Jewish War Veterans National Commander Dr. Barry Schneider believes that the veterans’ organization is the Jewish community’s best kept secret, and he’s working to change that.
“We’re facing a similar problem that all veterans’ groups are facing, and that’s with declining membership,” Schneider said. “Most of those groups, including ours, are comprised of World War II veterans, and sadly most of them are passing away. We need to engage our Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and make JWV applicable to them.”
From May 1 to 3, Schneider visited Arizona to tour and review JWV posts in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. There are four active JWV posts in Arizona; three located in the Phoenix metropolitan area and one in Tucson. Founded in 1896 by Jewish veterans of the Civil War, JWV is the longest-running continuous veterans’ group in the nation. Schneider has served as the JWV’s national commander since August 2018.
During Schneider’s visit to the area, he was honored at Scottsdale Post 210 as the installation officer for the post’s new officer installation and gala brunch.
“It was a significant event, highlighting both the culmination of a busy year of increased public presence in the city, as well as looking forward to an expansion in membership and activities for the year to come,” said Rochel Hayman, the commander of JWV Scottsdale Post 210.
Schneider also toured both the Phoenix VA hospital and the Arizona State Veteran Home, met with Jewish and veterans’ groups at Arizona State University and addressed a Boy Scouts of America Grand Canyon Council roundtable.
One of Schneider’s focuses as the national commander is to make sure that underrepresented Jewish veteran communities gain more public attention.
“National commanders have rarely traveled outside of New York, Pennsylvania, Florida or New Jersey,” Schneider said. “The posts outside of those regions need to know that the national command realizes they exist and that they’re an integral part of the organization.”
The national commander has also visited JWV posts in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Washington State. He wants the smaller JWV communities to know that they are appreciated. “We cannot exist without this part of the world, and the national command needs to know that there is a world of Jewish veterans outside of the East Coast.”
Schneider hails from St. Louis, Missouri, and now lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He was elected as national commander at the JWV’s 123rd annual national convention in Tampa, Florida. He is a retired Air Force major with 20 years of military service.
Schneider didn’t know about the JWV until he joined in 1994. He soon became a lifetime member and then became the commander of Post 775 in Fort Worth. Later, he served as department commander for Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma from 2012 to 2014 and as a national executive committee member from 2014 to 2016.
The JWV has approximately 15,000 members, with veterans who served in World War II up through currently active soldiers. As the national commander, Schneider — along with the JWV’s national executive committee — works to represent Jewish veterans on Capitol Hill.
On March 12, Schneider presented the JWV’s legislative priorities for 2019 before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Schneider’s testimony outlined the need for increased funding for veteran suicide prevention programs, and for protecting student veterans from predatory for-profit colleges.
But for Schneider, the most important work the JWV does is on the local level. JWV members attend funerals for soldiers and provide a flag folding ceremony; they volunteer at homeless shelters and are involved with the community in other ways.
Late last year, JWV Post 210 helped create Cub Scout Family Pack 210, which is the nation’s first shomer Shabbat and kosher pack for both boys and girls. JWV Post 210 and the Cub Scout pack marched together in the Phoenix Veteran’s Day Parade in November 2018.
“It’s that level of involvement that will help build our presence,” Schneider said. “And just like any organization, we have to ask people to join.” JN