This Veterans Day, Monday, November 11, Bergen County joined the rest of the country in honoring the service and sacrifice of our hometown war veterans. Ralph Gerber, an Army veteran and River Edge resident, is commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 498 in Teaneck and is very cognizant of the fact that, despite national respect, in the Jewish community, Jewish veterans are mostly overlooked.
Since 1896, when the organization was formed by Jewish Civil War Medal of Honor recipients to counterbalance antisemitic canards of non-military service by Jews, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, the first veteran’s organization chartered by Congress, has existed to challenge antisemitism, to uphold the image of the Jewish patriot, and to support all veterans rights.
“There are definitely challenges in preserving the mindfulness that Jews also fought,” Gerber said. “The general population needs to know, and local post works hard to make sure that Jewish participation is recognized and commemorated as well.”
Mr. Gerber was stationed in England from May 1952-October 1954 after he volunteered for Army service, and is deeply proud to have served his country during the Korean War. Even though his posting didn’t take advantage of his fluency in German, Italian and French, Gerber felt it was his civic duty to serve in whatever capacity was needed. “It’s very important to instill love of country and flag in our young people,” he added. “I really felt it.”
But despite American participation in many wars since WWII, veterans’ organizations are having a rough go maintaining their membership. Gerber told JLBC, “Every veterans post has problems except those in Florida. Most of our members are vets of World War II and there are difficulties inherent in sustaining our aging membership. Many face hardship in cold weather or are unable to drive at night. Our oldest veteran is 100 years old. Nevertheless, we go on trips, march in parades and put flags on the graves of deceased veterans. This is essential both to publicize Jewish participation in war efforts as well as to provide needed camaraderie for our veterans.”
Teaneck’s Post 498 is the joint post for both Teaneck and New Milford, having through the years already absorbed posts from Englewood and Bergenfield. It has about 120 members. Meeting regularly on the first Sunday of every month, these Jewish veterans participate in myriad activities—from visiting hospitalized veterans, promoting veteran’s issues, participation in parades and memorial services, doing chesed, participating in community activities and in activities of the national and state organization.
“It is very difficult to raise funds for these crucial activities,” Gerber noted. “There are very few donors and almost no support from the community, and the National dues are high and constantly increasing. Our membership is getting smaller and smaller and younger vets are not joining. They have no interest. We recently wrote to every temple in the county to entreaty their members to join local posts,” he continued. “We did not receive even one response.”
In spite of the difficulties, Gerber remains positive and enthusiastic, working very hard to sustain the get-togethers and activities. Last year, due to the determination of their commander, the post went to The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. They also marched in the July 4th parade in Teaneck, participated in memorial services, and plan to take a trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park this coming May.
“We are financially restricted but continue with our activities,” said Gerber. “It’s important for our veterans in order to preserve the spirit of comradeship, and for our community to preserve the memories and records of patriotic service performed by the men and women of our faith; to honor their memory and safeguard from neglect the graves of our heroes.”
That is the that message from those who served; would the community prove it felt the same way.
By Lisa Matkowsky