Al Muskovitz writes of three heartwarming events he witnessed courtesy of Detroit Jewish veterans.
I recently had the privilege of attending three inspiring and heartwarming events thanks to our beloved Detroit Jewish War Veterans (JWV). Being vaccinated and the easing of COVID restrictions allowed me to experience two of these events in person.
Ike and Guy
On May 13, I witnessed a wonderful conversation between two pillars of our community: Dr. Guy Stern, Director of the International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC), and Dr. Isaiah (Ike) McKinnon, former Detroit Police Chief and Deputy Mayor of the City of Detroit under Mayor Duggan.
At 99, you will again find Stern, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished academic career, working six days a week at HMC. McKinnon, 78, is now the CEO of City Shield Security Services and a contributor on law enforcement issues on News with Shepard Smith on CNBC.
Stern had been featured on CBS ‘ 60 minutes May 9, along with two other surviving members of the “Ritchie Boys”, the elite military unit of World War II that trained at Fort Ritchie, Maryland. The television appearance premiered May 7 on the Jn website, thejewishnews.com.
Like Stern, many Ritchie Boys were German Jewish immigrants whose language skills were used by the US intelligence service to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war. Ultimately, Stern and his comrades would be credited with securing 60% of vital intelligence in Europe during WWII. This contribution earned Stern the Bronze Star.
McKinnon had seen the 60 minutes segment and was so moved by Stern’s story that, as the former boss told me, “I just had to meet him.” A visit to the doctor would pave the way for this introduction.
Ironically, neuroradiologist Dr Steve Seidman, with whom Ike was scheduled to meet two days after the 60 minutes the story broadcast, happened to evoke Stern’s appearance during their visit. (Ike told me so, so no HIPAA laws were broken!)
It turns out that Seidman’s office, the Michigan Institute for Neurological Disorders, is just north of the HMC on Orchard Lake Road, where his brother-in-law Tim Zimmerman has been the building manager since 2004. Seidman called Tim. . Tim then informed Sarah Saltzman, Director of Events at HMC, of Ike’s desire to meet Stern. It was then that he learned that Saltzman was working with Ike at the University of Detroit Mercy when she was in charge of special events and Ike was a professor and head of public safety. Jewish geography at its best. The points were tied and a May 13 meeting was scheduled.
McKinnon and Stern share a story of unimaginable intolerance and incredible perseverance dating back to their youth. Isaiah McKinnon at 14 survived a beating at the hands of four Detroit cops to make a vow at a young age to devote his life to change. From taking a beating to becoming a beat cop to eventually becoming a police chief.
Stern, at the age of 15, faced an increase in anti-Semitism and ostracism in 1937 in Germany, even among those he called his closest childhood friends. Foreshadowing what was to come, Guenther’s father (Guy) chose his teenage son as the sole family representative to travel alone to the United States in the hope of securing sponsorship and safe passage for the rest of the family. . A heartless American lawyer thwarted Stern’s efforts just when his mission seemed to be within his grasp. Stern’s parents and siblings ended up perishing in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Ike McKinnon has been a dear friend of mine for years and, knowing my close association with JWV, I thought I would like to chronicle the meeting of the two.
Ike and Guy had instant camaraderie when they met. It was an inspiring exchange on serious questions, but not without moments of lightness and laughter. It was like watching a conversation between old friends.
They spoke about their respective stories of challenges as a Jew in Nazi Germany and an African American in Detroit in the 1960s. Ike had so many questions for Guy, and he soaked up every detail like a sponge.
It was an open and frank conversation about their collective life experiences; the way things were and the way things are today. “If you see something, talk about it,” Ike said, reflecting on the hatred and division that still exists today and the prospect of history repeating itself.
On a related note, Stern recalled a message he delivered in a keynote address to dignitaries on a return visit to Germany a few years ago. He alluded to the division in our country and the global volatility in the world today when he said “Beware of the start of tyranny. Democracy is a very fragile flower.
