By Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berman
Congregation Brith Achim
This Veterans Day let us remember those Jewish Americans who gallantly served and defended our country.
Jewish men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces are continuing the historic tradition of Jews serving and fighting for our country.
From colonial times to the present, Jews have been in nearly every major skirmish, battle, war, and expedition in defense of our country.
Bravery and Sacrifices
Their bravery and sacrifices in battle are second to none. Until recently, American Jews have always had a higher percentage in the military than their percentage in general population in America would indicate.
Jews in America began their fight for the right to serve in the military when Jacob Barsimson, Asher Levy and other New Amsterdam Jews struggled with Governor Peter Stuyvesant for equal citizenship. They were finally granted the same rights as other citizens to be a part of the military.
This was the beginning of American Jews serving in the military of our country.
Jews were very active in the American Revolutionary War, serving with honor and distinction in battle and in civilian life. Francis Salvador, known as the “Paul Revere” of the South, became the first American Jew to be killed in battle.
Mordecai Sheftall acquired the reputation of the “great rebel” in fighting the British in the South. Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Bush was the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Continental Army and was decorated for bravery in battle.
Haym Salomon was a secret agent, civilian hero and a fervent patriot whose love for liberty and keen business acumen made him a vital force in obtaining the financing for the success of the Revolutionary War. Commodore Uriah P. Levy served as a naval captain in the War of 1812.
He ended the practice of flogging sailors for punishment, and he wrote many technical books on the training of naval officers which are still used today. He rose to rank of three-star Admiral and commanded the Mediterranean Fleet.
In the 1890s, a group of famous writers asserted that Jews did not fight in the Civil War. In response to these lies and slanders, the Hebrew Union Veterans, later called the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) was created.
In World War I, there were more than 250,000 Jews who answered America’s call to action; over 3,500 were killed, and over 12,000 were wounded. Jews received over 1,100 decorations for bravery.
In World War II, 550,000 Jewish men and women served in the Armed Forces of our country. About 11,000 were killed, over 40,000 were wounded, and they received over 52,000 medals for bravery.
There have been 17 Jewish recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery that a member of the U.S. military can receive.
There were six in the Civil War; two were Indian fighters; one in the Haitian Campaign of 1915; four in World War I; three in WW II; two in both the Korean War and Vietnam War.
On this Veterans Day let us proudly recall the stories of these Jewish heroes. For details, visit:
Editor’s note: Rabbi Beck-Berman is a retired Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel), U.S Army.