The son of immigrants from what is now Ukraine, and an ordainee of Yeshiva University, Louis Werfel earned the title of “The Flying Rabbi” for his peripatetic chaplaincy service to Jewish soldiers in northern Africa during World War II.
Killed in a plane crash returning from conducting Chanukah services for American members of the military in Casablanca in December 1943, he was eventually interred in the cemetery of Israel’s kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, whose school and synagogue were named for him.
His memory will be perpetuated this month in this county, too.
Rabbi Werfel is among 14 U.S. military chaplains whose names are on a monument that will be dedicated Monday, Oct. 24 in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. The monument will join memorials on Chaplains Hill for fallen Catholic, Protestant and World War I chaplains at the nation’s largest military cemetery.
“We all benefited from their service. We ought to be thankful,” says Rabbi (and retired Navy rear admiral) Harold Robinson, director of the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, a division of the JCC Association, which helped lobby for congressional approval for the monument. “The ones who served and died deserve to be honored.”
The 14 chaplains — all males, representing all the major denominations of Judaism — lost their lives while on active duty during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the honored group is Rabbi Alexander Goode, part of the fabled Four Chaplains who died when the USS Dorchester troop ship was torpedoed and sank off of Greenland in February 1943, shortly after leaving port in Staten Island.
A U.S. postage stamp was dedicated to the Four Chaplains in 1948, and several chapels and memorials around the country were named for them over years, but few Americans today known their story, Rabbi Robinson says. “I don’t even think the story of Rabbi Goode is known” in the wider Jewish community.
The nearly four-year effort to obtain permission for the seven-foot granite monument and an attached bronze plaque, and to raise some $50,000 (the major contributor was Caldwell, N.J., Jewish activist Sol Moglen), was coordinated by JWB (Jewish Welfare Board), the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, Jewish War Veterans, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Sons of the American Legion, and Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance.
The plaque was taken in a van by the Dignity Memorial funeral and cemetery firm to two dozen Jewish communities along the East Coast for viewing and local memorial programs, on the way to Arlington, during the last month.
The dedication falls on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the commission of the first Jewish chaplain in the U.S., in 1862 during the Civil War.
Participants in the Oct. 24 dedication ceremony (jcca.org/category/jwb), which is open to the public, will include representatives of the Armed Services, Congress and the Jewish community, and relatives of the fallen chaplains.
The designers of the plaque left “space for additional entries” if, “God forbid,” if future Jewish chaplains die in their country’s service, Rabbi Robinson says. “We have left room.”