By Leon S. Malmud
In November, we celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. These two holidays have a common thread — that of gratitude. On Veterans Day, we remember with gratitude the service of the men and women who had and continue to place their lives at risk in order to protect and defend our nation’s freedom. On Thanksgiving Day, we celebrate with gratitude the bounty and richness enjoyed by our lives in this country.
As an 80-year-old first-generation Jewish American veteran, physician, university professor and father, I am concerned that many of us have forgotten to be grateful for the gifts that these two holidays have bequeathed to us. We seem to focus more on the controversies that we are experiencing rather than our nation’s achievements and progress.
In my lifetime, I have witnessed many challenges, injustices and tragedies that this nation has endured both in the homeland and from abroad. We still struggle with attempts to remove the stain of slavery from our culture, to right the wrongs of internments of Japanese Americans in WWII and the ever-present challenges of accepting this generation’s immigrants, who may upon arrival look and sound different from ourselves.
Yet for all of us who confront the challenges and master them, as each prior generation has done, we have witnessed our nation becoming even greater and stronger than ever before.
As Jewish Americans, we especially have much for which we should be thankful. The United States is the first nation in postbiblical history to have granted equal citizenship to Jews upon its founding in 1776. We are not guests here. We are, as is every other American, a vital part of the fabric of this nation.
As Jews, we are taught by our religion to recognize that gratitude alone for blessings is not sufficient. Gratitude must be accompanied by acts of charity, understanding and lovingkindness. Each of us is commanded to identify the needs of others and to therefore support agencies and organizations dedicated to addressing those needs.
Since I am a Jewish veteran, I would like to focus on the ways we can express our gratitude to our returning veterans by helping to meet their unmet needs. To illustrate, I will use examples from my own Jewish War Veterans Post #215. We have committed our resources to scholarship aid for returning vets of all races and religions, of course, who require financial aid while advancing their postservice education in community colleges under VA benefits.
Educational benefits from the VA do not extend to the months between scheduled classes. That has left some vets with an inability to support themselves over those months. Some are homeless. Some live in their automobiles. Many are “food insecure,” reporting that sometimes what’s for dinner is “sleep.” Our JWV post also provides a VSO (legal representative) in the role of advocate to assist returning vets in accessing the benefits to which they are entitled. The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes that need and works with these advocates in facilitating their needs.
In addition, my JWV post has established a supportive relationship with the United States Coast Guard facilities in New Jersey. For example, we have assisted family members in traveling to the graduation ceremonies of newly appointed Coast Guard men and women. Even today, we maintain a dialogue with other veterans’ organizations in combating residual anti-Semitism and bigotry. These are just a few examples of what we have chosen as expressions of our gratitude since all of us are veterans ourselves. We gratefully are not in personal need; however, we recognize the needs of our fellow warriors and their families.
Why should November be selected as the “month of demonstrations of gratitude”? As Jewish Americans, we witness the juxtaposition of the Days of Awe, introspection, confession and requests for forgiveness from both God and those individuals who we may have offended — followed by the joy of the thankfulness of Sukkot and the joy of Simchat Torah. Is it not appropriate that we, as Americans and Jews, follow with expressions of gratitude as we anticipate the various secular holidays which we witness and experience as Americans? We have so much for which we should be grateful. I hope that you agree and find it in your heart to act accordingly.
Leon S. Malmud, M.D., is dean emeritus and Herbert M. Stauffer Professor of Radiology emeritus at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. He lives in Rydal.