somewhat odd that a family from Maine would seek routine well baby care in Boston, quite a distance from their home. While examining the baby, I felt evidence of a previous fracture in one of his legs. The parents said he had fallen off the bed several months ago, and after the leg being casted, his recovery was unremarkable. The baby had a number of bruises of varying age on his body, and again the parents said he had “fallen out of our bed”. This raised my suspicion for possible child abuse. In 1962, a Doctor Kempe had described for the first time, the existence of what he termed “Battered-Child Syndrome.” These unfortunate babies had been subject to physical injury by parents or caregivers, who, most likely in a rage, had inflicted harm upon their babies. Of course, they denied having injured the baby purposefully and it was only with careful exploration and at times a court trial, that the true story would emerge. The outcomes were varied, but may have included placing the baby in foster care, prosecuting the parent(s) in court, prolonged psychological counselling, etc., usually decided by the courts. (Incidentally, Dr Kempe was Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany when he was a teenager, and had amazingly risen to a position of prominence as a professor of Pediatrics in Denver.) I tried to gently indicate to the parents that under current practice, I was obligated to report a baby with multiple injuries to the Child Welfare Department in Maine, even though the event was likely truly accidental. They became infuriated and ran out of the clinic and the hospital. As above, I was obligated to report this to their local Child Welfare Department and I did so. I never heard the outcome, however, of this disturbing event.
What was the biggest challenge you faced? The biggest challenge I faced was that initially I was the only pediatrician in the hospital and was therefore “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Several months after starting, however, I asked the Medical Director to see if he could help me and, within a month or so, a new colleague joined me, having been transferred from a Public Health Hospital in another state because of my situation. It turned out to be fortuitous for him, however. He was an Orthodox Jew and moved to Brookline, adjacent to Brighton, and was able to walk to his new Temple on Shabbat, which was very desirable for him, since Orthodox Jews are not allowed to drive on Shabbat.
Did you make any close friendships while serving, and are you still in touch with anyone you served with? I did have one close friendship from the medical staff during those two years. He was an Internist, Jewish, and intended to take on subspecialty training after his two-year service. I kept up with him by phone, etc. and after six years, during which I trained at New York Columbia Medical Center to become a Pediatric Neurologist, I returned to Boston to take a position in one of the hospitals. I again renewed our friendship, since he had trained in his subspecialty and remained in Boston. He married, and the couple was expecting their first child. Sadly, the baby was stillborn and this was of course a tragedy for both parents.
With regard to other Jewish people serving with me, the medical and dental staff had approximately 50% Jews, (all men), and I took care of their children, getting to know the whole families of my co- professionals. The Medical Director of the Hospital was Jewish. The ancillary staff (e.g. nurses, secretaries, dieticians, etc.) were uniformly not Jewish. I really did not experience any overt evidence of anti- Semitism in that setting. Although my department ultimately grew to include three pediatricians, and I was the nominal “chief,” we worked together as a team and I would not call those two years as giving me “leadership experience.”
How did your service and experiences affect your life? My experiences in the Public Health Service affected my life in many ways: it was my first real experience as a practicing pediatrician, and although I was in Boston, with many resources available for consultations about difficult medical problems, I was still largely on my own, especially in the first six months or so, when I was the sole pediatrician in the hospital. In some ways, it was both frightening and yet challenging in a positive way. It confirmed my long-held ambition to serve the medical needs of children and their families, not only when their care was straight-forward and very satisfying for me, since I always enjoyed being with children (as a camp counselor, amateur magician, etc.), but yet there were many times when I cared for very sick children and tried my best to be a source of comfort and strength not only to the children, but also, of course, to their parents. Now, 54 years later, I have no regrets about having chosen pediatrics and pediatric neurology for my life’s work.
Spencer Reith: My grandfather indicated he did not consider his service “leadership experience,” but I certainly would. Leadership means something different in every situation, and good leadership is crucial when taking on heavy responsibility. I was particularly inspired by the amount of pressure of the job. I found it really remarkable how he took on such an important role, and handled it so well, even when he was the only pediatrician in the hospital. I also found it incredible how modest he was considering the weight of his job. It is very inspiring to see the humbleness he carried about this experience, which was very impressive and a difficult spot to be put in. I’m really grateful to learn about a fascinating chapter of my Grandfather’s life, and his contribution to society.
Lt. Col. Arthur Heifetz served 28 years in the military, including active duty during WWII. Col. Heifetz served as medical inspector of the Harbor Defenses in Boston, hospital inspector of Ashburn General Hospital in Texas, and he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, Rhineland Campaign, and the Saar Campaign. At the close of WWII, Col. Heifetz was on the staff of XX Surgeon Corps as inspector of prisoners of war and displaced persons camps, including the ill-famed camp in Dachau, Germany. He was awarded the Bronze Star by the commanding general of the 87th Division. Col. Heifetz wore the European Campaign Medal with three battle stars. At his retirement, Col. Heifetz was executive officer of the 331st General Hospital in the Army Reserve, and was a past president of that hospital’s Reserve Officers’ Association.
Name of Veteran: Joseph Hoffman
Date of Interview: August 5, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Arielle Mogolesko
1. When did you serve in the armed forces?
a. Joseph served in the armed forces for 36 years, from 1976-2012. He enlisted at the age of 18 and retired at the age of 53 in Hawaii.
2. Did you enlist or were you drafted?
a. During the time Joe joined the armed forces, the draft had already occurred so he enlisted.
3. If you enlisted, why did you enlist?
a. After high school, knowing college was not realistic for him, Joseph decided to follow in the footsteps of his step-father and enlist. With dreams of becoming a police officer, the military seemed like a short stop in his life.
4. Which branch did you serve in?
a. In the beginning, Joseph joined the Military Police. From there he went to the National Guard as a police officer for 5 years, before returning to infantry.
5. Why did you pick this branch?
a. Joe picked Military Police and the National Guard police because he wanted to be a police officer and this seemed like a place to get training. Infantry was also his choice because it was the biggest unit so moving up in ranks seemed like it offered the biggest chance.
6. Did you serve during a war? If so, which one?
a. He served during three wars: Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. During Desert Storm, he was a company commander. In Iraq, he was in an Infantry Special Operations Team Chief in a specialized unit. And in Afghanistan, he was a Debutante Commander Chief of Staff for over 12,000 military members. Also, in Afghanistan, he was second in command.
7. What was your rank?
a. Joseph started out as a Private E.L. and eventually moved up to Staff Sargent. Eventually, he got commissioned as a Second Lieutenant until he worked his way to retire as a full Colonel.
8. How did you get to that rank?
a. Through each rank, it took dedication and work to move up. People place trust in one another. So moving up is a big deal. Moving up took school and training which is something I did not know before. Joseph in those regards was very accomplished.
9. What country or countries did you serve in?
a. It is impressive that Joseph served all over the world. He served in combat units in the Mid-East, South West Asia, spent 4-5 years in Germany, and visited countries all the way from Alaska to Pakistan, Japan, and Korea.
10. If you could change where you served and or visited, would you?
a. “No, if anything, most people would change the combat time but, that was fun too.”
11. Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
a. He had just turned 18 years old and all he had to do is live in the barracks, be domestic, and show up for work. It was pretty free compared to high school and living at home.
12. Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
a. There are always Jewish soldiers but, you wouldn’t always know because they are told not to flaunt it, especially in Arab countries. In each location, there were Jewish groups, Shabbat services, and other activities for the Jewish soldiers to participate in if they so chose.
13. Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
a. It was challenging being told by his Interpreter “Don’t tell anyone”. It is not popular to express Judaism in certain locations but it is also hard to “hide” as that was how he was raised. Instead of looking at it in a negative way, Joseph thought that by doing service and helping others, it may change someone’s opinion about having Jewish people in their land.
14. Did any of those experiences change your thoughts about being Jewish after leaving the military?
a. No, it is something you can’t change so “I learned to embrace it”. Also, his family is Jewish so after leaving the military, he still had opportunities to participate in Jewish activities.
15. How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
a. Sometimes there were services held on Shabbat or groups for Jewish soldiers to congregate together.
16. Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
a. In Arab countries, it is not popular to express Judaism but, never a specific act of antisemitism towards Joseph.
17. If so, how did you deal with it?
a. It helped him to view the situation as he is going to help people and it is up to them whether to change their opinion of Jewish people in general or keep generalizing him as his religion. The work he was doing should be enough to change people’s minds but, not everybody feels the same.
18. Do the soldiers talk about the experiences they are going through with each other?
a. Yes, because “all you have is your brothers-in-arms and you have to stay close.”
19. Did you see combat?
a. Yes, involved in three wars.
20. Were you a prisoner of war?
21. Were you awarded any medals or citations?
a. Throughout his impressive military career, Joseph was awarded over 40 medals including three bronze stars, and a Legion of Merit. The Legion of Merit is an award given at the end of a career based on prior responsibility levels and positions. The attached picture is when Joseph received the National Eagle Award.
22. Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
a. Yes, through relying on each other, traveling together, and sleeping in the same barracks, the teammates form relationships.
23. Do you still keep in touch with any of those friends?
a. Most of Joseph’s current friends are retired military members. As he mentioned, being in the military is something that stays with you forever so, forming those relationships is important.
24. How did your service and experiences affect your life?
a. Whether it be structure, experiences, etc, life has changed forever in ways that an eighteen-year-old could not predict.
25. Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
a. During his service, attending schools such as college, Staff school, war, etc, always required keeping up to date on leadership skills and what qualities make a good leader. In order to move up ranks and get medals/awards, you have to be a good leader.
26. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
a. Went in young thinking it was an escape and worked out well ended up moving up. Not an easy lifestyle but the same thing over and over again.
Arielle Mogolesko: Joe thinks that through each training camp and base, his leadership skills improved. By improving his leadership skills, he was then able to lead over 12,000 people in Afghanistan. Joseph’s service is a form of leadership by commanding those through war and hard times. I believe being a veteran is a form of leadership because those who become veterans are choosing to put the needs and safety of others before the safety of themselves. They are sacrificing their lives to protect and help others. Each rank has its own leadership challenges and rewards but as a military member overall, I believe each person is leading someone by example.
From the interview, I have learned that leadership is something that is grown over time. Although I believe each person has the ability and qualities to become a strong leader, it takes work the stronger you want to become. From talking to Joseph, I have learned that even in the military they undergo school and lots of training to become strong leaders. Leadership comes in all types of roles so it was interesting to hear about it from someone I can proudly say I look up to.
I was inspired by the fact that Joseph went into the army knowing he wanted to serve our country, follow in his step-father’s footsteps. While he was a police officer for a short time, he ended up serving our country for 36 years. It is inspiring because life is not planned and knowing that Joseph fell in love with something he thought would just be a “thing to do outside of high school” is inspiring. Not everybody takes the same path in life and you never know which path you may fall in love with.
The interview experience was meaningful to me. I got to connect with a family member and hear more about his history including struggles and proud moments. Family means everything to me in life so getting to capture details about Joseph’s life is precious and a special memory I will never forget. I also appreciate him taking the time to share stories and advice for me as I soon enough turn 18 and will be able to make decisions like joining the military on my own.
I would like to keep learning more about veterans whether, from Joseph or other family members who have served so, my wondering is always continuing.
Name of Jewish Veteran: Jerry Kasten (JK)
Date of interview: August 14, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Noah Ohayon
1. When did you serve in the armed forces?
JK: I was a teenager in NYC. My parents were immigrants. Had two older brothers. Did not have any playmates. I was very overweight, and I was bullied for it. As a result, I was very shy. And to worsen things my mother developed a mental illness. We were not wealthy and my parents were not educated. It affected me really hard. My parents divorced and my mother’s mental illness was not getting better. You can see, it’s a bad situation for me, and I need to get out of there. I dropped out of high school in 10th grade, and I had little interest in going to college. My grades were not that great, and I missed a lot of school because I always had asthma attacks. I ended up graduating from a different school. I got to a point where I graduated and I joined the New York National Guard. I enlisted for three years, and then the Korean War started and the law said that if you were in the national guard you could not be drafted. I never got drafted into the Korean War
2. Did you enlist or were you drafted?
JK: I enlisted. When I ended my national guard service. I applied for a spot in a reserve unit as a photographer. I went to a university to study photography. Once I got out I could not find a job as a photographer, so I decided to enlist in the army as a still photographer.
3. If you enlisted, why did you enlist?
JK: I could not get a job as a photographer
4. Which branch did you serve in?
JK: Army as a photographer
5. Did you serve during a war? If so, which one?
JK: The Korean war
6. What was your rank?
7. What country or countries did you serve in?
JK: I was in Korea
8. Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
JK: When I was on the boat to Korea after my training, the other officers put me in charge of all the trash. I don’t know why they did it, but it was just a funny memory.
9. Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
JK: Rarely any Jewish soldiers.
10. Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
JK: No not really
11. How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
JK: If there were services I would go to them. But sometimes I was too busy.
12. Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
JK: No… I experienced stupidity. I can’t remember the exact thing but someone said to me “Do Jews believe this…..” something stupid like that. They did not have any personal hate against me, they were just curious.
13. Did you see combat?
JK: No. I was in a combat zone, but I was not in combat. I was in some hot spots but never in battle.
14. Were there many casualties in your unit?
JK: Yes, there were.
15. Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
JK: I was in North Korea taking pictures of someone getting a medal, and a guard put his machine gun against my stomach. I reported it to my officer, but we could not find him. It was just a scary experience
16. Were you awarded any medals or citations?
JK: Yes, I got the Good Conduct Medal. If I made the military my career I could have gotten more medals. I got to know a lot of high-ranking generals, So I had connections. I would take pictures of people getting medals, so I got to know all the generals. I did get many ribbons though, but those are just given to you when you served somewhere.
17. How did you get them?
JK: The medal I got for being a disciplined soldier
18. Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
JK: I made friends with a few people I worked with. Where I worked all the people were writers so I made friends with them. One friend I made, Ben Martin, was a photographer I met in Army photography school, and he was from North Carolina. It turned out after the school, he was sent to Washington. In Korea I was taking pictures and he happened to be there and I found out he was the first full time photographer for Time Magazine.
19. Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
JK: Yes. You have to learn how to get along with people, whether you agree with them or not, you have to learn. There was one guy in our unit when we learned how to march that could not keep his step. His feet would tangle up every time we marched. I went over to the sergeant who was mad at the guy who could not march. And I told him his knees went up higher than everyone else’s. He did this because he was a farmer, because in the field he had to walk over tall mounds of earth. The sergeant hugged me and said I was the smartest guy he ever met.
20. How did your service inspire leadership in you?
JK: Again, it taught me how to get along with people no matter if you disagree with them or not.
Noah Ohayon: Mr. Kasten thinks his service is a form of leadership because you are in charge of a bunch of soldiers. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership veterans inspire other people to be courageous. What I learned about leadership from the interview is even though you may not like someone, as a leader, you should still be kind . I was inspired by how perseverant Mr. Kasten was. The interview experience meant a lot because I got to hear things from a very wise man.
