When you see the heroes of the Jewish War Veterans march in Sunday’s Celebrate Israel Parade, give them some extra cheer.
While the number of religiously observant members in the organization is probably no bigger than the minority of the American Jewish population as a whole, and Shavuos is among the lesser known festivals, the JWV stuck to its guidelines and did not take part as an organization in parades.
"I sent out a letter to all chapters telling them to honor the prohibition against marching or appearing in JWV caps," said National Commander Allen Falk, who lives in New Jersey."t's fairly well understood in New York, but in other areas where we have much smaller numbers and active posts that participate in parades it's very sensitive."
Falk said the rule also applies to Shabbat, which on occasion has meant sitting out events such as Veteran's Day marches when Nov. 11 falls on Saturday. Members who may belong to other groups, such as the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars are told to wear caps from those organizations if they choose to participate.
That's not just a suggestion. The former Marine captain, who served in Vietnam, says the organization investigates reports of violators.
"We are a 117-year-old organization that was commissioned as a specialty veterans' group, and our specialty is the fact that we are the Jewish War Veterans of the United States," said Falk. "We have to protect the integrity of the rules."
Rule-breakers, said the commander, could be subject to an "admonition if it turns out someone did it unknowingly. But if they challenged us there could be some disciplinary action."
He said that while no one has tried to have the ban revoked, there has been "Talmudic discussion" about exceptions, such as attending a parade that's within walking distance and after religious services are over. And in true Talmudic, but not military, tradition there were "22 different opinions," but no conclusion. Another issue in such cases is whether group members marching on Saturdays or Jewish holidays should be recognized at the reviewing stand, which implies official consent.
No doubt some of JWV's 35,000 members took part in Monday's parades as individuals. But for many, if not most, the recitation of Yizkor at shul that morning may have taken precedence, paying tribute to the non-battlefield fallen.
Sitting out a parade is a sacrifice for JWV for a few reasons: It’s a an opportunity to raise awareness about the Jewish service in the armed forces in every American conflict, not to mention a chance to gain new members; and with America having been at war on two fronts for more than a decade now, Memorial Day has morphed back into more of a patriotic holiday than pool-opening day in the post-9/11 era.
Though not a veteran, I have marched in my little town’s annual Memorial Day Parade for the past five years, and this year had to sit it out as well to say Yizkor. Both my father and father-in-law are war-era veterans of the U.S. Army, and I’ve always been a fan of JWV not only for having served their country with pride and bravery but making sure the world knows about the sacrifices of men and women in uniform of all faiths.
This year, they proved the old adage that discretion is the better part of valor.
For more information about JWV, see their website.