The State Senate recognized 13 Jewish chaplains who died while serving on active duty in the Armed Forces. Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky sponsored the resolution to honor them.
In Arlington National Cemetery, there are memorials on Chaplains’ Hill for 240 chaplains who died while serving their country but none of these rabbis has his name listed there. In 1926, a monument was dedicated to 23 chaplains and 55 years later, 134 Protestant chaplains who served in World Wars I and II were similarly honored. Eighty-three Catholic chaplains who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam were memorialized on a monument in 1989.
“I commend Congress for its desire to honor the memory of these 13 Jewish chaplains in addition to the 240 whose lives and work are already memorialized on Chaplains’ Hill,” Sen. Stavisky said. “The men and women who serve in the armed forces do so at great personal risk. Chaplains’ service in the armed forces is very important, providing support for their spiritual and emotional needs, and often doing so at their own peril. We owe them this honor.”
Since July 29, 1775, approximately 25,000 Army Chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million soldiers and their families. From military installations to deployed combat units and from service schools to military hospitals, chaplains and chaplain assistants have performed their ministries in the most religiously diverse organization in the world. They have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements. Some 400 Army Chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Six have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Currently, more than 2,800 chaplains serve the Army, representing some 130 different religious organizations. The Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. military in 1947, and has had its own Chaplain Corps since 1948.
The move to honor these Jewish chaplains has the support of more than 30 Jewish groups and a number of representatives in Congress, according to The Jewish Voice & Herald. A coalition of these organizations has raised $30,000 for the monument, and the United States Congress is currently searching for an appropriate site in Arlington National Cemetery to honor their memory. A law was passed in the late 1980s requiring Congress to approve any memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, so U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner have begun the process to pass a Congressional Resolution.
In a letter to members of Congress, the coalition of Jewish organizations described the heroism of the four chaplains aboard the USS Dorchester when it was sunk by German torpedoes off the coast of Greenland in 1943. Each of the four chaplains on board – Protestant, Catholic and Jewish – gave his life jacket to another soldier and sang hymns to the men in lifeboats and in the icy water. Three of those four chaplains are memorialized on Chaplains Hill in Arlington National Cemetery, but neither that rabbi nor any other rabbi who died in other active service situations are honored thusly.
The New York State Legislature’s resolution commends the U.S. Congress’ search for a memorial site in the cemetery.