At midnight on Saturday, June 26, Monmouth Realtor and philanthropist Irwin Gerechoff will take on the mantle of commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America New Jersey Department.
The late-night ceremony will be the focus of the group’s three-day annual convention, scheduled to take place at Honor Havens Resort and Spa in Ellenville, NY, from June 25 to 27.
Gerechoff, the co-owner — with his wife, Nancy — of G & G Realtors in Deal, where he lives, is a veteran of the Korean war. At the age of 20, in 1953, he joined up and served as a combat medic, as a private first class, through 1954.
Taught by his grandmother that “Jews do the right thing,” he volunteered rather than waiting to be drafted. “I understood the word ‘dedication,’” he told NJ Jewish News. When he came out of the service, he joined the JWV and every other veterans’ organization he could, gradually taking on more and more responsibility in local posts.
“No one appreciated what those guys had done, and I felt I could help, which I did. I’m a tummler — I get things done,” he said.
Gerechoff’s community involvement is intertwined with his business life. The JWV is listed on his company’s website together with other Jewish groups it supports — Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County, Hadassah of Ocean, American Red Magen David for Israel, and Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean, in addition to Veterans of Foreign War, and many other civic groups.
Harvey Fox of Manchester, who served in Germany from 1959 and 1960, will be named senior vice commander of the department, and Nelson Mellitz of Cherry Hill, a retired Air Force colonel with 20 years’ service, will be the new junior vice commander.
The 2,200-member group is part of the national Jewish war veterans’ group, the oldest and still one of the largest veterans’ organizations in the country. It was formed right after the Civil War by veterans from both sides, to counteract charges that Jews had not served in the army.
Though Gerechoff said he would like to see the Jewish community more aware and supportive of those in the military, at the official level the veterans have achieved their purpose. Fox said that when the national delegation makes its annual visit to Capitol Hill, to make the organization’s feelings on various issues known and to convey its statements of resolution on things they would like to see done, they are generally “very, very well received.”
In the course of the two days of lobbying, the 20 or so members meet with about 17 legislators. It’s a demanding itinerary. “If you can’t walk, you can’t do it,” Fox said.
With members averaging about 84 years old, that can be an issue. But, Fox said, while they are rapidly losing World War II vets, the group is getting in younger members who served in the Vietnam War.
The JWV seeks to serve the interests of all veterans, regardless of race, creed, or religion, working — free of charge — to ensure that they get whatever benefits they are entitled to. They are now doing that for increasing numbers of people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Members also perform numerous other services: They visit patients at Veterans Administration hospitals, greet returning and departing troops at Fort Dix, and send care packages to military personnel overseas. In addition to raising funds for the NJ National Guard Family Readiness Program and for a day room for wounded vets at Fort Dix, they hold an annual Yom Hashoa Remembrance at Liberty State Park in Jersey City and are helping develop and install a NJ World War II Memorial in Trenton.
“When they stopped the draft, we stopped getting as many members,” Fox said, “but we are nevertheless just as committed to working for the service men and women.”