May 16, 2024
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The Mickey Marcus Memorial at West Point

Jewish Chapel at West Point.

On Sunday, May 5, the American Veterans of Israel Wars hosted the annual Mickey Marcus Memorial at West Point. Who was Mickey Marcus? The original lone soldier, chayal boded, defined as soldiers without family in Israel.

The lone soldier phenomenon is as old as the state of Israel. In anticipation of the impending War of Independence, volunteers from 56 countries flocked to Israel’s defense. In a three-year period, over 3,000 overseas volunteers fought for Israel. This group was called Machal — Mitnadvei Chutz La’Aretz — volunteers from outside the land. The Machal unit is no longer in existence but the term applies to non-citizens who apply for military service.

Col. David “Mickey” Marcus, Brooklyn born and bred, was a West Point graduate who served the U.S. in several capacities. In 1947, David Ben-Gurion was looking for someone who could unify and train the various military groups in Israel. That person was Mickey, who went to Israel despite the fact that serving in another nation’s army was tantamount to treason. He went by the alias Michael Stone and became the first aluf, or general, in the Israeli army. He oversaw the creation of the Burma Road to allow supplies to reach the besieged Jews in Jerusalem. He was accidentally shot and killed by friendly fire shortly before a cease-fire took effect and he was buried at West Point.

Brothers David (of Teaneck) and Elliot Shapiro, whose family has sung at this event for over 20 years.

It is therefore fitting that the annual memorial to Marcus takes place at West Point. The program honors him as well as American and Canadian volunteers who fell in defense of Israel in its War of Independence. The sponsors of the memorial service is a group called AVI LC, American Volunteers of Israel Wars Legacy Corp., whose members volunteered in many capacities before and after 1948. Most of the original members have passed away, but their legacy is carried on by the surviving members and their children.

This year they were joined by a group of former lone soldiers, organized by Rabbi Ari Abramowitz. His organization Nevut (to navigate) helps returning lone soldiers navigate their reentry into civilian life. These young heroes are the fitting successors of AVI and Mickey Marcus, and their presence was noted and appreciated.

Several former lone soldiers.

The memorial is held every spring, shortly after Passover, in the Jewish Chapel at West Point. It highlights a significant and not well-known part of American Jewish history and is worth the trip on a Sunday morning. We hope to see you there next year.

Former lone soldier Ben Sklar.
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