Dr. I. Gary Katcoff
Name of Veteran: Dr. I. Gary Katcoff
Date of Birth: April 12, 1952
Date of Interview: July 14, 2020
Interviewed by: Wriley Katcoff
Dr. Katcoff served in the Army from August 3, 1977-August 3, 1980. He enlisted because he said it was the right thing to do. He picked the Army because they needed dentists. His rank was captain. He recalls his first days in the service as exciting and educational.
There were other Jewish people who served with him. He did not experience anything challenging because he was Jewish.
What was memorable for Dr. Katcoff is that he arrived with 15 other dentists and they became friends. They keep in contact today.
His service affected his life by giving him experience in dentistry and getting along with others.
Dr. Katcoff said he learned about leadership from his time in the service. He was in charge of other dentists and helpers and he managed employment. He learned confidence and that he enjoyed working with children. Dr. Katcoff thinks that people look to him when he is recognized as a veteran, and so he must lead by setting a good example.
What I learned from the interview is that there are different kinds of leadership, the kind that is assigned, and the kind that is done to guide others.
Name of Jewish Veteran: Charles Kauffman
Date of interview: July 16, 2020
Name of interviewer: Riley Herron
Mr. Kaufman was drafted into the Army and he served between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, from 1956-1957. His rank was Private First Class. He trained in Colorado and served in Germany.
Mr. Kauffman wasn’t scared or nervous when he was drafted, but he was also not looking forward to service. What he recalls about his first days in the service is that he was by his family, and was very sad. He was taken on a bus to New Jersey, before he was later assigned to Colorado for three months of basic training.
The first six days were “miserable,” with lots of confusion and work. There was a lot of bonding through tough circumstances (“misery loves company”). He made friends with lots of people who were also not happy to be there.
Some positive memories include the opportunity to travel around Europe (including London, Paris, Rome, and other cities); the amazing location of his training in Colorado Springs; and his wedding with his wife while serving in Germany.
There was lots of miserable work, and the disciplinary actions were often humiliating. In addition, traveling across the Atlantic by boat was not a good experience.
There were a lot of other Jewish soldiers who served with him. One year, for Passover, he spent Passover with his father’s business associate’s home in Denver, which was an amazing experience to go from the miserable training to being welcomed into a nice home for the holiday. There were also Friday night Shabbat services, but he wasn’t very observant.
He didn’t experience any specific incidences of antisemitism in the military, but there was still lots of antisemitism in the aftermath of the Holocaust, as he served in Germany about 10 years after World War II.
Mr. Kauffman doesn’t think he was a leader during his service because he spent a lot of time being forced to keep a pretty low profile and just follow the officers and other leaders, and didn’t really have any leadership opportunities while serving. He didn’t really learn about leadership while serving because he was mainly expected to be a follower, but he did learn about leadership from other experiences in life.
Riley Herron: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because I think veterans lead by example for other citizens of the country. I was inspired by Mr. Kaufman’s positive outlook on his service. Despite the challenges of serving (training, moving away from his family and job, etc.), he talked about the positive experiences, including the ability to travel around the world and meet new people. It was a very interesting experience for me to interview Mr. Kauffman as it was the first time I had ever talked to a veteran about their service and learned about what serving in the military actually entails.
Name of Jewish Veteran: William Kaufman
Date of interview: August 9, 2020
Interviewed by: Brett Kaufman
William Kaufman enlisted in the Navy. He served during the Vietnam War. William Kaufman was a dentist and he was stationed in Maryland. He picked the navy because all of his life in Miami he was boating so he thought that he could handle being on a boat.
Being in the service affected his life. He had my father when he was stationed in Maryland and getting his dental certification. After he served, he started his own dental practice and moved back to Miami.
William Kaufman thinks his service is a form of leadership.
I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because being a high-ranking officer is a form of leadership. They are the ones that have to make decisions for the crew and team.
What I learned from the interview is that becoming a leader does not just happen overnight, but it takes time, like it takes time for a general to get their rank.
I was inspired by the courage my grandfather had to enlist during a war when he was expecting his first child. The interview experience was meaningful to me. It felt like I found a piece to a puzzle that I was missing, and the puzzle was about my family.
Robert Israel Lappin
Robert Israel Lappin (of blessed memory; January 26, 1922-April 3, 2020) proudly served our country during WWII. In an interview on June 20, 2019, he shared his memories of his time in the Navy.
“When I was a senior at Dartmouth College in 1943, I enlisted in the Navy because my peers at Dartmouth were enlisting. I served from March 1943-June 1946, and my rank was Lieutenant Jr. Navy Grade. I didn’t necessarily want to enlist, but it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do.
I was an officer on the USS Cecil. The ship saw action in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The USS Cecil was part of the armada that accepted Japan’s defeat in 1945. I was on the ship from the summer of 1944 until it was disenfranchised/decommissioned in 1946.
I had a few good friends on the ship. I got a letter from Mimi every day. This was before we got married.
At the time I didn’t realize what was to be the historical significance so it was business as usual. My ship carried troops and we landed the troops. My ship came under attack, but not seriously.
The most difficult aspect of participating in the military was being Jewish. There was an underlying antisemitism presence and I felt it.
War, as a means to resolve conflict is a poor but realistic one.
What I learned from my military service that most benefited me in life was to be a responsible person. I understood my job and its demands. My job was primarily taking care of the radar. I put together spare parts inventory of everything and I developed relationships with the representatives of the equipment.
The captain called me up to the quarter deck when the ship was on its breakdown. We had to test the ship after it was commissioned to make sure it could do the job it was designed to do. He said to me, “Mr. Lappin, unless all the radar equipment is in good order and usable, the ship will not move. I don’t care whether you sleep or not, but that is the operating procedure.” That made a very deep impression on me. It made me think that the future outcome of the war was on my shoulders. It motivated me. I didn’t like feeling like that, but it made me do everything to keep the equipment going.
I was proud and happy to serve my country. My time in the navy was a maturing experience.”
Name of Jewish Veteran: Jeremy Lawson (JL)
Date of Interview: June 14, 2020
Interviewed by: Meirav Solomon (MS)
MS: When did you serve in the armed forces?
JL: Joined in 2000; Radio repair technician; Tried out for army special forces training, Special forces qualification (medic), and worked special forces in Fort Bragg for 15 years
MS: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
JL: Enlisted; Highest rank was sergeant first class; Went to medical school in 2016, moved to Bethesda, Maryland, uniformed services university; Accepted to a residency in Fort Bragg; April 2020 -> 20 years, still owes military 10 years
MS: Why did you enlist?
JL: Working in computers, IT guy, internet startup went out of business, was going to be at a help desk, saw the recruiting station – rest was history
MS: Why did you pick the army special forces?
JL: Wanted to do something cool and exciting; maybe join the rangers be an airborne ranger; became role player for a training exercise, one of the guerrilla fighters – after this experience, living in the woods and training found out that this is what I wanted to do; joined before 9/11 but after 9/11, he was called to serve and served
MS: Did you serve during a war?
JL: Deployed 6 times, 4 to Afghanistan, 1 to Africa, 1 to south America (Guyana)
MS: What did Afghanistan teach you-
JL: Change in personality; Americans tend to think of themselves as the best at everything, best country, best people, ego-centric. When you go to another country they have expectations of Americans; everything they know about America comes from tv; often times go to another country and are arrogant, superiority complex, ATTITUDE CHANGED. Appreciates the culture, coming to a consensus to understand US interest
MS: Were there any Jewish values/ideas that inspired you to serve?
JL: After 9/11, felt like we had been attacked, needed to fight back against the axis of evil; fight against these people, these heathens… felt like our country was fighting in a holy war, typical Judeo-Christian vs. Muslims => how I felt at first. Then I went to Afghanistan and met the people and realized that our allies are also Muslim, learned a lot more about Islam, did humanitarian work to build schools and mosques, met in mosques for daily meetings => Islam ceased being such a hostile concept => learned how to work with them peacefully ( just like interfaith outreach in the conservative movement); surprisingly, did just as much humanitarian outreach as actual combat time
MS: What was it like being Jewish in the actual units?
JL: Experienced some anti-Semitism ; had to educate fellow servicepeople about how I practiced; brought tefillin, tallis and siddur on every deployment and tried to pray when I could; didn’t get Shabbats off so I spent time with the four other Jews hanging out on Sundays while the Christians were praying
Meirav Solomon: Mr. Lawson certainly thinks their service is a form of leadership and a way to grow their leadership skills. Mr. Lawson spoke about what it means to talk about his service and to inspire others to join the military like he did. He had to be a leader in his unit sometimes and those lessons that he learned as a leader then, are utilized all the time in his medical career and in his life overall. He said, “The military puts you in all different types of situations that you will have to lead in or follow in, but you have to adapt,” and his experiences in the military have obviously bolstered his abilities to be a flexible member of a team or a flexible leader who is able to adapt at a moment’s notice.
I do believe that being a veteran is a form of leadership. Being a veteran is not just about your experiences in the military, it is also about what you do when you leave. Jeremy Lawson is a great example of this but in total, all veterans do, in my opinion, have a duty to represent our country even when they are not in uniform, whether in country or out.
What I learned from the interview is that leadership can take many forms and that the best leaders can adapt to new circumstances quickly to help their team. Sometimes the best leaders are ones that can give up power to help achieve a larger goal, not hold onto it to control others. Mr. Lawson taught me the value of being a versatile leader and knowing when to fall back and follow someone else.
After speaking with Mr. Lawson, I was inspired to join the military. After speaking to many veterans, I have met, I have always felt inspired to join the military after hearing about their experiences whether traumatic or successful. Veterans like Mr. Lawson exemplify true sacrifice and loyalty to American ideals and after speaking to him, I was definitely inspired to internalize these values into my own life.
This interview experience meant a lot to me being someone who hopes to work in public office or policy in the future. A lot of times we can forget that actual people are on the frontlines fighting for our freedom and safety and meeting/talking with veterans always instills both pride in my country and hope for the future.
Name of Veteran: Alan Lehman
Date of Interview: July 22, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Daniel Ruskin
Alan served in the Air Force and was in active duty from July 1, 1976 to October 1, 1986, and stayed in reserves until August 2006. He enlisted through the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program through law school. Alan wanted to go to law school, which got him involved with ROTC, because he hadn’t done enough of the math to get into med school, which he had really wanted before. In law school, Alan wanted to go into the Air Force and be an officer. He picked the Air Force because he didn’t want to fight on the ground.
Alan’s active service began on July 1, 1976 and ended on October 1, 1986. He served during the tail end of the Vietnam War and retired as a full colonel.
Alan served primarily in the United States, but also spent time in South Korea and other places overseas.
Recollection of his first days in the service: They were driving to Colorado Springs and were given six days to get there. It took Alan four days to get there. He had to cut his handlebar mustache and went to Coors brewery on the way. He was a captain because of law school (since it usually took four years to get to captain), so people wanted to follow him. Alan didn’t have his ID, which the people around him were surprised about because he was a captain. It’s a full- time job. Originally, he spent the first two weeks at an Air Force base, which then became an Olympic training center. Alan then went to training for six months before he went to the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) School in Montgomery, Alabama.
In Colorado, nobody in Alan’s office was Jewish. Later, he was based near Lexington, and there were a lot of Jews, which was good. In Montgomery, Alabama, there was a small conservative shul and a reform temple, and he went to the conservative shul. He wasn’t involved with many of the programs on base, since he had friends that were Jewish. He got married in Dayton, at the shul. When Alan was a reserve in Illinois, he had a chaplain that was Jewish, but he helped out everyone. When he was out west and overseas, there were very few Jews, but in the east of the U.S., there were still big Jewish communities.
There were some challenges for Alan being Jewish. Being sure to have the High Holidays off. Because Alan was a lawyer, JAG, and captain, he doesn’t think he got the crap that other guys got. His close friend who was in just north of Houston, who was his sponsor, always called Alan the ‘resident heathen’ in the office. All his friends in the office always supported Alan’s Jewish functions and allowed him to take time off. The only time he got crap was from a civilian boss in Denver who wouldn’t give him time off the day before Yom Kippur, so he couldn’t eat a big meal before Kol Nidre. Alan had to eat at a fast food place, which made it horrible.
In Colorado, community High Holidays services and Seders were run at the chapel at Peterson Air Force base. Alan got matzah ball mix and matzah in Colorado Springs, but it actually said ‘Not for Passover Use.’ When he was in Korea, he had to take the night off in Soule to observe High Holidays with one of the only Jewish leaders leading it. There was an orthodox rabbi there with his family, which was cool. The person davening was from the US Embassy, which made it feel like he was back at home. In Montgomery, people got kosher meat from Birmingham because that was where the kosher meat was shipped to from Atlanta. Jews would go to Birmingham certain days and pick up their kosher food. Alan was also a member of the Jewish War Veterans for one year in the late 1970s.
Alan’s only real experience with antisemitism was the aforementioned time that a civilian boss from Denver didn’t give him time off to eat a big meal before Yom Kippur. He doesn’t recall getting teased for being Jewish, except his friends calling him the ‘resident heathen’ in good nature. This happened for Protestants too, as it wasn’t just for Jewish people. His experience was probably different because of his race. He didn’t hear of any incidents of antisemitism when he was the Jewish lay leader at Osan Air Base, but he didn’t know many Jewish people through the military when he was the Jewish lay leader.
The civilian boss from Denver had an alcohol problem, and Alan got along with him except for that one incident. What he learned from this is that it’s not a perfect world. Alan is thankful that he never got called a Damn Jew, or a kike, and never got razzed for being a “cheap Jew.” A Jew would say he “out-Jewed” somebody, but not any non-Jews. They had to take things in context.
Alan was ambivalent about being Jewish and it didn’t matter much to him when he first went on active duty. On Purim once in the late ‘80s, there was a conservative shul, and there were a lot of Iranian Jews that had settled down in Oklahoma City. From this, he thought that being Jewish was kind of cool because when an Iranian Jew had to lift the Torah, they just did it so easily because they were strong. It was interesting to meet different Jews around the country, which gave Alan more pride in being Jewish. You find that ‘these are very nice people too, they’re Jewish like I am.’ In West Germany, he was at the U.S. embassy, and he found the only temple in Bonn, Germany. He went to the Holocaust center in Berlin, which is a very spooky place. They pull no punches, calling it murder, slaughter. They don’t say they ‘died,’ they say they were ‘murdered.’ There is clear government backing behind it.
Alan did not see combat but his wife did when she was in Iraq in 2003. She got shot at. She was a chief member of a surgical team. The closest he got to seeing combat was when he was in Korea, about a mile off base, and a Korean reserve colonel was murdered by South Koreans. They shut the base down, and everyone was a little edgy for a couple days. One time he was going down on a bus to a tree that was famous because an army lieutenant was trimming the tree once and got murdered by a sniper some years back. There was a person with a machine gun following them to protect them. The DMZ is the most fortified place on earth, formed of just solid mines and tunnels underneath. If you get off the road, you would just get blown up.
