Attendees at the 75th anniversary celebration of Jewish War Veterans Post 125 on June 12 faced a minor hurdle before dinner could be served. The event photographer asked all 124 people to squeeze together for a group portrait.
The large-scale photo of smiling veterans and their proud families will be displayed in the JWV room at the Ruth Hyman JCC of Greater Monmouth in Deal.
The anniversary of the Asbury Park-Ocean JWV post marks a major milestone for members, said post commander Norman Ginsburg of Ocean Township.
“Seventy-five years is something to really be proud of,” said Ginsburg, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served two tours in Vietnam. “Jews have been fighting for our country since the Civil War. The JWV movement was founded to help counter the misconception that Jews did not join the military.”
The celebratory dinner was held at Congregation Torat El in Ocean and included veterans from World War II to the present-day conflict in Afghanistan.
This August, the post will undergo an official name change to Jersey Shore Jewish War Veterans Post 125, the result of its recent merger with Long Branch Post 316.
“We felt it was very important to celebrate our 75th. A lot of our vets are from World War II and won’t be around for the 100th,” said Mel Woda of Ocean Township, immediate past commander of the post, who served in the Korean conflict. “I feel that there still is bigotry in our society toward Jews and a lack of recognition of our service to country. It’s important to keep this post alive because there’s strength in numbers.”
The same values that prompted post member Dr. Lewis Wetstein of Interlaken to join the Air Force 33 years ago are shared by the newest member of the post — Wetstein’s 20-year-old son, Berish, who returned in March after a seven-month tour in Baghdad.
Dr. Wetstein retired last year after serving as commander of the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, and as state air surgeon for New Jersey Air National Guard.
“It sounds corny, but it’s all about love of country and paying back what this country does for us,” he said. “The JWV gives me continuity. I helped the military for 33 years, and now I am trying to do my part for fellow veterans.”
His son volunteered for the army last spring. “As Americans we all believe in freedom, and we all have to do our part,” Berish said. “As Jews we also have to stay together through the common bond of Judaism.”
For Stanley Shapiro of Ocean Township, who served in the Korean conflict, military involvement is a family matter. “Every one of my 11 male cousins served in the military. Many of us encountered servicemen who told us they had never met a Jew before,” said Shapiro, who serves as chief of staff with the Department of New Jersey JWV, as well as commander with the Monmouth-Ocean Council. Shapiro signed up for JWV one month after he got out of the U.S. Navy in 1956.
Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet of Fair Haven attended the anniversary event. Mallet oversees the newly opened County Veteran Services Office, which has served more than 1,200 vets in the last six months, she told NJJN. “The history of Jewish war veterans is extraordinary,” Mallet said. “It is very exciting to see how dedicated these members are to this post.”
Among its missions, Post 125 aims to help hospitalized vets, arrange visits to veterans’ homes, and raise money for charities. Each Memorial Day the post places flags on the gravesites of nearly 700 Jewish war veterans.
“This is an annual tradition that my son and I look forward to every year,” said post chaplain and past commander Lewis Fisher of Ocean. “He’s been doing it with me since he was 10 years old. So he truly understands the real meaning of Memorial Day.”