Jewish War Veterans, Scottsdale Post 210 welcomed 40 new members in February.
“We have a large gamut of membership,” said Post Commander Michael Chambers of the now-roughly 120 members, the youngest of whom is in his mid-30s, and the oldest is 103.
“And they all try to be as active as they can,” Chambers added.
The recent growth is the result of a merger with Valley of the Sun, Post 194, whose aging membership has become less active over time. Howard Farkash, former Post 194 commander, said there weren’t enough active members to get work done. Merging with 210 provides more opportunities for those members who wish to participate in more events and to have a larger footprint in terms of fundraising and community outreach, he said.
“We raise funds for veterans of all faiths, and we like to demonstrate the fact that we do that,” Farkash said. “This is one of the ways we crack down on anti-Semitism: We proclaim to the rest of the faiths that we are just like you. We go to war, we lose people, we get done fighting the war and we continue to serve our community through projects of goodwill and fundraising.”
In 2019, before the pandemic upended daily life, Post 210 raised around $12,000 by selling poppies over Memorial and Veterans Day weekends. They spread those funds around a variety of veterans’ organizations, including the MANA (Marines, Army, Navy, Airforce) House and James Walton Home. The pandemic has put the brakes on a lot of the post’s activities, which has “broken my heart,” Chambers said.
The group usually hosts a Passover Seder for Jewish residents of the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix, as well as a Super Bowl party.
“Last year we had almost 50 veterans in wheelchairs attend the party and it was a blast,” Chambers said, adding it couldn’t happen this year because of the pandemic. “That was a big thing that hurt me, and I’m sure they missed it also.”
Even with the pandemic, the group is finding ways to give back. Last November, Chambers went with several Cub Scouts to Jewish cemeteries to put American flags on the graves of veterans for Veterans Day.
Lou Kelter, a former member of Post 194 and a new member of Post 210, said the merger was necessary and he is eager to participate in more activities. “Hopefully, we can get more members in and make a larger post and get more involved — like we were before COVID hit.”
Jewish War Veterans of the USA was formed in New York in 1896 to fight anti-Semitism in the armed forces and the general public, and is the oldest, continuously operating veteran service organization in the country. Chambers estimates there are around 10,000 current national members, but as with many veterans’ organizations, membership has dropped over time.
Chambers, 73, Farkash, 78, and Kelter, 79, all veterans of the Vietnam war, are ready for new members.
“Any organization such as ours does much better with a continued inflow of younger members to carry on the work as a group,” Chambers said.
Kelter thinks many potential young members are just not aware of the organization.
“They’re not seeing what can happen by joining these posts and the advocacy that can be done in Washington, and even on the local level,” he said.
Chambers hopes that new and younger members join Post 210, because the group supports Jewish causes and fights discrimination and anti-Semitism and assists veterans in myriad ways. Most importantly, the organization offers camaraderie with fellow combat veterans.
“This is something hard to share with outsiders,” he said. JN