A memorable experience for Alan during his time in the service was when he got to see Sammy Davis Jr. and ‘Chappie’ James at an academy once. He got to walk around a North Korea conference table. While stationed in South Korea, he went to Taipei, as well as Hong Kong when it was still a British colony (he got to go to the royal navy club, which was pretty neat). He got to swim in the Indian Ocean, went to Singapore, and visited Japan 4 times. Alan also was able to see multiple St. Louis Cardinals games, as well as some Cincinnati Reds games. You could plan your reserve tours around different ballparks. In Alan’s last reserve assignment, he was an associate general counselor, stationed near the Pentagon, so he got to see the brand new Washington Nationals play ball.
Alan received five Meritorious Service Medals, and got a Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He also was given a Legion of Merit when he retired, along with an Air Force Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He received multiple ribbons too. Alan got these for doing a good job, not simply for getting shot at. Just for doing his job well. Just because you’re stationed at a place for a few years doesn’t mean you get a medal. Alan was in the right place at the right time for some of these medals. Most of them were for his role in international law, working with other countries and NATO.
Alan made close friends during the service and he actually met up this year with two of his friends from active duty. JAG was a very small group, so you usually knew somebody. Neither are Jewish.
Alan’s service and experience affected his life. First, it’s how Alan met his wife. He also was able to travel around the world and become more aware of things. He wasn’t just focused on a little spot in the U.S. This made him well-rounded and more educated, but he wouldn’t say more sophisticated. Service made him a better person and father too.
To stay in touch with his family during the service, Alan had to write. In Korea, to do a long- distance phone call, it was 3 dollars per minute. 5 minutes was 15 bucks. When he was stateside, he would call every week.
While Alan was in the United States, he would go home for the Seders.
Alan learned what not to be from bad leaders. He had bad bosses when stationed in Korea, Alabama, and Ohio. He also had good ones, but bad ones too. He thinks you learn more about how not to do things than how to do things. You have to make mistakes to succeed, and work with people you don’t like. Most of his leaders were good. It was painful to work with the bad people, but it made him a better leader. His service inspired him to take pride in what you are doing.
Alan added that nowadays there aren’t as many people going into service. Today, there are more services to help Jewish people in the military. There is much more kosher food, almost everything is OU, and it is easier to observe the holidays.
I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because people usually look up to you when you are a veteran, and this often makes you a leader by default. Also, veterans learn a great deal about leadership from serving in the military, so their service has made them better leaders in the end. From the interview I learned that you will always be around people that are difficult to deal with, but that dealing with these kinds of people is part of what makes you a great leader. I was inspired by how Alan was able to serve full-time in the military but also find ways to observe his Judaism. I would have thought it would be difficult for someone to stay committed to being religious when they are very busy and far away from home.
The interview experience made me feel very grateful for people like Alan who put great effort into serving our country. It also left me more informed about being Jewish in the military, because I really hadn’t thought much about what it is like to be Jewish while serving away from home.
I wish that I knew more about specific stories from Alan’s time in service because I feel that there is so much more I can learn from his time in the military.
Name of Jewish Veteran Interviewed: Berle Littmann
Date of interview: August 11, 2020
Name of interviewer: Roman Littmann
1. When did you serve in the armed forces? I served from 1964-1996, and I was active duty for 18 months during 1964-1966.
2. Did you enlist or were you drafted? I enlisted in the Army Reserve.
3. If you enlisted, why did you enlist? Because I knew I was facing the draft, I decided to join the army anyway. I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to join a reserve unit. He said it was only 9 months of active duty and so I agreed to join. He actually lied to me, and it ended up being 18 months but that was ok because I spent a year at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey CA.
4. Which branch did you serve in? I served in the US Army Reserve Military intelligence branch.
5. Why did you pick this branch? It was the branch my cousin was in. He was also in the reserves which was one of the reasons I decided to join in the first place. Plus I got to learn a foreign language, Russian!
6. What were your dates of service? They were September, 9th 1964 – January 28th, 1966
7. Did you serve during a war? If so, which one? Yes, I served during the Vietnam war but was not deployed to Vietnam. I also served during Desert Storm, but again I was not deployed.
8. What was your rank? I started as a Private E-2 and retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 4.
9. What country or countries did you serve in? The USA.
10. Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Yes, the first thing that I did, like everyone, was Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. It was a pain in the butt that we all had to go through, 9 weeks of hell.
11. Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? There were 2 others in basic training and we were in the same platoon. One of them is still one of my good friends. His mother mailed us Mandel Bread every few weeks when we were in basic training.
12. Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? I would say the only thing that bothered me once in a while was when there was a chaplain giving a prayer at an assembly, it was usually a Christan chaplain. But I don’t think it bothered me all that much, and so it was acceptable. There weren’t too many Jewish chaplains.
13. How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? Well, on Friday evenings we would go to a short Shabbat service, and we hoped that they had a good snack afterward every once and in a while.
14. Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? I would have to say no.
15. Did you see combat? No. Thank god, I was very lucky.
16. Were there many casualties in your unit? There were none, No.
17. Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. Well, one memorable experience I had was when I went to sign up for this unit. One of the first things they said was, “can you type?” and I could, about 30 words per minute, and you had to have 25 to pass. The second test was a language aptitude test, which I also passed, so I could join the unit. However, there was another guy who wanted to join, but he couldn’t pass the typing test. He couldn’t get the 25 words per minute. And so he failed. Anyways, they made him be the secretary of our unit. So I guess the typing class I took in high school paid off in the end.
18. Were you a prisoner of war? No. But I was trained to interrogate prisoners of war.
19. Were you awarded any medals or citations? Yeah, but they were just for being in the service for x number of years. None of them were combat-related at least.
20. How did you get them? They were just for being in the service for however many years. Almost like participation trophies.
21. Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Lots of close friendships. I’m still friends with some of them today.
22. How did your service and experiences affect your life? It helped me in my civilian career to get a job as a special agent with the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. And because I learned Russian in the army, I got 18 hours of college credit which helped me towards my degree in Russian.
23. Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? Yes, definitely. I learned you had to be honest with whoever you were working with and whoever you were responsible for. Honesty is big. And I learned I had to know what I was doing and that I had to be on top of things.
24. How did your service inspire leadership in you? It goes back to being ready for any challenge that came up in my life. I learned to always be prepared for whatever opportunity or challenge came my way.
25. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? Yeah, I’d like to see every American do some kind of civilian or military service or to volunteer for civilian or military service before they’re 22 years old, it’s one of the greatest experiences you can have.
Roman Littman: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. I think serving your country is itself enough to be inspiring to others, which I think is a form of leadership. What I learned from the interview is that even though we can all be leaders, we don’t all have to be the “biggest” leaders. We can be smaller leaders in our communities or to a smaller group of people. You don’t need to lead a country, you can just lead a group of friends, and that could be enough, because we need the smaller leaders too. I am always inspired by veterans, because of their willingness to risk their lives for our country. I think it’s one of the most selfless things a person can do, and that is very inspiring to me.
I think the interview was special to me because I got to learn more about my Grandfather and what he did and accomplished in his life. The interview left me wanting to hear more of the stories he has from his time in the army, as I am sure many of them are interesting and exciting.
Name of Veteran: Ira Malek (IM)
Born February 1, 1929
Date of Interview: July 13, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Jared Goldstein (JG)
JG: When did you serve in the armed forces?
IM: I served during the Korean War. This was not a war, it was a police action. It was never approved by Congress. There were 50,000 young American men dead in Korea. It was not a war approved by the Congress of the United States. It was nothing more than a police action.
JG: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
IM: I was in the United States Air Force. I was a smart Jewish kid. I enlisted in the Air Force because I did not want to be in the army. If I would go in the Army I would be in the military, I would be in the infantry, and I would be in Korea. So, I joined the Air Force.
JG: What was your rank?
IM: When I left the service I was an officer, I was a 1st Lt. Understand, I enlisted in the Air Force as a private. I went through basic training like any other private who went into the Army or the Air Force. I finished basic training. I took tests, they didn’t know what to do with me, where to put me in the Air Force. They told me you’re not going nowhere. I was called into the headquarters of Samson Air Force Base. They sat me down with a bunch of officers and they asked me a simple question. What do you want to do here? I said I would like to be an officer. I was in the next academy class…I finished basic training, and they said you’re not going nowhere, you stay right here…I went to the next academy class. And when I got there, there was a guy who came from the New York area, and we both made an agreement between each other. It was that no matter what they do to us, we will never quit. And we both graduated. When you start the officer program they tell you,“Look to your right, look to your left. One of those guys is not gonna be an officer.” One out of three are automatically flunked out. If their ratings are low, or their academic scores are low, they’re out. So, you have to do well, and if you don’t do well, you will not be an Air Force officer.
JG: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
IM: “Yes, but I would only really see them when we would come together on Friday
evenings. Otherwise, there was one other Jewish guy in my flight…And the antisemitism? Absolutely none. I never experienced antisemitism in the Air Force. I performed my job and did what I was supposed to do, and no one ever demeaned me.”
JG: Advice Ira Malek gave me: “Stand tall. And work as hard as you can. The first time you walk into that classroom, if you’re there early walk right up to the teacher and talk to him. And say to the teacher, “my name is Jared Goldstein.” You tell them,” I want an A for this course. I will do anything you want me to do. I’ll do any additional work that I have to do. You tell me to do it, I will do it.” Do it for every one of your courses. Study like hell. Find out what books you need, and always read ahead. If I didn’t do what I’m telling you to do, I would not be alive today. If you think you’re a smart kid, you better start working. I don’t know what you’re doing so far, but I don’t care if you’ve got all A’s, I’ll tell you to work harder. Work harder.”
JG: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
IM: Going to my graduation for the Air Force Academy. In other words, you get the high level of achievement that Teddy Roosevelt wrote about. That’s a wonderful feeling. You realize that you made it. That you got the officer’s rank.
JG: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
IM: I got a good conduct medal. I also got a medal for shooting a gun. I was an expert, a marksman sharpshooter. I have an award for being an expert.
JG: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
IM: It channeled my whole life. The color of my whole life was colored by what happened in my academics and with the Air Force. I walk around with an Air Force hat. I wear my officer’s insignia. People still salute me. I go to the veteran’s parade. People salute my car.
JG: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
IM: I went to the Air Force Academy. I know what leadership is. I gave it to my children, I gave it to my family, and I gave it to my friends.
JG: How did Judaism influence your outlook on war?
IM: It makes sense for the same reason the Israeli guys will protect Israel. You want to protect your country.
JG: Who do you look up to as a leader?
IM: I have to tell you that my father at one point before I was born was a bank president. When the crash came in 1929 he was delivering bread to stores and bakeries. I was poor. My father would say to me, “if you go to school and learn, you won’t make the mistakes I made.” I remember sitting in school with holes in the bottoms of my shoes. I would put cardboard in my shoes. When it would rain outside I was always ashamed to lift up my foot. You want to know where the leadership came from? Poverty. I remember a sack of potatoes under the kitchen sink. I lived through a depression. You don’t know what this is. It was ..My father told me to learn good and that’s what I did.
JG: Mr. Malek believes that his service is a form of leadership through how it was able to build his character and teach him valuable lessons about being a role model and leader.
I think that all veterans display leadership by serving their country and protecting its citizens. They put others before themselves. From the interview I learned that leadership is not just about how others see you, but about how you see yourself. I was inspired by the hard work and dedication that Mr. Malek has displayed throughout his life, not only during his service. The interview experience was powerful and eye opening, and allowed me to see some of the differences between American culture now and back then.
Born January 16, 1924
Interviewed by Sydney Oriel (SO) on July 7, 2020
Stuart Mandell (SM), a World War II veteran, served in the army from 1945-1947. His rank was First Class Prime. Mr. Mandell served in England, France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.
Mr. Mandell was awarded the Bronze Star for capturing 27 Germans.
SO: Do you think your service is a form a leadership?
SM: Yes. I was put in situations throughout where he was in charge of other corporals.
SO: Do you think being a veteran is a form of leadership?
SM: Yes, I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because it is a big responsibility.
SO: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
SM: When I was in the States my friends and I would occasionally go to Friday night services. And they offered refreshments! When I was overseas it was more difficult to practice Judaism.
SO: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
SM: Once I had a showdown with an antisemite who was picking on a Jewish guy. I told him to stay away and later that night we were supposed to have a fight, but he backed down.
SO: Did you see combat?
SM: Yes, I was in the combat infantry unit.
SO: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
SM: That is the million-dollar question. Yes, being in the army affected my life but I am not sure I would want to do it again. It was interesting because it was so different from my upbringing. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, went to high school and college and found myself in the armed forces and from there had an interesting career. I saw so much while in the army, like when the US army met the Russian army and when Germany collapsed.
SO: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? And are there any more stories you want to share with me?
SM: I started out as a leader and then went to the bottom of the pile. When I was drafted into the army they sent me to Fort Knox in Kentucky. They asked my group if any of us went to college and I was the only one who raised my hand. They put me in charge of the corporals. I was marching the guys back and forth throughout the day. Later-on they sent me to Syracuse University to study about the occupation of Spain. I was a private first class thrown in with a regular sergeant and master sergeant. I was there for eight months and then shipped out to the 69th division and found myself in a rife company. I was then transferred to a service center and message center of the company. Every time I was transferred I was the low man on the totem pole again and had to start over and work my way up the ladder. At the message center my job was to convey next day messages to units assigned to us. We had to interpret the cable in the code and put it in our language and then encode messages and send them out. Then our unit landed in France and we relieved the 104th Division that was pretty wiped out. We spearheaded the US army and crossed the Rhine River.
SO: What I learned about leadership from the interview is that leadership can take many forms. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are always in charge. For example, bravery is a form of leadership. Mr. Mandell’s story inspired me to work hard, never give up and learn from each experience that you are given. I learned a lot talking to Stuart Mandell. He was very easy to talk to and it meant a lot to me that he would share his stories with someone he does not know. Listening to him talk took me to another time period that I do not know a lot about.
Name of Veteran: Charles Mann
Date of Interview: July 30, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Noah Mann
When did you serve in the armed forces? Charles served in the armed forces from December 1, 1953 to November 30, 1955.
Did you enlist or were you drafted? Charles enlisted in the armed forces.
If you enlisted, why did you enlist? Charles enlisted in the armed forces because the United Nations declared war against North Korea, setting the Korean War into full swing. This all happened at the end of his Freshman year at Boston University making him eligible to be drafted. Charles Went to Valley Forge prior to college where he got ROTC training and when his father gave him the ultimatum to either enlist or be drafted in the armed forces, Charles listened to his father. He used his training credits from Valley Forge to enlist into the Air Force with a higher credibility than someone who was drafted.
