Keneseth Israel’s Red, White and Blue Bash honoring Jewish Veterans on May 31 was a very full evening that combined a respectful tribute to all who served in the military with and a lot of fun.
KI President Faye Weinberg welcomed everyone and Cantor Sharon Hordes started the formal program with the American and Israeli national anthems and a Mi Shebeirach for the congregation.
Rabbi Michael Wolk explained that he heard many stories of Jews from other countries who were terrified of being conscripted into the military because they knew, as Jews, they wouldn’t be treated fairly. The evening’s festivities celebrate those who served openly in the U.S. Armed Services.
Rep. John Yarmuth expressed his appreciation for the event. Jews have served in the U.S. military since colonial days, he reflected, and, until recently, served in slightly larger proportion that other groups. His own father was one of many Jews drafted during World War II.
Yarmuth thanked veterans and current service people for their service and said he now works with Heather French Henry to ensure we pay back our soldiers, that they get the services, health care and support they need and that we recognize the sacrifices soldiers and their families make.
The recognition of this event was a long time in coming, he concluded, but it seems right and good. The entire Jewish community is proud that we honor our Jewish veterans. “We are forever in your debt,” he said. Heather French Henry, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs who has made providing for veterans the focus of her work, spoke in tribute to her father’s service in Vietnam. When her father returned home as a disabled vet, he had a difficult transition, and French Henry said her year as Miss America was a tribute to him.
She focused her remarks on the Jewish War Veterans and the work that agency has done to help all veterans since its establishment in 1896. They challenged the National Guard’s refusal to let Jews become commissioned officers in 1912, were responsible for establishing Flag Day in 1916, have been distributing the Jewish veterans publication since 1925, started an auxiliary in 1928, sold War Bonds in 1941 and helped institute the GI Bill of Rights in 1944.
She, too, thanked all veterans for their service.
Col. Michael Fuenfer, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was a general and pediatric surgeon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and today remains in the Army Reserve, introduced keynote speaker Army Major General David Rubenstein.
Gen. Rubenstein served as the Army’s Deputy Surgeon General and Chief of the Medical Supply Corps. He spent 35 years in the service, 12 in command, and has earned many awards. He also served as a Jewish lay leader at several bases, including Bosnia.
“Jewish service in today’s American military continues an unbroken line from Asher Levy in 1657, the first Colonial Jew permitted to carry a weapon in defense of the New World,” the General began.
His speech contained a litany of the names of Jews serving in the armed services who gave the ultimate sacrifice whom we remember on Memorial Day:
Maj. Lewis Bush in the Revolutionary War battle at Brandywine in 1777; 15 Jewish sailors on the Battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898 and Jacob Wilbusky, a 16-year old cavalry trooper, the first of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders killed in the attack on San Juan Hill in Puerto Rico.
Sgt. Maurice Joost was the first man to be killed in the attack on Manilla in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. Over 3,500 of the 250,000 Jews who served in World War I lost their lives; and about 11,000 of the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in World War II also died.
Marine Captain Vivian Moses died during the Korean War and 269 Jewish warriors died in Vietnam. Nearly 40 Jews have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The General’s account was peppered with details of the actions Jewish men and women took that led to their deaths, and he concluded with the story of Louisville’s Max Berlin, a 19-year-old Army Private First Class “assigned to Echo Company, 328th Infantry Regiment, of the 26th Infantry Division in General George Patton’s Third Army,” Gen. Rubenstein said.
“He participated in the regiment’s assault of Moncourt, France, during the Lorraine Campaign, and he died there,” he continued. “He is buried in the Keneseth Israel Cemetery where I visited him this past week to say thank you, and to remember him.”
With his final words, a quote from the 26th Infantry Division report on November 9, 1944, the General ensured that there was not a dry eye in the house. “These men gave their lives, which was and still is the greatest sacrifice. They gave the most precious thing they had, leaving their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters back at their homes in the United States. Boys and men, so far away from home, from their families and friends, fighting in countries they may have never heard of.
“But they did it anyway, so that every man and woman may live in freedom. Even today we still appreciate what they did for us. May these men and woman Rest in Peace who have died during the liberation of Europe. They stand in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die, that freedom might live and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, they live in a way that humbles the undertaking of most men.”
Councilman David James presented several proclamations.
The evening also included a silent auction, a raffle and dancing to the music of Kudmani. Rhonda Reskin, the evening’s organizer and chair, distributed challenge coins to all veterans. They were donated by Anne Shapira in memory of her son, Harry Shapira.
With tears in her eyes, she reported that KI had identified 720 veterans for the evening’s program.
In addition to Reskin, members of the Gala Committee were Carol Behr, Harriett Behr, Donna Evans, Sarah Farmer, Karen Goldsmith, Katherine Heise, Eileen Kaplan, Laura Levin, Jana Pedowitz, Sara Robinson, Ilean Rowe, Alan Roth, Rick Schuster, Judy Shapira, Joan Simunic, Debbie Smith, Evelyn Topcik, Beverly Weinberg, Faye Weinberg, Sheldon Yoffee and Yonatan Yussman.
The evening’s volunteers were Miriam Bird, Bailey Czerkiewicz, Michael Evans, Ali Hoge, Carly Nunamaker, Lilly Pinhas, Eric Reskin, Sophie Reskin and Isaac Weiss. Hillary Reskin was the photographer and Donna and Don Evans produced the video.