Photo: Jewish War Veterans participated in the Phoenix Veterans Parade, together with some members of the
Post 210 chartered Cub Scout Pack 210, the first Shomer Shabbat/Kosher Family pack (boys and girls) in the Nation. Rochel is at the far right.
Jews have always served their country in the military since the earliest colonial days. Throughout history, there has been a common misconception that Jews don’t serve and don’t support the military. This antisemitic rhetoric motivated 63 Jewish Civil War veterans to form the Hebrew Union Veterans Association in New York City on March 15, 1896 – 125 years ago.
That organization is now known as the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) and has between 350-400 posts across the United States. “The JWV is the oldest continuous veteran’s organization in the country,” says Rochel Hayman, NEC at Jewish War Veterans Department of the Southwest.
Rochel spent six years in the U.S. Air Force as a broadcast specialist and served in Japan and Greece. She was elected the first female commander of Post 210 in Scottsdale, where she served in that position from April 2017 until May 2019.
Under her current position, Rochel is the National Executive Committee representative for the department, which means that she represents and votes on behalf of the Department of the Southwest during leadership meetings of the national organization. These meetings usually occurred in Washington, D.C., before the pandemic.
While in D.C., Rochel would take the opportunity to set up meetings with representatives from Arizona to lobby for legislation that is important to veterans. JWV also holds fundraisers a few times throughout the year to support veterans, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
“We don’t have any expenses, so the money that we raise gets given out to other veterans organizations here in town,” says Rochel. “We’ve also donated as a post to the kosher food bank, Ezras Cholim. Ezras Cholim also serves veterans, and someone doesn’t have to be Jewish to go there.”
As far as supporting those serving active duty, Rochel says that the challenge is privacy; they can’t just get a list from the military as far as who self-identifies as Jewish.
“We have to reach out in other ways,” she says. “We’re also looking at developing a new committee in JWV for military members, so that they can tell us what support they need.”
Another challenge that JWV faces is similar to congregations – engaging and encouraging younger members to join the organization.
“People of this generation are not big joiners, so we’re working on a strategic plan for the next five to 10 years. That means there’s an evolvement that needs to take place, and we’re reaching out to younger veterans,” says Rochel. “We have younger veterans and people who are Jewish that have been in the United States military here in Arizona that either have never heard of JWV or just aren’t interested in getting involved.”
She also notes that younger members like action; they want to do things, and that’s difficult in a multi-generational organization where you are trying to make everybody happy.
Another way they are trying to engage younger veterans is through the JWV’s Gulf War Committee, in which Rochel is a chair for the committee. She was in Saudi Arabia when the Gulf War broke out.
“We’re putting together a virtual community of Jewish veterans,” she says. “We’re having representatives of the committee in each department and some posts throughout the country so that we can start interconnecting because that’s the other thing this generation has – the networking and interconnectivity – which the previous generations didn’t have.”
Rochel is passionate about this organization, and she looks forward to helping it build moving forward. She is also excited to share the honor that the JWV will be participating in this November.
Every year, on Veterans Day, a different veterans organization is responsible for organizing the activities that occur at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For 2021, JWV will be in charge of these commemorations.
“JWV is going to be the host of the activities,” says Rochel. “This year is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’s 100th anniversary, so we’re sharing it with them, so to speak.”
Just remember, the Jewish War Veterans were already celebrating their 25th anniversary when the iconic memorial was being built.
For more information on the Jewish War Veterans, contact Rochel at email@example.com.