Which branch did you serve in? United States Air Force
Why did you pick this branch? Charles joined the Air Force because he always found planes very interesting and many Americans, including himself, considered the Air force the “Glamour boys” from their great importance and crucial role they played during World War II.
What were your dates of service? Charles served in the armed forces from December 1, 1953 to November 30, 1955.
Did you serve during a war? If so, which one? Charles did not serve during a war. When he finally entered the Air Force, the Korean War was coming to a close through peace negotiations and the Cold War was swinging into motion.
What was your rank? Charles was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and he eventually became a first lieutenant.
What country or countries did you serve in? Charles only travelled to one country during his service, but it was one of his greatest experiences when he traveled overseas to England in September, 1954. He went with an entire wing of bombers for 3 months to practice flying, and during this time he was able to have some fun exploring England.
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? The first days Charles served were in New York where he took a handful of tests to see what position he was best suited for in the Air force. After he got his test results, he was assigned to have schooling in Denver, Colorado for five months pertaining to sciences.
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Charles expressed that there were a ton of Jewish soldiers who served in the Air Force with him. One of his closest friends, who was stationed at the same base as him, was a Jewish Navigator from Roxbury, Massachusetts, which was not too far from where Charles lived. Charles’ friend was the one who told Charles to get his flying license when the opportunity arose, which Charles is extremely thankful for to this day.
Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?Charles did not personally face any challenges for being Jewish and he expressed that he just fit in like any other person in the service.
How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? Charles and most Jewish soldiers did not practice a ton of Judaism during their service because they did not have a ton of free time. However, they were occasionally able to attend Shabbat Services.
Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? Charles never faced antisemitism during his service.
Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. A memorable experience for Charles during his service was when he went to London, England for a three month training period. During his free time in England he enjoyed touring about Robin Hood, going to a professional soccer game, visiting the London tower and Queen’s jewels, and much more.
Were you awarded any medals or citations? Charles received a Service medal for serving in the Air Force.
Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Charles made a bunch of close friends while in the service and many of these friends were actually Jewish. One of his closest friends was his roommate who was from Texas A&M. They would hang out during their free time and would ride horses near the Air Force Academy. Charles also travelled to Colorado with him where he slept over in his friend’s hometown in the mountains.
How did your service and experiences affect your life? Charles’ service and experiences had a massive effect on his life. As a veteran of the Korean War, Charles’ college tuition was paid in full for his time in the service, which allowed him to go to Harvard Dental School to become a dentist. This set Charles up for the rest of his life. His experiences also made him super patriotic and passionate about the United States as he felt a sense of pride for doing his part to help protect our country.
Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? During his service, Charles was in charge of a squadron in the cameras department. With this lofty role, Charles learned to always treat the people under him as equals and with respect, despite his superior position. This allowed Charles to be the most effective leader he possibly could.
How did your service inspire leadership in you? Charles’ service inspired leadership in himself, not by his own choice, but by being appointed a leadership role. Despite this unexpected challenge, this taught Charles to always step up as a leader in any situation.
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? Another great memory that Charles has from the service was when he went to Florida to practice flying tactics. He had a blast flying many different types of planes and doing different tricks he had never tried before.
What did you do after your service? After his time in the Air Force, Charles went right to Harvard Dental School. He immediately ingrained himself into the college lifestyle.
Did you face any troubles trying to reintegrate into society after your service? Charles personally did not face any trouble trying to reintegrate into society after his service, but he knew many people who did. That being said, he wants society to be more compassionate towards veterans as many go through difficulties after their service. These people need help from society to make their adjustment period as easy as possible.
Noah Mann: Charles thinks that service is a form of leadership because he learned many skills about being a leader during his time in the service. Also, Charles commanded over a squadron of troops in the Air Force which took strong leadership abilities. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because it takes a leader to take the leap of joining the service, especially knowing the potential risks and hardships that come with it.
I learned from this interview that leadership is not just controlled by one person, but rather it is a two-way street. The people under the leader have to respect the leader and be willing to be led. On the flip side, the leader needs to gain the respect of his subordinates in order to lead effectively. I was inspired by many of the stories I heard of the tough days Charles went through in training. Charles explained that training for the Air Force was extremely difficult and it caused people to want to give up and or drop out, including himself at times. In the end though, the soldiers almost always worked together and supported each other to push through the struggles. This taught me to never give up, even when times seem extremely bleak.
As the grandson of Charles, the interview meant a lot to me because it was the first time I heard the experiences of my grandfather during his service. It truly meant a lot to me to learn of these stories so I can tell my own children one day.
I am still left wondering about other Jewish veterans’ experiences in the service in comparison to Charles who did not face any anti-semitisim.
Name of Veteran: Sewell Martin (SM)
Date of Interview: July 16, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Nava Teller (NT)
NT: When did you serve in the armed forces?
SM: Right after high school.
NT: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
SM: I enlisted.
NT: Why did you enlist?
SM: After high school I interviewed for two jobs, but I didn’t land either of them. I then decided to enlist because I knew I would be drafted to Vietnam after two weeks if I hadn’t.
NT: Which branch did you serve in?
SM: I served in the Army.
NT: Why did you pick this branch?
SM: The Army was the only branch willing to accept people at the time.
NT: What were your dates of service?
SM: I served from January 1960 to December 1965.
NT: Did you serve during a war? If so, which one?
SM: No, I did not serve during a war.
NT: What was your rank?
SM: Sergeant E-5.
NT: What country or countries did you serve in?
SM: I only served in America.
NT: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
SM: Yes, there were a few others.
NT: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
NT: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
SM: There was not too much opportunity to practice Judaism, especially during basic training. We couldn’t go to synagogue on Saturday because we had an inspection that day. We would have matzah on the table during Passover, though.
NT: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
SM: I never experienced antisemitism, but I did experience discrimination in Oklahoma because I was from New York.
NT: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
SM: In the first week of my service, there was a sergeant who made me do 18 hours of kitchen police, so he said he owed me one. Six weeks later, when the rest of the soldiers were training, that sergeant let me answer the phones instead.
NT: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
SM: Yes, for marksmanship
NT: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
SM: Those experiences made me into a man. They taught me how to take responsibility, not to lie, and not to cheat.
NT: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
SM: Yes, because I was the chief of artillery. I had to make sure all 200 cannons were shot at the same time and at the same place.
NT: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
SM: It taught me to take charge of a situation, analyze a situation, and take necessary actions, even if it means not doing anything.
NT: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
SM: I am technically still in the Army because I took an oath that lasts forever. I would go back anytime if they needed me.
Nava Teller: Mr. Martin thinks his service was a form of leadership because it taught him how to take charge of a situation, analyze the situation, and take the necessary actions. Those are all very important skills for a leader to have. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because veterans learn important life skills from being in the Army, and those skills usually go along with leading a group or community.
From the interview I learned that being put in a high-pressure situation like the Army will force you to learn things about taking charge and having good morals. I’m inspired by his loyalty to the oath he took in the Army, and that he would go back without a doubt if they needed him. It taught me that if I commit to something important, there is no undoing it, and I have to be fully immersed.
The interview experience was really interesting to me because it taught me about a whole different lifestyle and time period that is so important to learn about. These veterans fought for our country and gained so much life experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Since Mr. Martin mentioned that there was not much of an opportunity to practice Judaism in the Army, I am wondering if that has changed since then. Do Jewish soldiers these days get to practice Judaism more?
Name of Veteran: Bob O’Connell (BO)
Date of Interview: July 27, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Noah Weinberg (NW)
NW: When did you serve in the armed forces?
BO: From 1956 to 1960.
NW: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
BO: I enlisted.
NW: Why did you enlist?
BO: Well, I was 17 years old, and I didn’t see myself going to college. So, I wanted to get a start in life.
NW: Which branch did you serve in?
BO: I served with the US Marine Corps. It seemed to be the toughest branch, and I wanted to test myself against the best.
NW: What were your dates of service?
BO: From 1956 to 1960
NW: What was your rank?
BO: My last rank was Lance Corporal.
NW: What country or countries did you serve in?
BO: Pretty much everywhere. I spent two years on an aircraft carrier, and we went around to a lot of different countries. We went around the Cape of South America. We made different stops in different countries in South America. I served on embassy duty in Spain, and although it was not a war, we did make a landing in 1958 in Lebanon. President Eisenhower in 1958 sent the Marines in to take care of a problem in Lebanon, but it turned out there was no combat, no action.
NW: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
BO: They were brutal. The Marine Corps has a very, very tough basic training, and the basic training lasts 16 weeks. Then you go to four weeks of combat training, so those were some of the tough times.
NW: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
BO: I only knew two, and they were both from New Jersey. They were really good people that put up with a lot of abuse because of being Jewish.
NW: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
BO: Well, there wasn’t for me because this is going to sound crazy, but I didn’t know I was Jewish at the time. You can tell by my name, Bob O’Connell. I didn’t find out until I actually joined Temple Sholom in 1969. I married a Jewish girl, and when we looked around for a way to raise our children, we went to the temple, I talked to Rabbi Patz. At the time, it was Rabbi Patz, and he asked me if I wanted to convert. I said, “No, not necessarily.” I wasn’t a very religious person, but I would take the conversion classes just to know what my kids are going to do, so when I did that, I had a genealogical assessment. When I traced my genealogy in a serious way, I found out that my mother’s mother was Sarah Finkelstein, an Orthodox Jew from Germany. As the rabbi told me at the time because Judaism is a matriarchal religion, I was considered a Jew. But the two men I knew who were Jewish were friends of mine, so maybe I even knew it in my heart at the time. In any case, I befriended them, and I know that they went through some real tough times.
NW: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
BO: They had chapel services in the Marine Corps, but they used to really not. They didn’t make it easy to get the chapel services, especially for the Jews because there were not too many rabbis around. It turns out that when I met Rabbi Patz, he was a Marine Corps chaplain. I didn’t know him at the time of course, but he served around the same time I did, so these fellows would get excused once in a while for services but not very often.
NW: Did you ever see them experience antisemitism during their service?
BO: Absolutely. Yes, I saw them in many fistfights because of who they were, and they didn’t back down from anybody. They got into some pretty tough scrapes.
NW: If so, how did they deal with it?
BO: Well, they were both pretty tough kids, and the other kids would jump in when they saw what was going on. But there were things that took place when they were alone. As soon as a group would find out they were Jewish, they would be taunted. There was a lot of ignorance, there’s a lot of ignorance now, but it was even greater back in the 50s. People from the South would truly think that Jews had horns and things like that. It was a lot of the Southerners who had no idea what a Jew was, it was a lot of people from lower classes who when they would look at a Jew would think that they were the classic Jew with problems with money. The old canard that they talked about in those days.
NW: Did you see combat?
BO: I did not. We made a landing, as I said, in Lebanon, which was a little bit scary for us because it was supposed to be combat, but it turned out that we did not see any combat at all other than at a bar on occasion.
NW: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
BO: Well, let’s see. I guess the most memorable was I was going to say Lebanon because of what we did but when I think back to it, it was probably in October of 1957. I had just been assigned to an aircraft carrier, and we were doing a shakedown cruise in Guantanamo Bay. A shakedown cruise is when they get ships ready to go out, and this was a brand-new ship, and while we were on a shakedown cruise, we went to. They called everyone to General Quarters, and the reason was that Sputnik came over, and Sputnik was the first satellite to ever go up. It came from Russia, and as I said that was October of 1957, nobody had any idea what a satellite was. Of course, all our military on the aircraft carrier and in other places thought it could be an invasion of some sort, so we all spent a couple nervous days thinking about what could happen with this thing that was orbiting the Earth. I mean, nowadays it’s pretty common, we use the GPS, we have a station and so on, but in 1957, it was really an unbelievable event.
NW: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
BO: I did, but I didn’t hold on to any of them afterwards. Everybody has a tendency to go their own way. Some guys that I was very close to stayed in the service, and then Vietnam came along a short time after I got out. I had some friends that went to Vietnam and did not come back.
NW: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
BO: I think it made me a much, much better person. I was not headed in a good direction, and I didn’t have anything to look forward to coming from a poor neighborhood. It just kind of put me on a straightened arrow, made me. You know, a lot of people went to college, so basically that was my college. It taught me a lot about being a man and so on.
NW: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
BO: Just that. Simply put, you knew that you could handle certain things. If you could handle the Marines and you could do what you did there, you could do almost anything. As it turns out, I got a very slow start in my post-Marines career. I did longshoremen work and truck driving and bus driving. When I was involved in any of those careers, I did that for about 20 years, I was almost always involved in the unions. I became a union leader in each place that I went to. That probably might be a factor.
NW: What was your career after being in the military?
BO: After those twenty years of being a longshoreman and truck driver and a bus driver, most of which was as a bus driver, thirteen years, I then went to school through the GI Bill. I went to school at night to become an accountant at Bloomfield College. I got through college, and I had a friend who had his own CPA firm, and he invited me to join him because he didn’t have any children, and he said he would pass it on to me. I went to work with him for two weeks, and I realized that I was not cut out to be an accountant. So, I walked away from that very quickly, I went to school and became a court reporter, a court stenographer, and I learned how to do that. I did it for somebody else for three years, then I started my own business, and then I got my own business going for 35 years, and I retired four years ago at the age of 76.
NW: Do you think being a veteran is a form of leadership?
BO: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership in that it shows dedication and willingness to rise to the occasion for the greater good.
Noah Weinberg: I learned that leadership often requires the ability to have self-confidence in knowing you can tackle anything. I was inspired by Bob’s ability to work hard in difficult jobs for many years after leaving the military and then start and operate a successful business for 35 years. The interview experience was very eye-opening because Bob has such an interesting story in so many ways.
Lester Rubin Perlman
Lester Perlman was the son of Jacob and Rose Perlman, twin brother of Wilfred, and brother of Clara and Donald Perlman. At age 21, Lester Perlman enlisted in the Army (peacetime) in 1938, as did his twin brother Wilfred. Both were stationed in the Philippines. Lester served from 1938-1943. He returned six months later than Wilfred because he had to serve a six-month sentence in the guard house for striking a corporal who called him a “dirty Jew”. Lester finished his tour just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lester “re-upped” to the Army, requesting service with the renowned 1st Infantry Division. He served in North Africa and Sicily, where ultimately, he died from wounds sustained in action during the invasion of Sicily, after participating in the entire Tunisia campaign. Lester was buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, Plot E, row 15, Grave 47. At the time of his death, Lester was married to Anna O’Brien. They had no children.
During his five-year military career, Lester Perlman served on three continents. Lester Perlman was awarded the Silver Star posthumously for gallantry in action. According to the U.S. Army, “when the enemy viciously counterattacked Perlman’s organization, Private Perlman proceeded to an exposed position from which he could fire effectively. When his ammunition became depleted, he seized an enemy weapon and continued firing. Later, while fighting off another enemy attack, he was mortally wounded. His gallant actions, at the cost of his life, exemplified his strong devotion to duty.” Lester Perlman was also awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.
