By Jerry Alperstein
In 2006 shortly after Representative John Boehner became Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, he met with leaders from the major veterans service organizations. When a leader of the Jewish War Veterans introduced himself, Boehner said that he did not know there was a Jewish War Veterans. Most of the other veterans leaders – as though on cue – said in unison, quote, It’s the oldest veterans organization; unquote.
Boehner’s lack of knowledge of the Jewish War Veterans and of Jews in this country’s armed services was not unexpected. While the participation and importance of Jews in our country’s armed services are well-known and recognized within the veteran community, it is largely unknown and unrecognized within this country’s population at large; including within its Jewish community.
The truth is that Jews have been a part of this land’s military history since 1654, the year after they first arrived in our corner of the New World. When in the New Amsterdam colony, the Jews were charged an additional tax because they were barred from serving in the local militia, four Jews led by Asser Levy successfully appealed to the owner of the colony, the Dutch East India Company. They were allowed to serve, and Jews have been serving and giving their lives to our country ever since.