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A Legacy of Service

I’m sitting at my computer following our local Independence Day parade, where veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam all received well-deserved recognition and applause from the onlookers, myself included. On a day when we stop to appreciate the gift of freedom that we enjoy, it is important to acknowledge those who sacrificed to help defend that most precious gift. In these conflicts, and particularly in World War II, Jewish armed service personnel played an important role and their contributions not only supported our country but also solidified Jews’ places in the American imagination as full citizens and conferred an extra measure of legitimacy, even though Jewish soldiers have served America valiantly back to the days of the Revolutionary War. One of my fondest memories of a pulpit that I served as a student rabbi is the annual Jewish War Veterans commemoration the week before Memorial Day, where I lead prayers at the graves of veterans. Many Jews from this working-class community had served and they gathered to remember their departed not only as family and friends but also as soldiers.
Today the number of Jews serving in the armed forces is down significantly. The armed forces’ composition changed drastically when they abandoned the draft in favor of an all-volunteer force, but that legacy of service is still strong. Rabbi Bonnie Kappell, a U.S. army chaplain who volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2005 has reflected on her experiences and the challenges she has faced as a reservist since 1978, now with the rank of colonel. It is clear that the Jewish ethos of service and self-sacrifice lives on.

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posted July 5, 2007 at 5:30 pm

To serve or not to serve? There are many possible valid reasons for or against. If one believes military service constitutes service to one’s fellow citizens, then I would think it is as appropriate for American Jews to serve in the U.S. military as it is for Israeli Jews to serve in the Israeli military. If one is a pacifist, military service is not appropriate. If one believes in self-preservation, service in the armed forces and in other positions of authority would probably be wise. I have an older Jewish friend who was drafted for WW2 but chose to be a conscientious objector, and I see no shame in that, particularly as he served in other ways (rather than not at all), helping disabled children. If we believe in healing the world, sacrifice may be required. I try not to judge how others interpret or define their moral, religious, or social obligations. I believe most Jews act from the desire to do good in the world, however they may choose to give of themselves.

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posted July 6, 2007 at 5:28 pm

I am an honorably discharged U.S. Navy veteran. Iserved my country from 1981-1985. As a Jew from an open community in Pennsylvania. I was exposed for the first time to Anyi Semitism when I served at my first command.
I had been assigned to a Ship in Guam and before I left San Diego I met a Rabbi (Lt. Commander)who had arrainged for me to observe Rosh Hashannah with a family in HI.
When I put my request in it went to the Master Chief of the Command and he called me many names which I won’t repeat here.
When I told the Rabbi what had happened he came to my rescue in Guam and read the riot act to this MC (Redneck).
That got me to HI, but made my life inyolerable the rest of my tour in Guam. Luckily I had some skills in the Culinary Dept. and was later transferred to another command.
Iwould never disway anyone from serving in the U.S. Armed forces.
Hopefully things have changed from my days in. However, I would recommend that anyone, of any faith be prepared dor a world of change and discovery.
I am very proud and honered to have served in the armed U.S. Forces. However most Jews in the U.S seem to have the opinion that Jews can only support Israel monetarily and are willing to go there and strap on a weapon for it. .
I would not. Israel is an ally , but we as a Community also need to take responsibility for the country that gave us Freedom, not one that only wants our financial support.
Vote, speak out against injustice. That’s what I was willing to die for.
Are You?

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posted July 6, 2007 at 10:33 pm

I’m not willing to support Israel monetarily if they refuse to compromise for the sake of peace. The tragedy of the Middle East is that everyone involved is their own worst enemy, pointing guns with barrels at both ends. The U.S. takes on an enormous burden by financially supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank & Gaza. Ultimately I am afraid American Jews will face a terrible backlash because of this.

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posted July 10, 2007 at 7:51 pm

So let me see. Israel has Hamas and Hezbollah rockets facing it and may have Iranian nuclear missiles facing it in the future, but apparently there are American Jews who worry about bad looks. Poor babies.

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laura t mushkat

posted July 22, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Sorry to say untill we have a draft again, we will have to depend on those who choose to enter the military for whatever reason during peace or war.
I think it is terribly unfair. They have to do everything. We will find that this means we will take those who should be here in the US if we need them, away to fight elsewhere.
We really need the draft back!

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