You can read more about these two generational heroes in Guy Stern’s recent autobiography. Invisible ink and McKinnon’s memoirs Stand straight.
Hillel welcomes heroes
Just before Memorial Day weekend, the fifth and sixth graders at Hillel Day School were immersed in a project that required students to identify and write about their everyday heroes. At the same time, the seventh and eighth graders focused on military campaigns that have had a profound impact on our nation’s history.
To this end, the school invited the JWV to offer two veterans to share their perspectives, in an age-appropriate way, on their military experiences. The Zoom sessions took place on Friday May 28.
Nick Israel of Farmington Hills, 36, spoke to the fifth and sixth graders. Israel is a University of Michigan graduate and Army veteran who, among his many roles, served in the cavalry and later in psychological operations. Today, he is a member of the Michigan Air National Guard and is studying for his Masters of Science at Columbia University in New York.
Israel’s affection and dedication to the JWV was central to his speech. He made sure to explain the history of the JWV and shared hard-hitting stories of Jewish veterans from Detroit who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country during WWII, Vietnam and the War on Terror.
Explaining its introduction to the military, Israel told the children that “in college at the height of the Iraq war [of 2003], I felt the need not to sit on the bench. So I decided to join the army and do something for our country.
Israel included stories from its Jewish experience in the military, including how it observed Passover and Chanukah from an armored tank. The students were undoubtedly particularly fascinated by a training video that Israel shared of him parachuting from an airplane.
Hillel’s seventh and eighth students were treated to stories from a member of our greatest generation – Jerry Manchel, a 96 year old World War II veteran from West Bloomfield, whose third granddaughter year, Lucy, attends school.
I spoke with Manchel before his Zoom session. He admitted to being nervous about giving a presentation in front of so many people. Nervous, I thought? This from a man who flew 43 missions over the Pacific as a radio / machine gunner on a B-24 bomber?
After the fact, it would take some time to convince him, but Jerry Manchel portrayed him beautifully. He spoke with pride of his service and the unique perspective he had as a witness to the history of WWII.
Among those indelible memories, Manchel described a flight over Nagasaki, Japan, four days after the atomic bomb was dropped and later saw first-hand Japanese leaders land at Ie Shima airfield, in Japan, about to officially surrender.
Manchel also fondly remembers receiving a message from President Harry Truman through his military assistant thanking him for sending a photo of the plane Manchel flew bearing the name of the Commander-in-Chief. The photo was returned autographed with words of gratitude from the president.
The positive impression Israel and Manchel made on the students was evidenced by the depth of the thoughtful inquiries the students made during the question-and-answer sessions. The issue of anti-Semitism during military service was raised. Manchel said fortunately he had never been the victim of such discrimination. Israel described the military as a “great environment for our Jewish military, with many allies against any suspicion of Jewish hatred.” A warm collective “thank you for your service” was shared by the students at the end of each program.
On Sunday, May 30, members of our Detroit-area JWV stations gathered at the Machpelah Cemetery Veterans Section in Ferndale for their annual Memorial Day weekend tribute to their comrades in blessed memory. Female Auxiliaries and family members of veterans were well represented.
As he has done in recent years, Rabbi Michael Moskowitz led a brief dedication ceremony. He reflected on the year that had passed: “Since the last time we gathered for Memorial Day prayers, 20 American people have lost their lives. At some level, we think it’s a small number. And compared to past years, it has decreased. We give thanks for this reality. But it’s still 20 families who have lost a loved one, 20 friends who have buried a loved one. The impact of a lifetime, we all understand what that means.
Compounding this loss in the many years of conflict our nation has endured, Rabbi Moskowitz thanked all who risked their lives, remembering each as “the best this country has to offer.”
The service ended with a tap dance by Paul Roache, a Bugles Across America volunteer.
Be proud and support our JWV. They are the oldest active service organization in the United States. In doing so, you are not only making a difference in the lives of our Jewish servicemen and women, but you are supporting, as their mission statement states, “fostering the doctrine of universal freedom, equal rights and of full justice. for all men and women.”