On Wednesday, May 23, UJA Federation’s Warriors and Veterans Society, in conjunction with many Riverdale and Westchester community partners, hosted a Memorial Day event titled “Honoring Our Fallen Heroes” at The Jewish Center in Manhattan. The Presentation of the Colors was offered by the Scouts of New York City, and the National Anthem sung by Jewish Center Cantor Chaim David Berson.
In his invocation, Rabbi Yosie Levine, senior rabbi of The Jewish Center, recounted, “In the summer of 1776 there was just one synagogue in NYC, Congregation Shearith Israel. Before the British occupied the city, most of the congregation and most of the Jews of NYC fled to Connecticut and Philadelphia, where they remained for the duration of the war.” He continued, “In 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, the members of Congregation Shearith Israel returned to celebrate the liberty that was achieved. They wrote a special prayer to mark the occasion to pray for the welfare of the United States as well as for the soldiers who defend our country. To commemorate that sacred tradition, every Shabbat we pray for safety and security for the men and women who serve in our armed forces.”
The keynote speaker was a former Medal of Honor recipient of the U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs. Explaining his reasoning behind why served, he stated, “I went into the Army because I thought then, and I still think today, that everybody who is lucky enough to live in a free country owes it something in the form of service.”
“My original plan was to serve for three years and then go to law school, but I stayed because I really loved the people, I didn’t want to leave, and today I feel more comfortable with people who are in uniform or who have worn the uniform. They think as I do about service, sacrifice and the defense of the Republic.”
He continued by noting that today he observes very few people in uniform. “Growing up in my neighborhood, in Long Island City, every household had done something to contribute to the defense of the Republic during the Second World War.” He explained that it was unusual to come across anyone who hadn’t served or didn’t have a connection to someone who had served. “We had at one point 20 million Americans in uniform, to defend the country and the save the world. Today most Americans do not know anybody in uniform.” Jacobs continued, “Today we fail to recognize how talented our people in uniform are. There is nothing like military service that gives young people huge responsibility at an early age.”
The program continued with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky, deputy director of Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council. She stated, “On this Memorial Day let us re-commit to honoring and remembering those who lost their lives in services, those who were killed in action, those who suffered from physical and mental illness after their service and their lives were cut short.”
When asked why she attended, Dina Najman, rosh kehilah of The Kehilah of Riverdale, explained, “Beverly Wolfer Nerenberg has inspired me and taught our community that it is critical that we pay tribute and our hakarat hatov to the U.S. Armed Forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the liberties at home. I felt that we commemorate Yom HaZikaron, but need to also make a conscious effort to pay tribute to our soldiers who gave their lives for this country. Even with our busy lives, it is necessary that we take the time to show appreciation to those who put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy our freedom at home.”
By Judy Berger