Wantagh resident Murray Steinberg’s 99th birthday was a community affair. Steinberg, a World War II veteran and a member of the Jewish War Veterans — the oldest active veterans’ service organization in the U.S. — had two celebrations last week.
Family, friends and elected officials from Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead honored Steinberg at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Merrick on Aug. 26. He was presented with a proclamation on behalf of Nassau County by Legislator Tom McKevitt, who represents the 13th District.
“I was contacted a few weeks ago about a special veteran celebrating their 99th birthday — that’s how this whole day came about,” McKevitt explained during the ceremony. He described Steinberg as a “very resourceful person” who’s always been handy.
Steinberg served in the Army’s 240th Combat Engineers in the Pacific Theater. He was a technician, rigger and electrician beginning in late 1942.
One night, he was hanging lights around a coconut tree when he was targeted by snipers. McKevitt recounted the story during the ceremony.
“My first thought is, if a sniper is shooting at me, I get out of there as soon as possible,” McKevitt said. “But the first thing Murray did was, he broke the lights. If the light is out, the sniper can’t see you.”
McKevitt referred to Steinberg as “99 years young,” and said he was a man still in “phenomenal shape.”
“There were so many times when your life was almost lost,” McKevitt told the honoree. “It is really an opportunity to thank people like you — we thank you very, very much.”
Legislator Steve Rhoads, of the 19th District, said that McKevitt’s words were “a tribute to the amazing life” Steinberg has lived. “This is an opportunity for us to count our blessings,” Rhoads said. “Murray is the perfect example of that. We want to congratulate you, to thank you, and wish you another 99 years of amazing success.”
“Thank you for all you have done, and thank you for your service,” Hempstead Town Councilman Christopher Carini added.
Gary Glick, of Bellmore, is the commander of JWV Post 652 in Merrick. At the Ohav Shalom ceremony, Glick said that Steinberg was originally a member of Post 709 in East Meadow, which merged with the Merrick post a few years back.
“Instead of them breaking away, we took them into our post,” Glick said. “We want to get all the Jewish War Veterans together, because some of them don’t even know we exist.”
The organization, Glick explained, was established in 1895, and celebrated its 125th anniversary in March. “People back then said no Jews had fought in the Civil War,” which was false, he said. “Close to 7,000 [Jewish people] served in the North, and 4,000 on the Confederate side."
Post 652 mostly comprises veterans of the Korean and Vietnam War era, as well as a handful from World War II, Steinberg said. “It’s very sad that younger veterans don’t take interest in it,” he said of Jewish War Veterans. “There are so many things you get involved with. We go to hospitals, nursing homes — the normal things to help out the community.”
At the Aug. 26 ceremony, Steinberg thanked his family, Glick and former Commander David Zwerin for organizing the ceremony. Reflecting on the event afterward, he said: “When it came time to say a few words with all those cameras there — I was really flabbergasted.”
Last Sunday, Steinberg was honored once more, this time with a “birthday parade.” A line of motorcycles and cars with American flags flashed their lights and honked their horns as they drove from the Levittown OTB to Steinberg’s home on Jerusalem Road.
Town Clerk Kate Murray, Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Steinberg’s friends and family took photos as the parade rolled past. Before they rushed off to a call, members of the Levittown Fire Department also stopped by to greet Steinberg.
Even as he approaches 100, Steinberg said, he hates to sit still. He remains an active member of Post 652, works in his garden and fixes things around the house for his grandchildren. He said he was grateful that most of his family was present for the ceremony and parade.
“I had a few family members who couldn’t come [to the Ohav Shalom ceremony], so they came here,” he joked after the parade, “and they’d better have!”
Glick acknowledged that honoring people like Steinberg is critical to keep the JWV’s message alive.
“We had to do this for Murray. Not only because he’s 99, but because of everything going on in this country,” Glick said. “There’s been so much anti-Semitism. We organized this as a team. We had all our veterans come, just to prove again, that all veterans are brothers and sisters. For anyone who says we have never fought for America – we have, and we’re all here.”