Dr. Barry Schneider of the Jewish War Veterans

National commander of Jewish War Veterans, Dr. Barry Schneider, comes to Detroit to talk about the organization’s future at Temple Shir Shalom.

The Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the frontlines on the War on Terror. No matter the era or theater of war, Jews in our armed forces have faced being in harm’s way throughout our nation’s history, playing a pivotal role in defending our freedoms despite the erroneously held belief after the Civil War that Jews did not participate in the defense of our country.

To right that wrong, the Hebrew Union Veterans Organization, the forerunner of today’s Jewish War Veterans (JWV) of the U.S.A., was founded in 1896 to dispute that mistruth and set the record straight.

The JWV remains our nation’s oldest veterans service organization (VSO) that for 123 years has been dedicated to the well-being of all veterans. But like all current VSOs, the JWV is working to stem the tide of shrinking memberships. There’s more on the line than meets the eye.

The subject of the JWV’s future was front and center the weekend of June 1-2 when the Jewish War Veterans Department of Michigan hosted Dr. Barry J. Schneider, 74, Maj., USAF (Ret), JWV national commander. Schneider, who resides in Fort Worth, Texas, came to Detroit to discuss the state of the JWV and meet with members at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield.

The visit, one of several on his cross-country tour, earned praise from Schneider who told JWV post members: “This has been absolutely without question the best department visit I have been on. You’re doing a stellar job, a great job for the JWV in the community and I expect great things out of you in the future.”

But with most members comprised of WWII veterans, the JWV is facing a future challenged by an urgent need to replenish and rejuvenate its ranks. The Ladies Auxiliary of the Jewish War Veterans faces a similar fate.

The Work of the JWV

To the uninformed, the JWV might be mischaracterized as an organization where aging vets convene to share war stories. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What’s at stake is more than the loss of its rank and file. The JWV’s absence would create a void not only in the Jewish community, but also in communities throughout the country.

Nationally, the JWV is actively involved in key legislative priorities. “We fight for the rights of Jews everywhere, but we take care of all veterans no matter their denomination,” Schneider says.

JWV is at the forefront on the discussion of veteran suicide prevention, homelessness, GI Bill accountability and POW/MIA initiatives. And not to be overlooked is the JWV’s commitment to the well-being of Israel.

In Detroit, the JWV makes its own impact. Every Christmas Day for the last 60-plus years, the JWV Department of Michigan travels by charter bus for a one-day trip to the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, providing gifts and companionship for patients who are often alone on the holiday.

The combined posts of Michigan’s JWV have also contributed to the ongoing development of Fisher House Detroit, a facility planned to be within walking distance of the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, which will provide, at no charge, a comfortable and secure “home away from home” for family members of loved ones being treated.

According to JWV Department of Michigan Commander Dr. Ed Hirsch: “We will implement numerous other community-related projects including working with the National Council of Jewish Women and assuming an even closer relationship with the Holocaust Memorial Center and its efforts to create programming aimed at school-age children.”

Eye to the Future

But who will carry the mantle for aging JWV members when they are no longer able to contribute? The JWV needs younger reinforcements.

“We are doing things to try and engage younger members,” Schneider says. “Our JWV Iraq/Afghanistan committee is growing and becoming more active.” He estimates that 50,000 Jews have served since 9-11, with approximately 10,000 currently on active duty.

The JWV is also involved in the annual Jewish Warrior Weekend in Washington, D.C., a gathering of cadets from military academies and major ROTC units. Participants are given complimentary memberships and assigned to the post nearest their home. Memberships are free to those who are on active duty and for the first year after leaving the service.

Schneider encouraged the civilian Jewish community to play a role in helping to bolster the ranks of the JWV, imploring his audience at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield that “if you know someone who is currently serving or planning to enlist, by all means make them aware of the JWV.”

Equally problematic to their dwindling membership is that despite the organization’s 123-year history — 79 years in Michigan — the JWV continues to fly under the radar. “How many seasoned veterans don’t join because they don’t know we exist?” Schneider asks. “We are probably one of the best-kept secrets in the Jewish community.”

To that point, Schneider said, “It is imperative we reach out to every Federation, JCC, Hebrew day school and synagogue throughout the country. Every Jewish chaplain needs to be contacted and become a recruiting agent.” He recommends the JWV establish a national marketing committee to meet its outreach challenges.

While the JWV, like all veteran service organizations, requires that most its membership be past or present members of the U.S. Armed Forces, it also encourages enlisting non-military patrons, recognizing them as valuable assets to local posts. I just became a patron and look forward to contributing in any way I can to complement the mission of the JWV.

The JWV is an organization of action and the members understand the gravity of their situation. “Do we have the courage and insight to change,” Schneider asks, “or do we become a historical footnote?”

A message of survival, fitting just days after the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

For more information on the JWV Department of Michigan, visit jwv-mi.org.

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