According to his brother Dr. Donald Perlman, Lester Perlman, a decorated war hero, was a “true Jewish warrior.”
Name of Jewish Veteran: Steven Ring
Date of Interview: July 9, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Jack Ruderman
Steven Ring was born on October 14, 1943 in Cleveland Ohio. He grew up living near local Jewish bakery and many times, while there, remembers seeing people with numbers on their arms. He didn’t know what it meant at that time until he later found out that they were from concentration camps. He still remembers those moments to this day. Cleveland Heights at that time was a real Jewish ghetto – close to 50,000 residents with almost half being Jewish. At his high school – Cleveland Heights High School – there were 3,000 students, with 2,800 being Jewish and half of the teachers were Jewish. He describes a street called Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights where there were four orthodox temples, three kosher butcheries, and four Jewish bakeries – he says about this, “it’s as Jewish as it can get.”
Mr. Ring’s parents divorced when he was 5 and he lived with his mother from then on. In the 5th grade, he attended Grand River Academy in Ohio. He was in a small class there, and he says he wasn’t that smart – but compared to the other students – the school thought so. So, Grand River advanced him to the 6th grade – which forever altered his life. He would now be with kids a year older than him. It would also mean that he would graduate at age 16. This “skipping a grade” would have profound influence on the rest of his life.
By the time he graduated high school in 1960 at age 16, he was scholastically ranked in the bottom third in his class. He applied to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. But he didn’t get accepted because his SAT scores were too low. He ended up working for a drug store chain in Ohio on an inventory team. At Christmas, Mr. Ring said he didn’t want to continue with the inventory team anymore. His mom had been working for over 30 years at a Jewelry store in Cleveland as the Credit Manager. That summer, her boss told his mother, “why doesn’t he go in the Army and let them make a man of him and I will pay his college expenses when he gets out.”
By that time, Mr. Ring had turned 17. By January 1961, he decided to enlist in the Army. His mother had to sign for him because he was too young to enlist himself – you have to be 18. As an enlistment incentive after basic training, he was offered an advanced 13-week electronics course in Fort Monmouth, NJ. So, in January of 1961, he enlisted and was sent to Fort Knox, KY. During Basic Training, he came to the realization that “Jews are just 3% percent of the population, not 25%, or even 50% percent like where he grew up.” In the world events at that time, the Russians began splitting East Germany from West Germany prior to building the Berlin Wall. A few years previously, the Russians had invaded Hungary – so it was tense times. In 1963, President Kennedy called for the blockage of Cuba.
Fast forwarding … Mr. Ring served 3 years being stationed in West Germany. During that time, his mother’s boss passed away, and he wound up funding his own college expenses. In 1964 he entered college and attended throughout the late 60’s Vietnam era. He met his wife, Susan, in college. He graduated from Cleveland State University in 1969 and in 1971 he received his Master’s Degree from the very college that denied him admission as a freshman 11 years earlier – Case Western University. He says: “if you get rejected as a freshman – don’t get mad – get a Master’s degree from them.” He and Susan married in 1971 and moved to Peabody where they raised two children. Their son, Benjamin, is an Army Colonel and has been on active duty for over 24 years. Their daughter, Jennifer, is the Director of Program Management at a local pharmaceutical company.
Jack Ruderman: Mr. Ring thinks his service is a form of leadership. How the veteran’s service is a form of leadership is he drove a truck for 40 – 50 miles when someone was called up. I also think being a veteran is a form of leadership because you are serving your own country, you’re sacrificing your freedom to protect the nation, and helping other people when they’re hurt and feeling left out.
What I learned about leadership from the interview is if you don’t know what you want to do with your life full time, but you have a goal in mind, then you can do something that involves serving your country. Something that inspired me during the interview was that back during Mr. Ring’s days when he was living in Cleveland, Ohio, Jews and Blacks were the same minorities and had close relationships.
What the interview experience meant to me was that I was able to learn a lot about Mr. Ring’s life and understand what his life was really like when he was in the Army.
Name of Veteran: Jacob Romo
Date of Interview: June 9, 2020
Interviewed by: Julia Rosenberg
Dr. Romo had provided me with background information on his career prior to the interview and I have incorporated that information into most of the questions. For some questions, I have also provided a brief summary of events into the answer to provide more context.
1. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1958, you were commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps; what made you decide to join the U.S. military? Were you always interested throughout school? And specifically, why did you choose this branch of the military?
At the time of beginning college, Romo had to decide to join the draft, which selected able bodies to participate in the military, or go to college as a part of the Jr/Sr ROTC program. He decided to attend the ROTC program at UMass Amherst since he knew that once he graduated, he would be an army officer. He also had hoped to go to graduate school which would be possible if he got his bachelor’s degree while preparing for duty. At UMass, only Airforce and Army ROTC programs were available. Since he wore glasses, Romo was not accepted into the Airforce program and pursued studying as a part of the Army ROTC program.
2. Did you serve during a war? If so, which one?
Romo served during the Vietnam War. He was deployed to Cu Chi, republic of Vietnam in the 25th Infantry Division and then joined the 25th Medical Battalion in Vietnam on May 1, 1966. Then Captain Romo directed the mental health services at Cu Chi base camp. After seven months in this position, he received a transfer to Long Binh, Vietnam to be the Executive Officer for the 935th Psychiatric Detachment unit.
3. What was your rank?
Jacob Romo reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while he was the Director of Human Services in charge of Substance Abuse Services, Army Community Services and Equal Opportunity programs in Germany.
4. What country or countries did you serve in?
Romo served in the United States, including Hawaii, Germany, and Vietnam.
5. Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
Romo recalled his first days in service as confusing. He found it to be a big change as he needed to learn the “how-to’s” of marching, saluting, being acclimated to arms, and getting used to the uniform. There was also an adjudgment in his role of his everyday life since he would no longer be a free civilian but someone who needed to abide by many rules and needed to fulfill all expectations. It was truly a time when he learned the most of how things worked.
6. Did you see combat? Were there many casualties in your unit?
While serving in Vietnam, his unit was often mortared and there were many casualties. He said that it was tragic to have many Americans killed in combat and it made it very difficult to fight the enemy.
7. What enabled you to get a Bronze Star?
The Bronze Star is not awarded on the basis of valor or heroic actions. Instead it is handed to those recognized as having an outstanding performance of assigned duties. Romo received a Bronze Star for his exceptional work in Vietnam, recognized by his boss at the time.
8. What was your experience like as Director of Human Services in Germany?
In July 1975, Major Romo was assigned to the 21st Support Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany as Director of Human Services in charge of Substance Abuse Services, Army Community Services, and Race Relations/Equal Opportunity programs. It was while he was in Germany that he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
Romo described his job as Director of Human Services as having many different responsibilities. The programs he headed were not so much for German citizens but to better the situation of American soldiers. For example, he made sure minorities were treated properly and, for those who needed, he made sure anyone could attain substance abuse treatment. Being a Jew in Germany took a great emotional toll on him since Romo had family who were killed in the Holocaust.
9. Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
In Germany, the army didn’t have a Jewish chaplain, but the air force had one in Ramstein, Germany. Romo and many other Jewish soldiers would go to the air force base for services. When he was transferred to the Kaiserslautern base, he was asked to be the lay leader there. In this role, he took care of the needs of Jewish soldiers, which may have involved problems with command and food. He also helped conduct services and would be a voice advocating for the Jewish soldier that commanders would listen to.
10. Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
The only time Romo experienced antisemitism was dealing with one officer who held prejudice against him for being Jewish. He commented that this particular officer had made antisemitic actions against other personnel as well, however, he said this was the one time he felt he was treated differently because of his religion.
11. If so, how did you deal with it? Did you learn anything from it?
While growing up in Peabody, Romo said there were many multiethnic families, and some didn’t like Jews. He knew how to deal with the antisemitic encounter while on duty and put it into perspective because he knew about antisemitism firsthand from his high school. However, he did comment that after he finished school, he experienced a very minimal amount of prejudice from others because of being Jewish.
12. How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
While in Germany, the Jewish German Chaplain led many Friday night services and High Holiday services that the soldiers would attend. Additionally, while in Texas, Romo said he was a part of a civilian Jewish congregation where he attended many services. He also partook in military services where civilians would be welcome. Overall, he remarked that it is very possible to remain in a strong Jewish faith while in the military.
13. Were there any specific accomplishments that awarded you the Meritorious Service Medal, as well as meritorious unit and Republic of Vietnam medals?
Many of the awards he received and many of the awards given out in the military, he said, are because an assigned job was done above average and it deserves recognition. The Meritorious Service Medal was awarded to Romo for his exceptional work while a part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon where he was the Director of Retirement Studies in the Office of Military Personnel Policy for three years. Awards like the Republic of Vietnam medal and meritorious unit are awarded because one is in a specific place and is recognized for successful work that occurred.
14. Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
Romo’s closest military friend is the Jewish Chaplain from the air force who has been his friend since 1972. He has also developed friendships with many Christians and Jews. He also made many friends while in San Antonio, Texas. He continues to keep in contact with a friend who was in the Coast Guard in Michigan and worked with Romo at the Pentagon.
15. When you returned to Massachusetts to work on veteran affairs in 2003, did being on active duty enhance your ability to help others, especially for your role at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center?
Dr. Romo felt being on active duty greatly enhanced his ability to help others since he knew the system and stresses of being in combat. It is important to note that at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center most employees had not been in the military. Veterans often don’t want to talk about their experience with civilians because it is hard for them to understand and therefore provide the best help. In a one on one setting, Romo would be able to talk to them and address their issues because they knew that they were being understood. This was an empowering position for Romo as he truly enjoyed helping people.
16. How did your service and experiences affect your life?
His service greatly affected his life as he was able to make a career out of the army. He also gained the opportunity to understand what it means to defend your country, to be American, and to be appreciative of military people. The army also allowed for him to continue in his education. While he was a regular officer, the army selected him to go to Brandeis University at the military’s expense which allowed him to focus on studies without worrying about a job to pay for it. Furthermore, his time in the service gave him the opportunity to travel to many different places such as Hawaii, Europe, and many areas of the U.S.
17. I notice you held many leadership positions throughout your career, did you learn anything about leadership during your service? How did your service inspire leadership in you?
As an officer, Romo said, everything is about leadership because it is all about learning how to manage programs and motivate people. While in a combat infantry, there was a great diversity of people he was in charge and not only that, but many became injured and people got killed. In this position, he learned to make sure people were able to accomplish their crucial jobs in times of distress. In his medical career and as a brand-new lieutenant, people worked for him, and he was responsible to assign them work, inspire them, and correct their mistakes. Overall, he said that the military instills what is needed to be learned in order to become an effective leader.
18. What was it like to have the honor of presenting your work at the national conventions of the Jewish War Veterans?
Romo was requested to write and present papers at the national conventions of the Jewish War Veterans because of his broad experience in providing mental health while he was on active duty and with the Department of Veterans. He shared information on PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military and veterans’ suicide, and other issues that impacted soldiers, their families, and veterans.
Romo explained that there was great risk in presenting work to such a broad audience because people have to accept it to value. Nevertheless, he felt it was a great honor to be selected and on the agenda. He believed it was well received.
19. What was your involvement like as part of the Jewish War Veterans post 220? Are you still involved presently?
Romo served as the Post Commander of the Jewish War Veterans post 220 in Peabody, MA, as well as Commander of the Department of Massachusetts Jewish War Veterans.
He is now an active member living out the organizations mission and no longer an officer (he began as a member and went up in leadership positions). He was also chosen for state commander for two years.
20. Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
He explained that Jewish War Veterans is the oldest continual organized group of veterans that is still prevalent today. After the Civil War, there was a myth that Jews did not serve, however, it is greatly untrue. The organization, Romo said, helps remind people that Jews, back to the Revolutionary War, were and are loyal Americans. He made the remark that in Israel Jews are expected to serve out of high school while in the U.S., many Jews volunteer to serve in the military. Either way, Jews have always served and won with great honor.
Romo also stressed the role serving in the military had on his life as it allowed him to pursue his profession and it has made him immensely proud to have been able to be a part of something so impactful.
Julia Rosenberg: Dr. Romo reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He explained that the teachings of military purposely transform soldiers into leaders. During his service, leadership also took form in motivating others and making sure the job gets done. His service is a form of leadership because his small actions contribute to a stronger country which with his perspective of being on active duty, can influence others to hold pride in their country and to be a proud American.
I believe that being a veteran is a form of leadership because as a leader, you are also a teacher. While many of the experiences veterans hold from their days in service can be very difficult to come to terms with, it is important for them to share their experiences so civilians have a better understanding of all the great work the military does to protect those at home. In some cases, sharing experiences may even give more insight into history.
I learned from the interview that a person’s leadership capabilities truly don’t have a limit. Romo learned all about leadership as an officer since he managed programs and motivated people. But, he also was a leader during combat, for Jewish soldiers, throughout his medical career, while a part of the Jewish War Veterans, and a leader though so much more. This strengthens the idea that anyone can be a leader because there are so many opportunities to help others and positively lead them.
I was greatly inspired by many of Romo’s experiences that made up his courageous career. He was and continues to be dedicated to his work and continuing his education. He not only graduated with an undergraduate degree from UMass Amherst, but gained a Master of Social Work degree from UPenn, and then pursued postgraduate training at Brandies where he received his Ph.D. in Social Welfare Planning. This extensive background in conjunction with his role serving the United States in the army allowed him to help and make a great impact on others to the best of his ability.
The interview experience was very meaningful to me. Jacob Romo generously shared his rich life and experiences which have truly left me in awe. It has left me greatly inspired to hold in high regard the value of helping others because it can be accomplished throughout one’s whole life. I have also learned a lot of valuable information on what it is like serving for one’s country and courageousness that come with it. Additionally, it was incredibly insightful to receive all of this information in the perspective of a Jewish veteran.
Jacob Romo left me with much to think about. One thing that he suggested I look more into is the history of Jewish War Veterans. His explanation of the role Jews have played in serving America during numerous wars was very interesting and I will definitely look into what their impact was specifically in U.S. history.
