Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

from Colonial Times to 1900:


Jewish War Veterans: Born Out Of Anti-Semitism

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

When the prestigious magazines Harper's Weekly and North American Review, as well as Mark Twain, wrote that American Jews didn't serve and fight in the Civil War, 78 Jewish veterans of the Union Army met in New York City's Lexington Opera House on March 15, 1896, to refute these lies by organizing the Hebrew Union Veterans, the precursor group to the Jewish War Veterans of the USA.

These Veterans had a right to be mad and angry: there were more than 6,000 Jews who served in the Grand Army of the Republic, with many of them being killed or wounded. Six Jews were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and many others received various decorations and medals. After a year, Mark Twain apologized to the veterans for his anti-Semitic remarks.

These 78 Civil War veterans made the following the basis for their existence: They pledged to maintain a true allegiance to the United States; to combat anti-Semitism and to combat bigotry wherever it originated and whatever the target; to uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his battles wherever unjustly assailed; to assist such comrades and their families as might stand in need of help; to gather and preserve the records of patriotic service performed by men of Jewish faith; and to honor the memories and shield from neglect the graves of heroic Jewish veterans.

Today, these principles have been expanded to include support for Israel, Jewish Boy Scouts and Eagles, college scholarships and Soviet Jewry, and working with the community for common goals and causes.

Some of the major accomplishments of the JWV have been when it organized a boycott of German goods (1933), effectively campaigned for the G.I. Bill (1944), had a successful drive to supply blood for our soldiers during the Korean War (1951), was the only national veterans' organization that joined Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic march on Washington (1963), and spearheaded a drive in response to President Reagan's visit to Bitburg (1985).

The Jewish War Veterans sponsors the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington D.C. is the only museum in the country that houses the artifacts, memorabilia and records of Jewish men and women who served and fought in the wars of the United States from colonial times to the present.

The Jewish War Veterans of the USA is the oldest active veterans organization in the country, and the only active Jewish organization that has a Congressional charter. JWV interacts with other Jewish veterans throughout the world when they meet each year in Israel.

The Jewish War Veterans of the USA today has continued with the purposes set forth by those 78 Jewish Civil War Veterans in 1896. It is a major force on the national and local veterans scene, and it continues to be visible and vocal so that nobody will ever again question whether Jews fought for our country.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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