The Jewish War Veterans is a national organization trying to dispel the myth that Jews never served in American military conflicts — and could also possibly help stem the rising tide of antisemitism.
The JWV has posts and chapters around the country, and Post 652 is located in Merrick but counts members from Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, and other areas as well. The national organization was founded in 1896 as the Hebrew Union Veterans Association to raise awareness of contributions made by Jewish service members as well as to combat antisemitism.
“Mark Twain claimed that the Jews had never served in the service,” Gary Glick, member of Post 652, said. “Meanwhile, seven to eight thousand had just served in the Civil War.
“Jews served in the military during and since the Revolutionary War,” Glick, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1969 to 1972, added. “Jews have served in every American conflict up to and including the present day.”
The group’s mission is to accomplish both veteran advocacy and Jewish advocacy, and being a Jewish veteran puts one at risk for double bigotry.
“We are a Jewish voice for veterans and a veteran voice for Jews,” Eric Spinner, Post 652 commander who served in the New York Army Reserve National Guard, said.
Members of Post 652 continue to be active in the communities they represent, as advocates for Jewish veterans.
According to Ed Freeberg, an Air Force veteran and a lifetime member of Post 652, their activities include a balanced list of appearances at both veterans’ events and Jewish events. They attend commemorative events on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, visit public schools to discuss the Jewish War Veterans, conduct ceremonies for specific Jewish soldiers lost, and establish working relationships with local rabbis. All of these achievements increase both awareness and support for the group, Freeberg said.
“Our biggest concern is to get the word out that we exist,” Freeberg added. “The Jewish War Veterans has existed for about 127 years, and very few people know about it. So our job is to do a tremendous amount of outreach.”
What draws the Jewish War Veterans together is the unique experience that comes along with being Jewish and a veteran.
“When I came home, red ink was thrown at me to represent blood,” Jeff Newman, a Vietnam War veteran who served as a flight engineer, said. “They called me a baby killer. They asked if I did drugs in Vietnam.”
Glick recalled similar experiences as a Vietnam War-era veteran.
The veterans also said they faced routine antisemitism. “When I was in basic training in Texas, some guy from there asked me where my horns were,” Freeberg said.
In addition to raising awareness about antisemitism, the group also wishes to right some wrongs of the past. Because of antisemitism, many Jewish veterans were denied honors and benefits that they rightfully deserved after their service. One of those veterans belatedly honored was Eli Soblick of Franklin Square. He was bestowed with a Purple Heart flag in October at the age of 98. Soblick, who was interviewed by the Herald in 2017, served in World War II but was denied medals.
“Eli had told me he was supposed to get a medal during the war,” Glick said. “And he put the papers out for it, but didn’t get them because he was Jewish. We gave him the Purple Heart flag at a synagogue. At 98 years old, he was so happy to have it put around him. He was crying during the ceremony.”