Name of Veteran: Alan Rosenblut
Date of Interview: July 27, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Josh Rosenblut
When did you serve in the armed forces? Korean War
Did you enlist or were you drafted? Enlist
If you enlisted, why did you enlist? Avoid being drafted – was able to pick unit
Which branch did you serve in? Army
Why did you pick this branch? Only Available
What were your dates of service? During & Prior to the Korean War
Did you serve during a war? Korean War
What was your rank? Sargent
What country or countries did you serve in? USA
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Miserable
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Some
Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? Prejudice against him because he was Jewish
How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? Had Services
Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? Definitely
If so, how did you deal with it? Continued to push forward through the army through the prejudice
Did you learn anything from it? Yes, there are foolish people in the world
Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. Getting out of the service
Were you awarded any medals or citations? Yes, part of Disabled American Veterans
Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? Yes, able to take charge and deliver goals especially when he was able to implement them when he went to work after the army
How did your service inspire leadership in you? Taught him leadership qualities that led him to become a leader during and after the army
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? Good experience, able to accomplish goals, learned things that carried him throughout life
Josh Rosenblut: My grandfather Alan Rosenblut thinks being a veteran is a form of leadership because he was in a leadership position as Sargent and he learned leadership qualities that he took with him throughout life. I also think being a veteran is a form of leadership because you need to lead people into “battle” and give them orders or someone could get hurt or even die so it’s really important to be a leader as it’s life or death situations in the military.
I learned from the interview that throughout life you can learn leadership qualities that you can take through life and be able to do it in lots of different situations. If you’re able to do this, then you are a great leader as you can take one thing from one situation and implement into a completely different situation.
I was inspired to learn that my grandfather had a leadership position in the army and was able to take the leadership qualities he gained and use them throughout life.
The interview was special for me because I was able to learn.
Name of Jewish Veteran: Glenn Rosin (GR)
Date of Interview: August 9, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Nate Rottenberg (NR)
NR: When did you serve in the armed forces?
GR: I was in the service for three years as a doctor from 1967 to 1970.
NR: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
GR: I was finishing my residency and instead of being drafted, I signed a document saying that I could finish my residency if I went into the navy after I finished.
NR: Which branch did you serve in?
GR: I was in the navy as a lieutenant. Then I was promoted to a lieutenant commander.
NR: Did you serve during a war?
GR: I served during the Vietnam war.
NR: What countries did you serve in?
GR: I served in the flagship hospital in Maryland for a year and in Guam for two years.
NR: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
GR: I walked into the huge naval hospital and felt really lost. I didn’t know where anything was.
NR: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
GR: I served with 4 or 5 other Jewish doctors in Guam.
NR: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
GR: We would hear from the other non-Jewish people, and during the sales that we had with the civilians of Guam, they would sometimes say, “Can I Jew you down?” But I didn’t really have any major challenges because I was Jewish. In fact, one of the high-ranking doctors was Jewish and led services with the rest of our Jewish congregation.
NR: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
GR: I remember multiple times when we had to perform surgeries on over 50 wounded warriors. We had to rush around helping a lot of people, which was a lot of work. My wife Sandy and my two young kids went to Guam with me, and I remember watching them have fun in a pool that was on the base.
NR: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
GR: Because there were a great number of wounded soldiers almost every night, I was able to become a better doctor throughout my experience in the navy, which helped me in my practicing after I left the navy.
NR: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
GR: I had to be a leader towards some of the assistants in order to guide them while they were helping out with the wounded.
NR: Do you think being a veteran is a form of leadership?
GR: Yes. In addition to my naval obligations, I was asked to help out at a civilian hospital and help out the other civilian surgeons.
NR: Did you receive any medals or citations?
GR: I had the combat medal and 2 or 3 other medals, but I forget what they were called.
Nate Rottenberg: Dr. Rosin thinks his service was a form of leadership because he had to lead other doctors and assistants in tending to the wounded soldiers. I also think being a veteran is a form of leadership because there are many times when a veteran has to make difficult decisions, which is something that a leader has to do. What I learned from the interview is that leadership takes many forms. It can take the form of one leader guiding people, a group of people leading others, or everyone working together to reach a common goal. I was inspired by how hard Dr. Rosin worked with his other doctors during his service. Helping so many soldiers every night must have been really hard work, but he persevered for three whole years and saved many lives.
The interview was a really valuable experience to me because I have never had the opportunity to talk to a war veteran before, and I learned a lot about the life of a veteran from the interview.
Name of Veteran: Robert Scharff, Vietnam War Veteran
Date of interview: August 5, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Noah Kleinlehrer
Name of Jewish War Veteran interviewed: Robert Scharff
Mr. Scharff enlisted in the Navy and served as an officer from 1966-1969. He graduated from Wash U in 1965. He was single, and working for Ford Motor Company. On July 31st President Johnson wanted to send more men to Vietnam. He knew he was going to get drafted, so, because his father and grandfather served, and because he didn’t want to be a private, he enlisted in Officer School. His Navy Officers acceptance letter beat the Army’s draft notice. Mr. Scharff picked the Navy because his father and grandfather served in the Navy.
Mr. Scharff served during the Vietnam War, and his rank was lieutenant or the equivalent of a captain in the army. He was in Taiwan and Vietnam.
Mr. Scharff’s first days in the service were incredible. He left the air force base outside of LA, flew to Hawaii, Guam, and then finally to Danag, which held the largest US Navy port in the world. He reported to Admiral Zumewald, was given his original uniform, taken to the BOQ bachelor office, and finally to his hotel which was nicknamed the White Elephant. He got orders from the Admiral, and remembers being on the roof, having a gin and tonic, leaning over the roof, and viewing the streets of Danag. He recalls hearing the sounds of Vietnam, and how it was truly fascinating to see the life there. They flew to Qilai, had to fly around enemy territory into the private area and the camp. He mainly thought about how much time he had left. He recalled a mortar attack he experienced on his first day where a ship in the harbor blew up. There was a big hole in the LST floating in the sea where a bomb had been dropped. He knew explosions came in twos, but because the second explosion had not gone off yet, he went with an electrician to fix the problem, walked away, and suddenly the second explosion went off, killing a few of his men. After that, he was constantly in fear.
There were other Jewish soldiers who served with him. In OCS every Friday night was for cleaning, sports competitions, time with friends, etc. However, it was the time where all Jews went into Newport for services at the oldest synagogue in America. All religions had services, his superior eventually pushed him to attend the services. Being Jewish was not a challenge for him because they were all fighting together for the same cause. In Vietnam Jewish soldiers went to see the rabbi in Danang for the high holy days.
Mr. Scharff was teased a tiny bit about being Jewish, but nothing significant. There were only a few jokes which stopped after a talking to by Mr. Scharff because he was their superior. Because he was their superior, he showed them his dog tags which showed he was Jewish, and all ended after that. He taught his men something about being accepting and kind to all.
Mr. Scharff saw combat. He feared every day that he would face combat every day. There were only a few casualties in his unit.
Mr. Scharff was not a prisoner of war, however he was sent through survival school where you learn how to do all basic survival skills, then you had to survive by yourself, given a compass, couldn’t be captured. He was put in a mock POW camp where he experienced 3 days of living in a POW camp, what you do and don’t do. They made it brutal, there was real life interrogation and no food. He was put in a coffin and drenched with water. The higher officials tried to get you to talk, and you learned that you shouldn’t be captured. It was called SERE school.
He was awarded 6 in total including the Navy Accommodation Medal, the Bronze Star for leading one of the largest attacks in American History on a Viet Cong base where they lost a few boats, and rescued a few boats and men.
Mr. Scharff made close friendships while in the service. His friends and superiors both were good friends. They lightened each other up so they wouldn’t be nervous.
The whole Navy experience taught Mr. Scharff leadership. The experience of being in charge of 200 men was life-changing. He ran a very tight ship with high expectations, and that taught him he could survive and endure anything after Vietnam. Slowly as years have gone by, he became more open about his service. He has talked to many people about service, including other soldiers today. He usually buys them coffee, and some even stand and salute him. Mr. Scharff is not intimidated anymore, as he once was. He now realizes that this experience was very important for his life.
Mr. Scharff thinks his service is a form of leadership because he was an officer. He was given a lot of responsibility, which helped him later in life. The skills he learned not only in the officer training program but also during action helped him succeed in his career and personal life. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. Whether they are officers or enlisted soldiers, all veterans possess experiences and stories that can either inspire or help motivate young leaders. What I learned from the interview is how leadership can come in many different forms from being a veteran to being a local community leader. I was inspired by his will and call to take action for his country. It meant a lot to me to hear from someone who has first-hand experience of serving their country. I felt honored to hear his stories and experiences. I am left wondering about the different experiences of other veterans and how they differ.
Name of Veteran: Stanley Scheiner (SS)
Date of interview: July 27, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Noah Weinberg (NW)
NW: If you enlisted, why did you enlist?
SS: Because I was getting married. The draft was in force at the time. I had just graduated college in January of 1956. I got married in February. I didn’t want to start a job and/or family and get drafted, so I decided to enlist.
NW: Which branch did you serve in?
SS: US Army.
NW: Why did you pick this branch?
SS: It just seemed the obvious one. I didn’t want to fly and I didn’t want to be on the ocean.
NW: Did you serve during a war? If so, which one?
SS: No. I served between wars.
NW: What was your rank?
NW: What country did you serve in?
SS: United States.
NW: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
SS: It was basic training, and it was enlightening to say the least. When you get in the Army, you’re not serving with college graduates, you know? A lot of Southerners there, there was a fair amount of anti-Semitism.
NW: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
SS: I didn’t have very many in basic training. I had a few more when I was assigned to my duty after I finished training and schooling. During basic training, there was very little, and I had one Jewish soldier with me when I was in radio operator school.
NW: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
SS: Yeah, there was a lot of anti-Semitic things that would come up that you had to deal with.
NW: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
SS: We used to have a lieutenant. I was actually stationed after I finished my basic training and radio operating school at Fort Dix. I was reassigned to Arizona at Fort Huachuca, and we had a chaplain that was at the base, and my wife and I used to go to Friday night services. We probably had about 5 other couples that went and maybe 2 or 3 single soldiers.
NW: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
NW: How did you deal with it?
SS: The few times that it happened I confronted it. I just dealt with it. It was really a long time ago. There were no fights or anything. I just protected my face and even with other friends that might have been harassed.
NW: Did you learn anything from it?
SS: Just that it’s out there. I learned about it in business. It’s just out there, you know? It’s everywhere. It really is. I mean, it may not be here in Montclair, I don’t know. I haven’t experienced it here, but I did experience it in the military and in business a lot.
NW: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
SS: I can describe a lot of them. Even though I was stateside my whole two years in active duty. The one thing that I always found interesting was that I took a mid-range radio operator course. I was originally selected to go into the CIC, the Counter-Intelligence Corps, and I skipped–the six-week of basic training always has classification and assignment where soldiers get the next thing that they’re going to do–but I was told we didn’t have to because we were going to. We accepted the fact that we would go to CIC, so that came the seventh week. But then they wanted us, the three of us in the company, were pulled out for CIC. But they wanted us to sign up for an extra year, which they didn’t tell us originally, so I opted out of that, and I figured I would just take my chances on a two-year program because I was married at the time.
Anyway, what happened was I got assigned to Arizona, Fort Huachuca. I went out there beginning of September, I brought my wife out in the middle of September, found a place to live in Tombstone, Arizona and within two weeks of the time that she came out, I found out that my unit was a communications unit was going to be reassigned to Nevada because we were supposed to be the communication company for the atom bomb testing in Nevada. I was really upset because Bobbi had just come out and we had just found a place to live. If I had to go to Nevada, we would be in the field five days a week, and she would have to live by herself. Being a smart Jewish kid, I was able to go up to JAG, that’s the legal office in the military. I actually found a Jewish lieutenant from Chicago, got interviewed by him–this was all on my own–and wanted to see if he could take on a junior associate because I did have some law courses that I took when I was in college, and he agreed. I made an impression on him, and then he sent a transfer down to my unit, I got called out of an early morning formation that we called Slater, my company commander tore up the request to have me transferred. I said: “Holy ****. I had an out and now I lost it.” But that following weekend, we lived in a motel in Tombstone, and it had a pool, and I was in the pool playing with two kids that my wife had come down–they came down a little later–it was a heavyset gentleman sitting on a lounge, Bobbi started talking to him. Long story short, he was a general at the fort, Bobbi told him about our situation, he put in a request to have me transferred up to work for him, they could not tear that up, so I ended up spending the next 18 months in Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and I never had to go to Nevada. Between my wife and I, we did a good job of making our military career something unforgettable. It would have been terrible. Even in no wartime, there are interesting things that happen in the military.
NW: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
SS: Yes, I got a Good Conduct award.
NW: How did you get them?
SS: What happened was when I was assigned to this general, they put me into a GS9 slot. It was a communications fort, and they had a lot of contracts with major communication companies, RCA, others. I took over for a soldier that was being discharged, and we both held a civil service GS9 slot. Apparently, I did a good job, and it was well beyond my experience in terms of–I just had college experience, I didn’t have work experience–but apparently they were really pleased with the job that I did for the 18 months.
NW: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
SS: We did, we did. One was with a non-Jewish couple that I was in basic training with from Connecticut. He and his wife and Bobby and I became quite friendly the six months that we were stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey. We stayed in touch for many years after that. Then, of course, I made a number of friends when I was living out in Arizona. We stayed really friendly with them for the next, I mean they lived in Chicago so you couldn’t see them on a regular basis but when they came to New York or when I was in Chicago, we would always see each other.
NW: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
SS: It was interesting for me because I was 21 years old when I enlisted. I was 21 years old when I got married. What I found was that my relationship with my wife, instead of getting married and living in the same geographical area as her parents and my parents, we just had to go 3000 or 2500 miles away and start our married life. It was done without family around, without old friends around, without a support group that we would have had if we had started here where we grew up and had met. I think it strengthened, from my point-of-view and Bobbi’s also, it really strengthened our relationship. We were there by ourselves, we had to make the go of it, and we did. We’ve been married for 55 years, so.
NW: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
SS: I definitely did. I was a squad leader in basic training, and I saw the leadership of some really good military men. Definitely learned from them.
NW: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
SS: That’s a good question. I think I learned because of the position that I held in the Army, I had people underneath me. I think it helped me a lot in terms of dealing with subordinates.
NW: What was your career after being in the military?
SS: I graduated with a financial degree, and when I returned from military life to civilian life, I thought that I would start a career in finance and accounting. But the job offers that I had when I came back with accounting firms were really, quite low, it was like $50 a week. The apartment that we found was $72 a month, and I was looking to at least make weekly what my monthly rental would be. I turned those down, and I looked for private accounting jobs with corporations. I got two offers, one from Scott Paper, one from Revlon Cosmetics, same week I got the offers, went back to my wife, asked her if she wanted free toilet paper or free cosmetics. She made the decision for me, and I spent my whole career at Revlon International, and I got out of the finance department within the first year I was there. I had exposure to the payroll of the employees, not the top executives but most the employees. I saw where the salaries were, and they were much better in marketing than they were in finance. Fortunately, my boss really liked me, and when I asked him for a transfer, he agreed, so my whole career was marketing internationally.
NW: What was it like returning to civilian life after two years in the military?
SS: It was really easy because I wasn’t in a wartime situation, I wasn’t in a battle-time situation, I was working with government employees, although there were lieutenants, colonels, and generals that were military. A lot of the people there were civilians. It was kind of an easy transition for me.
