Editorial | Vets deserve our respect and support

This past week, our country marked Veterans Day. But you wouldn’t know it in San Francisco. In Britain, it seems that everyone was sporting red poppies in their buttonholes on Remembrance Day, honoring the soldiers who gave their lives in World War I, the so-called war to end all wars. In San Francisco, turnout was so sparse for last Sunday’s annual Veterans Day parade that it was embarrassing.

One 22-year Air Force veteran told the San Francisco Chronicle it was the lowest turnout he’d seen in any major U.S. city. Another viewer remarked, “Heck, it’s a Sunday, and only takes an hour.”

There are a lot of reasons for the Bay Area’s reluctance to recognize military service, both political and practical. The famously liberal region has long been a center of antiwar activism, and a preponderance of Bay Area families do not have children in the military.

Whatever the reasons, they amount to nothing less than a shanda. The men and women who serve our country deserve our thanks and respect. They are not the politicians who decide on war, but the national servants who volunteer to carry out those plans. And they give up a lot, not just during their service but for years afterward.

On a parochial level, the Jews who serve deserve particular support. While Defense Department statistics show fewer than 5,000 Jews among the country’s 1.4 million men and women on active duty, the Jewish Chaplains Council puts the number between 10,000 and 14,000. Why the gap? Some Jews in the military — more than half, if these figures are correct — don’t want to identify openly. The reasons for this reticence are varied, too, but suffice it to say that being public with one’s Judaism may represent one more pressure on an already stressed service member.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Welfare Board, the parent organization of the Jewish Chaplains Council and the body that administers to Jewish service members’ needs and vets Jewish military chaplains.

In recognition of that centenary, the Jewish Federations of North America concluded its annual General Assembly Nov. 11 with a tribute to past and present Jewish military chaplains. The ceremony was held on Veterans Day in National Harbor, Maryland, outside the nation’s capital. Active-duty and retired chaplains shared their stories, and the G.A. delegates took a moment to honor the three dozen Jewish chaplains on active duty today.

We applaud the JFNA for this important recognition, and say thank you to all of our service members.