Joined last Thursday in Rego Park by members of the Jewish War Veterans, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) detailed a resolution he recently introduced to establish a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to honor 13 Jewish chaplains who died while serving in the armed forces in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
“There is not a separate memorial that is in place for Jewish chaplains, and we’re trying to change that,” Weiner said inside the ballroom at the Rego Park Jewish Center. “We’re hoping that this would have no controversy.”
Chaplains Hill at the Virginia cemetery contains memorials honoring Catholic and Protestant clergy. Weiner indicated that the modest $30,000 needed for the remembrance would be raised privately at no cost to taxpayers.
“It is very, very important that we are not forgotten at Arlington,” said Sy Weber of Kew Forest Post 250. “We just discovered this obstacle and are trying to make amends.”
According to the U.S. Army, Jewish chaplains have served in the armed forces since 1862. Thirty-two rabbis are now on active duty.
Two months ago, Weiner sent a letter to his House colleagues to introduce the resolution and 23 members signed on as co-sponsors. He said he believes U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) will sponsor the measure in the Senate, and anticipates it will be passed some time this year. All memorials erected in Arlington require a joint concurrent resolution by Congress.
Chaplains Hill began at Arlington in the 1980s. Asked why it has taken so long for a Jewish memorial to be proposed, Weiner said, “there’s no good reason,” adding that the idea had been discussed nearly 10 years ago.
Veteran David Rivkin related a story about Rabbi Ivan Caine, a chaplain who had an impact on him during his tour of duty in Korea. Rivkin said Caine counseled him after members of Rivkin’s unit physically attacked him, “mainly because I was Jewish,” he said.
“He was a nice guy — very solid shoulder to cry on,” Rivkin recalled.
Jason Kaatz, a Vietnam veteran and executive director of the Queens County Council of the JWV, asserted that the duties of chaplains go “beyond providing service in the field or social welfare.” After a drug problem among U.S. ranks erupted in Vietnam in 1967, Kaatz said, it was the chaplains corps that helped tackle the issue. Today, chaplains are focusing on the suicide rate of service members, Kaatz added.
While the memorial would honor the Jewish chaplains of past conflicts, Weiner said it’s important not to forget those currently serving.
“They put their lives on the line just as much as soldiers,” he said. “We’re hopeful that that list never grows, that we’ll never have to add to that plaque.”