NW: Has anyone else in your family served in the military?
SS: Not my immediate family. My brother-in-law did.
Noah Weinberg: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership in that it shows dedication and willingness to rise to the occasion for the greater good. From the interview I learned that leadership from the military can carry over into leadership in the business world. The interview experience was a great chance to hear an interesting story and reflect on the challenges and experiences some people face in their lives.
Name of Jewish Veteran: David Schuchat
Date of interview: August 18, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Benson Schuchat, David Schuchat is my great uncle.
- When did you serve in the armed forces? March 19, 1954 to February 21, 1956
- Did you enlist or were you drafted? Drafted
- Which branch did you serve in? Army
- Why did you pick this branch? I did not pick. I was assigned
- Did you serve during a war? Korean War
- What was your rank? Private 1st Class
- What country or countries did you serve in? US and Germany
- Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Very interesting
- Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Yes, many
- Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? No
- How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? I went to services a few times
- Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? No
- Tell me about a memorable experience during your service. There were many
- Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Yes
- How did your service and experiences affect your life? I learned a lot about how an organization works
- Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? Perhaps
Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview? I was acting platoon Sargent. Unless you were a trigger puller in war time, it was an experience you never forget
Benson Schuchat: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership veterans have a unique experience and that experience forges most into leaders. What I learned about leadership from the interview is that you don’t always choose to be a leader. Sometimes you just have to step up and lead if no one else is. It was great to hear what my oldest family member still alive had to say about his experiences over 70 years ago. I am left wondering if he has more to tell. He doesn’t talk a lot about his experiences.
May 2, 1925
Lucy New (LN) interviewed veteran Harvey Segal (HS) on June 5, 2020.
Harvey Segal served in the army during WWII from August 1943 to October 1945. He picked the army because his father convinced him that it was the right branch to choose. Mr. Segal was a Private First Class and served in Wales, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
LN: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
HS: I was bewildered, confused, and in awe. It was a different life than what I was used to.
LN: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
HS: I served with other Jewish soldiers, and I had some Jewish friends.
LN: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
HS: I did not have any incidents of difficulty because I was Jewish.
LN: Did you see combat?
HS: I saw combat on D Day, Battle of the Bulge, and throughout Europe.
LN: Were there many casualties in your unit?
HS: There were many casualties. I lost my best friend.
LN: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
HS: My most memorable experience during service was liberating a concentration camp. Some of the prisoners in the camp asked me to say Kaddish with them.
LN: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
HS: I was awarded five major campaign medals. I also received the French Legion of Honor from France, and a medal from the mayor of Treviers, France when I visited there in 2019.
LN: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
HS: My experiences matured me. I was unable to talk about my experiences for many years.
LN: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
HS: I learned that proper leadership is very important.
LN: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
HS: I was taught how to survive and help others around me.
LN: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
HS: I and another veteran from my platoon were in a town called Wirtzfeld, Germany at the end of the war. The two of us were looking for an observation post to send artillery fire on the Germans. We spotted a couple of German soldiers who were running between houses. After we fired a machine gun at them, German soldiers came out of every house with their hands up, surrendering. I lined them up and marched them a mile to the M.P.S., having captured 100 German soldiers.
LN: Mr. Segal thinks his service is a form of leadership because it taught him how to be responsible for himself and those around him. I certainly think being a veteran is a form of leadership. Veterans do not fight for themselves, they fight for their country/for a cause. Leaders have to act in ways that benefit the greater good, not just themselves, which is what veterans do. What I learned from the interview is that to be a leader doesn’t mean you’re always in control, Harvey and many other veterans had no way of controlling what would happen in battle and how things would pan out, yet he and the other veterans are all still leaders. Harvey’s story inspired me because in school and in general we are taught about World War II, but rarely people are taught the stories of American soldiers who fought in the war. After hearing Harvey’s story, I’m interested in hearing many more stories of veterans who fought in World War II. This interview is really special to me because my generation is probably the last generation that will have the opportunity to hear stories of World War II directly from veterans and the survivors. I have never had the opportunity to hear this perspective of the war from a veteran, and I appreciate how open Harvey was to sharing his experience.
Name of Veteran: Alan Slotnick (AS)
Date of Interview: August 6, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Leah Breakstone (LB)
LB: When did you serve in the armed forces?
AS: 1957-1961, and then after just getting home I ended up having to serve two more years after that until 1963.
LB: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
AS: Enlisted. I wanted to be a child psychologist and was very physically fit. I was under the influence of my family’s suggestions. My uncle was in the Navy and I was impressed by that.
LB: Which branch did you serve in?
LB: Why did you pick this branch?
AS: My mother did not want her boys to get dirty and didn’t want them to sleep in mud. I also got to go to places I have never been to.
LB: Did you serve during a war?
AS: I served during the Vietnam War era.
LB: What was your rank?
AS: Entered as a Fireman Apprentice and eventually became a Sergeant.
LB: What countries did you serve in?
AS: US, France, Crete, Rhodes, Africa, Greece, Egypt, Caribbean, Italy, among others.
LB: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
AS: They were confusing. I didn’t want any responsibilities and I didn’t want to be a leader.
LB: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
AS: In total, there were two Jewish boys on the ship.
LB: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
AS: I had to decorate a Christmas Tree and realized it was around Hannukah but I could not find a single candle on the ship and I wanted to celebrate. I took the wax off of the cardboard boxes to make a candle and the Captain accused me of sabotage and treason.
LB: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
AS: In general, we did not.
LB: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
AS: There was not a lot of Antisemitism on the ship. Everyone was a big family.
LB: Did you see combat?
AS: On the Shore Patrol, I witnessed the assassination of former Dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo on Tuesday, May 30, 1961.
LB: Were there many casualties in your unit?
AS: No, but there were some injuries among the marines.
LB: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
AS: I was in Italy and I always wanted to go to the Vatican. Some guys on the ship wanted rosaries. I ended up getting blessed by the Pope and I got sprayed with the Holy Water. I saw that it made spots on my uniform so I sent it to the wash on the ship, and I got it back and there were still spots on it. They never came out.
LB: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
AS: The Good Conduct Medal
LB: How did you get them?
AS: I did what they wanted but went above and beyond. When we went to France (I was still a Grunt), a Nun and some children from an orphanage came to take a tour of the ship. No one spoke French, except me but I only took it in high school, so I was not that good, but I had to give the tour of the ship. The kids later sent a letter to the Captain thanking him.
LB: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
AS: It was a big family. You meet a lot of people and bond with a lot of people. They become like a real family to you
LB: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
AS: A few years ago, my mother in law said that someone she knew had the same hat as me from when I served. I ended up reconnecting with him.
LB: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
AS: Yes. As I went up in rank I knew how to handle people who were working for me. I went to work in electronics after and I learned how to delegate and receive information. I had five restaurants and I knew how to delegate so the staff didn’t feel like they were lower than me.
LB: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
AS: It brought the leadership out of me because when I went in I didn’t want any responsibility because I had so much responsibility at home because I took care of my parents and interpreted for them since they were deaf. In the service, all I wanted to do was for them to tell me what they wanted me to do and I would do it.
Leah Breakstone: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because you are serving something greater than yourself and are becoming a role model. What I learned about leadership from the interview is being a leader does not necessarily mean you are higher up than others. You can be a leader no matter your rank or your social status. I was inspired by Mr. Slotnick’s life specifically outside of his time serving. Both of his parents were hard of hearing and as the oldest child in his family, Mr. Slotnick took the responsibility of being their caretaker and interpreting for them. The interview experience was very meaningful to me. I was able to hear how passionate Mr. Slotnick was about his time serving. He told me two hours of his favorite stories, and how his family played a big role in his life.
Daniel Steckler, WWII Jewish veteran, served in the 110th Infantry of the U.S. Army, from June 9, 1943-Novermber 10, 1945. His rank was Private First-Class Company M 110th Infantry. Mr. Steckler served in England, France and Germany.
Date of Birth: 2/26/1925
Sabrina Glaser, his granddaughter, interviewed family members since Daniel Steckler passed away.
Date of interview: August 12, 2020
He was 18 and his first days in service were spent in basic training. He wrote to his parents: “I was on a detail on a range with some of the other fellows. The next two days we practiced approaching the enemy.” He marched from 8pm until 6am, which was around 25 miles of walking, while holding 40 pounds of weapons. He had been carrying loads of weapons for weeks so it didn’t phase him. He dug fox holes 3 feet deep, practiced defense, and built tents, until he graduated from basic training.
Sam Fahrer was another Jewish soldier with my grandfather. There were challenges during his service because he was Jewish. Many soldiers who had never met a Jew or a “New York Jew,” as they called him, physically hurt him and beat him up. This ended when a kind, strong, Mormon threatened to hurt anyone who touched him. My grandfather said that the man picked up two soldiers and smashed their bodies together. My grandfather practiced his Judaism during his service by praying silently to himself.
My grandfather experienced antisemitism during his service. He was imprisoned with Jews in Berga and derElster, a satellite camp of Buchenwald. He was proud to be Jewish; when the Nazis asked the Jews to step forward in the POW camp, he did, and was transferred with the other Jewish soldiers to Berga. He was always proud to be Jewish and never lost faith.
My grandfather saw combat. He fought in many battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. Only 63 survivors of the Berga POW camp out of the 350 prisoners.
My grandfather was a hero. When a fellow prisoner, Sam Fahrer, was injured and ill, my grandfather carried him down the hill to the worksight, then back up the hill at night. If Sam did not report to the worksight, he would have been shot by the Nazis. My grandfather saved Sam’s life; it was an example of heroism and caring for others.
My grandfather was a prisoner of war. “Daniel D. Steckler… The thumb on his right hand is squashed horribly. He was leaning on his shovel one day for a few seconds respite from enforced labor and one of the German workers drove a pick into his hand… A few days later, while adjusting the bandage, another German civilian hit him with a shovel and while he was on the ground, unconscious, the worker ground his heel into the soldier’s injured thumb. The incident is one of many recounted by the soldier.” From a newspaper article from an interview of Daniel Steckler, my grandfather
My grandfather was awarded two purple hearts and one bronze star.
My grandfather’s military service affected his life. He believed in helping people, and this continued once he got home from war. At his funeral, his brother said that he lived the motto that “no man should ever be left behind,” as he had done when carrying and helping his fellow soldiers. His military service inspired leadership in him. His resilience was everlasting.
In an interview that appeared in Hadassah Magazine in 2002, my grandfather said, “You kept each other warm at night by huddling together. We maintained each other’s welfare by sharing body heat, by sharing the paper-thin blankets that were given to us, by sharing the soup, by sharing the bread, by sharing everything.”
My grandfather thought his military service was a form of leadership. He was from “the Greatest Generation” who wanted to continue freedom. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because they are leading the fight for their country. What I learned from this interview is that leadership comes in many forms, and my grandfather exhibited his leadership through resilience.
I was inspired by the interview to learn more about my heroic grandfather. I also learned that helping others and having loyalty are the most important qualities to have. I now feel more connected to my grandfather. I feel proud to have known him and call him my grandfather.
Name of Veteran: Joe Valof
When did you serve in the armed forces? 1956-1958 [active duty]
Did you enlist or were you drafted? Commissioned as a 2nd Lt through Northeastern University’s 4-year ROTC Program
Which branch did you serve in? Signal Corp
Why did you pick this branch? Only ROTC Option
What were your dates of service? Commissioned as a 2nd Lt at Fort Gordon, George in 1955, served in active reserves until 1967
What was your rank? Captain
What country or countries did you serve in? Europe, in the 17th Signal Battalion, located in Karlsruhe, Germany
Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like? Yes, after my 3-day orientation and meeting with all the officers, I was assigned as an Assistant Platoon leader that had over 150 enlisted men. 2 weeks later the battalion went on field exercisers in France where our rear field headquarters was located. I adjusted to my new environment quickly.
Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you? Yes. there was only one Jewish officer out of about 65 total officers in the battalion. After I and another Jewish officer from NU arrived, we now had 3 Jewish officers.
Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish? Yes, one stands out to this day. The Battalion Commander called me directly one day to tell me that a private in another Company [who I did not know, but was Jewish] is facing a Special Court-Martial for steeling and selling blankets. The Col knew I was Jewish and wanted me to sit on the Board [very unusual for a 2nd Lt to sit on such a Board], to make sure that the private’s rights were fully protected, as he had a feeling this might be an anti-Semitic situation. After the all-day hearing I was successful in convincing the three other Board members that it was an obvious set-up as he had no financial reason to steel blankets which were found in his locker. Someone in the barracks put had them there and claimed he did it. The private was a college and a law school graduate so why would he jeopardize his career by steeling blankets. He was drafted immediately after finishing law school. We presented these facts to the Col and he directed that all records of this case be destroyed and to re-assign him to an outpost we had in France so he can safely complete the three months left in his tour. That evening late at night we packed his things and drove him to France. [We did a mitzvah]. If found guilty he would not be able to take any bar exam nor be a lawyer. Unfortunately, I don’t recall his name but I think about him occasionally and wonder if he turned out to be a successful lawyer.
How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served? All Jewish personnel were given time off for the high-holidays, and my Jewish officer friend took me to a very small synagogue in Baden-Baden that he had been to before, we were warmly greeted. There was no synagogue in Karlsruhe.
Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service? No. I believe there were only 2-3 Jewish enlisted personnel out of over a 1,000 in the Battalion, so other than described in number 12, it was not a major problem.
Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Yes, many close friends. In 1992 we formed an Association that I incorporated as a MA non-profit and served on the Board. We had at one point 450 members and held reunions every 2 years. We had to dissolve the Association as we had very few members, none were able to attend the next reunion, I am still in touch with several members via email. I kept in touch with my Jewish friend up until his passing several years ago. He made the army his career and retired as a full Col.
How did your service and experiences affect your life? Serving in the military for over 12 years was the best time of my life. I was able to get my law degree through the veterans benefits program which allowed me to have a very successful 50 year career as an in-house counsel.
Did you learn anything about leadership during your service? Yes, it taught me to be a leader and gave me the opportunity to handle and make important decisions.
How did your service inspire leadership in you? After my promotion to 1st Lt, I took over the platoon and was directly responsible for over 150 enlisted men.
Rabbi Ramon Widmonte
Name of Veteran: Rabbi Ramon Widmonte
Date of Interview: September 7, 2020
Name of interviewer: Katya Golan
Katya: When did you serve in the armed forces?
Rabbi Ramon: I began serving in the armed forces in 1997. I am not sure of the exact date, but I was in the Israeli army for two and a half years.
Katya: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
Rabbi Ramon: I volunteered to join the army. At the time, a lot of my friends who were also lone soldiers joined. They encouraged me to do the same, and it was truly an unforgettable experience.
Katya: If you enlisted, why did you enlist?
Rabbi Ramon: I enlisted as I believed it was the right thing to do. We see throughout Jewish history and Jewish Destiny how Jews have allowed themselves to be at the mercy of other people. One of the courses I run is on the founders of Zionism. One of them, Leon Pinsker, wrote a book about Auto-Emancipation. He wrote in there that Jews are like Cinderella. In real life she doesn’t get her knight in shining armour, in real life she dies scrubbing the floor because she never got up. Jews have to dare to get up. I was also in a Yeshiva. All my friends would go fight and I’d be left behind. I felt it was the appropriate time to enlist.
Katya: Which branch did you serve in?
Rabbi Ramon: I served in Tanks, in Armour.
Katya: Why did you pick this branch?
Rabbi Ramon: Being in the army meant I couldn’t pick which branch I went into, however I was taught to adapt. This skill has helped me so much in life. The branch you are assigned to is based on your physical profile.
Katya: What were your dates of service?
Rabbi Ramon: I served from 1997 to around 2000. I was in the army for two and a half years.
Katya: What was your rank?
Rabbi Ramon: I was a Sergeant, a Samal (in Hebrew).
Katya: Did you ever experience Anti-Semitism during your service?
Rabbi Ramon: Being in the Israeli army, we are a united Jewish front. However, Anti-Semitism from the neighbouring countries and enemies is and will continue to be extreme.
Katya: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
Rabbi Ramon: I experienced many memorable moments, during my time in the army. There were positives and negatives. I served during the Intifada where there were bombs going off and I had just finished my training. This meant that I was qualified to help fight against the attacks. It was the first time I felt like I could do something and prevent destruction in Israel. It was an amazing feeling. The other moment was when I received my Beret and Tanach for completing my service in Tanks. The Tanks Memorial was between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They organized a hike of 60-70 kilometres and once I finished, I received an incredible ceremony. It was such an emotional experience. We got posted to Jericho, which was the first city the Jewish people conquered, under Joshua when they came in. Every Shabbat I would do my learning, and the Gemora in Megillah talks about the story of Joshua by Jericho. It is a story about the Jewish people not learning enough Torah, during their fight for Jericho. I couldn’t believe that there I was doing the right thing, in Jericho, which 3,000 years ago Joshua couldn’t have accomplished. It was proof to me that I was a living continuation of Jewish history.
Katya: How did your time in the army inspire you to become a great leader?
Rabbi Ramon: Being in the army taught me a lesson that I strive to implement today. Everyday everyone has to prepare all their stuff. It was mandatory to shine your shoes, clean your weapon and make your bed. They would choose some of us to manage others in that process. I was chosen one day, and I had to run around helping everyone get their equipment. That day I didn’t have enough time to do my own stuff and I failed. I thought that this was okay because I was busy helping everyone else. However, my commander said to me that you cannot lead unless you yourself embody what everyone else is doing. I learned how important it is to be able to divide duties.
Katya: What does it mean to you to be a mensch in modern society?
Rabbi Ramon: A mensch is all about being a decent human being and in many ways this is a type of leadership. I think you can provide leadership in modern society by living up to your beliefs. At the end of the day it is really important for people to take principle stands in their lives for what they believe in. This is especially important to do when there is a price to be paid. Right now in Centre Left Democracy it is easy for people to slander Israel baselessly and to scare others into keeping quiet. There is a not so fine line between legitimate criticism and Anti-Semitism. A mensch knows how to stand their ground, even when it seems all odds are against them. Most people say being a mensch means keeping quiet, being nice and agreeable, but I think that part of it is being able to disagree publicly. Being a mensch means to speak up in face of injustice and false accusations.
Katya: Having studied and learned lessons in Israel, what wisdom do you think you have managed to bring back to the Jewish community in South Africa?
Rabbi Ramon: I have learned not to wait, but rather be the one to initiate things. Innovation has been a real eye opener for me, as Israel is full of it. Israeli’s have the courage to experiment. In education I’m happy to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. It is important for us to grow and try new things, otherwise things stay the same and that is a recipe for disaster.
Katya: How did your leadership program I³ influence Herzlian pupils?
Rabbi Ramon: My program helped children develop 21st century skills. They are often referred to as Israeli skills. I noticed that the South African school system is really scholastically orientated. Part of Israel’s society is that they are taught to be resilient. Israelis are tough and know how to fight for their place. My program highlights skills that are vital for life, not just for school. A major part of the program is for kids to understand that success isn’t just found in a regular framework.
Katya: Can you elaborate on the success of the program?
Rabbi Ramon: One of our huge successes is that we are in partnership with the Haifa Technion. Through the program we have noted that the kids who are the worst behaved are often better participants in society. We want to help kids who are often not given the chance, to prove themselves in an incubation environment and develop their ideas. I didn’t know any of the kids which was proof of the entire idea. I realized that the school system is oriented to only give positive feedback to certain types of students. I used my program to instil change in different schools.
Katya Golan: Rabbi Golan thinks his service is a form of leadership. He strongly believes that his time in the army has directly led him to obtaining practical and life critical skills. In such a powerful army it can become difficult to show weakness, however the Israeli army taught him the importance of struggling and failure. They are essential factors in achieving success; in leadership aspects as well as in life in general. He explained to me that he owes much of his leadership skills to his time spent in the army, as the valuable lessons he received, he has applied to his current area of work.
The courage and bravery it takes to be a veteran is extremely admirable. Veterans risk their lives to ensure the wellbeing of others. They display a strong sense of nationhood and affiliation to their country. I think that these are incredible leadership skills that we all strive to achieve.
What I learned about leadership from the interview is that leadership doesn’t always mean being the loudest or the strongest person in the room. Great leaders stem from having moral compasses and a good set of values. Leadership also exists in so many more areas than I ever thought. The Rabbi was in the army, which in itself is a form of leadership. However, he is also evidently a Rabbi and the creator of his own start-up called I³ (I Cubed). His leadership is spread across so many differing aspects which arguably makes him an even greater leader.
Rabbi Ramon inspired me to actively improve on myself and my leadership. He explained so clearly how long it takes to find our strengths and weaknesses and that it is vital to look within ourselves, in order to achieve. He was so full of wisdom and insight and this inspired me to become eager to learn more. The experiences Rabbi Ramon has witnessed in the army, were ones filled with friendship, nationhood and a communal love for Israel. I someday hope to lead a life like his. One full of chesed and happiness.
I felt honored that such an incredible man was willing to be interviewed, considering his extremely busy life. The interview had a long-lasting impact in that I have applied some of his insight into how I conduct myself in daily life. One statement he made particularly stood out to me. “Being able to stand up and advocate for what you believe in, in the face of adversity – is what sets leaders apart from their followers.” He gave me a sense of identification and enlightened me on how to strengthen my Judaism. I am so grateful for his help in allowing me to complete this program.
Rabbi Ramon made me realise how much more I would like to learn about Judaism. I am so appreciative to be a Jew and I need to celebrate it more, by increasing my understanding. He left me wondering about how I can achieve this.
Name of Veteran: Harvey Weiner (HW)
Date of Interview: June 9, 2020
Name of Interviewer: Ariel Greenberg (AG)
Harvey Weiner, born on June 29, 1942, served in the Army during the Vietnam War from November 1968 to November 1970. Harvey signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps when he was attending college. He was neither enlisted or drafted, he was commissioned and he served in Military Intelligence. Mr. Weiner thought it would be interesting and suitable for his skills. Mr. Weiner is the Jewish War Veterans National Commander.
AG: What was your rank?
HW: Second Lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Branch of the U.S. Army Reserves; Assistant Phoenix Coordinator; Captain; Phoenix Coordinator for Chuong Thien Province
AG: What country or countries did you serve in?
HW: Vietnam: Chuong Thien Province
AG: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
HW: Intelligence gathering, operations, close relationships with Vietnamese counterparts. Meeting other Americans I fought alongside with. I have so many bad memories because of combat, and one of the roles I had was related to Americans killed in our province. I had to inventory their things, bring them back to Saigon and write to their family, which was not a pleasant experience. My most vivid memory is of February of 1970. I was Phoenix coordinator of the province. We got word that a weapons cache had been discovered. So, myself and some of the people I worked with, as well as the province chief and others, got in a couple of Jeeps to go out to that weapons cache. I was in the first Jeep, and my driver missed the turn onto the little gravel road. We were in the rice paddies, and the Jeep that was behind me took that left turn and laughed at us. We backed up and followed that Jeep, and that Jeep hit a landmine, which blew it up. The explosion killed several people in that first Jeep, as well as my Vietnamese counterpart who died in my arms -Library of Congress Transcript: a transcript of the interview Harvey Weiner had with the Library of Congress.
AG: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
HW: One other Jewish soldier we saw each other once a month.
AG: Was there anything challenging for you during your service because you are Jewish?
HW: No. Not observant then, but is more now. No challenges in army or Vietnam. Incidents: Fort Benning Georgia, with wife; invited fellow trainee over and his wife for dinner; the other wife kept staring at his wife’s head horns; probably the first Jew that woman had seen.
AG: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
HW: I didn’t know how to do it, didn’t know I could go to Saigon for the holidays; none of the information about that was given to me. Today, I make sure that Jewish soldiers know that there are Jewish services they can attend while serving in military;
AG: Did you ever experience antisemitism during your service?
AG: Did you see combat?
HW: I saw an orphanage get blown up by a grenade from the Viet Cong. I was in small raids, night ambushes, sniper fire.
AG: Were there many casualties in your unit?
HW: Yes, a lot of people died. One of the jobs I had was the officer in charge, gather inventory for wounded or dead from war.
AG: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
HW: Most memorable incident on February 20 when the Jeep in front of him got blown up because of the explosion. He says that he should have gotten killed, and that is what sticks with him through the years.
AG: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
HW: Jewish War Veterans National Commander; Life Member of VVA; Life Member of the Disabled Veterans; Post Commander for Post 211 in Newton; and a Massachusetts Department Commander. I was a department representative to the Greater Boston Jewish Community Relations Council; Post’s Man of the Year in 2011 & the Post Commander of the Year Award in 2016. Awarded the Bronze Star Medal on April 14, 1970. RVN Cross of Gallantry with Palm Font, RVN Dedicated Service Ribbon, RVN Honor Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal & Vietnam Service Medal with four battle stars. Recipient of the Becker award for “Outstanding JWVer” of 2014
AG: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
HW: I was an advisor to the Vietnamese and I was close with some of my Vietnamese counterparts. I am also friends with some of the American advisors I knew during my service. We have reunions every few years. I have friends “from all walks of life” from all over the country.
AG: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
HW: Leave war, but war and Vietnam does not leave you. I try to help veterans and soldiers, think about experiences frequently and also help Jewish veterans.
AG: Did you learn anything about leadership during your service?
HW: Yes. Almost everything I needed and wanted to know. Trains you for positions of leadership. A leader of individuals of all walks of life, religions, race, economic, geographic, social, different states, different countries. Learn how to lead people of all types of life. In military you are given more responsibility than anything in whole life. The best way to learn leadership is through serving.
AG: How did your service inspire leadership in you?
HW: Trained to be a leader. Put in fire, required to lead, by doing and by giving directions.
AG: What advice do you have for teenagers to take action and be leaders during something like we are seeing today?
HW: Don’t spend all your time studying for grades and tests, involve yourselves in activities, seize leadership opportunities, lead by example and personality. Leader of class, clubs, assume leadership roles. Learning leadership is the most important thing you will get in your life.
AG: Mr. Weiner thinks his service is a form of leadership. He stated that he learned almost everything he needed and wanted to know about leadership while training and serving. Additionally, he believes that serving prepares people to assume any leadership position. I think being a veteran is a form of leadership. I believe this because they are taking action to represent our country in another nation. Veterans are very brave for representing our country and they stand up for what we mean as Americans. They also, generally come back to America after a war and become advocates or strong leaders for the citizens of their country.
I learned that leadership doesn’t always have to come from being the #1 rank or always at the top of the class. Leadership comes from those who make mistakes, risk their lives and train. Those who put themselves in risky situations are leaders because they are stepping in front of their fears and rising up. Getting all A’s in school doesn’t mean you have to assume a leader, you can become a leader even if you have the worst grades. Everyone is capable of being a leader.
I was inspired by Harvey’s story because he served during the Vietnam war and saw many horrible things. But he also saw the good side of things as well. When he came back from the war he began a career as an attorney and also a leader of many Veteran programs in the country. He is a great image of a leader, and that is what inspires young people to become leaders themselves.
Interview Date: July 30, 2020
Interviewed by: Noah Glassman (NG)
NG: Why did you pick this branch?
IZ: Because it was the least amount of time that I would have to do
NG: What was your rank?
IZ: E5 buck sergeant
NG: What country or countries did you serve in?
IZ: United States and Vietnam
NG: Do you recall your first days in service? What were they like?
IZ: First days in military were hard and I was nervous because I was nervous about surviving. Once I got to Vietnam, I was with 75 others. I got off the plane and I was surprised of the condition of the country. It smelled.
NG: Were there other Jewish soldiers who served with you?
IZ: There were 2 or 3 others out of the 75
NG: How did you or other Jewish soldiers practice their Judaism during the time you served?
IZ: I rarely had the opportunity to do it, but I was given a pass to go to a place 60 miles away to pray one time.
NG: Did you see combat?
IZ: Yes, it was frequently. I would have to go to the woods to find enemies and would have to go out on patrol and was under ambush sometimes and sometimes had to use my rifle
NG: Were there many casualties in your unit?
IZ: Yes, many of people in my unit were killed by rockets during a surprise attack and it was very sad and many were afraid.
NG: Tell me about a memorable experience during your service.
IZ: A general came into a field to 600 soldiers. They called my name to go up there and there were five others. The general game me a bronze star and said to me that when I get home to be happy I am home because of what I had to go through.
NG: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
IZ: Yes, and I try to keep touch with others in my unit by texting
I asked Mr. Zigelbaum how his service and experiences affected his life. He thinks it screwed it up because of issues with PTSD and he has had to learn to accept it, but he is glad what he did in the service and said he would do it again if he had to.
NG: I think being a veteran is a form of leadership because I believe people should see you as a leader for your country and thank you for what you have done. What I learned about leadership was how hard it was for Mr. Zigelbaum to go through what he had to in his time in the army and how much of a learning experience it was. One thing I was inspired about was that when he got home, he heard people in front of him in public speaking about Jews in a bad way and he stuck up for himself and told them to stop saying those things.
The interview experience meant a lot to me because Mr. Zigelbaum inspired me to be proud of what we have today and be thankful. Mr. Zigelbaum did a great job answering my questions and was a great person to interview.
Tuesday, December 8 @ 10 a.m. EST on Zoom Hear stories and learn about Hanukkah traditions with Debbie Coltin, Executive Director of Lappin Foundation. Sing a couple of...
Monday, January 18 @ 6:30 p.m. EST on Zoom Teens are invited to learn about the Holocaust at a special book discussion of Say the Name by Judith H. Sherman. Judith H....