500 Jews Serve with U.S. Forces in S. Viet Nam;one Rabbi on Duty
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500 Jews Serve with U.S. Forces in S. Viet Nam;one Rabbi on Duty

An estimated 500 Jewish servicemen have arrived in South Viet Nam in the United States military build-up and hundreds more are expected, but there is only one Jewish chaplain to meet their religious needs as well as those of some 150 Jewish civilians here.

Christian chaplains are filling the needs of Jewish servicemen in the frequent absence of the Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Richard Dryer. Rabbi Dryer, like his fellow Christian chaplains, makes frequent trips to military outposts to make personal contacts with Jewish troops. He seldom gets to his Saigon office during weekdays because his territory extends from Danang on the north to Kien Binh in the southern delta.

At the Sabbath services, this weekend, 27 servicemen and three townspeople were present. Chaplain Dryer’s service had much participation. The kiddush was sung by all, and the traditional L’Chayim toast was given at the Kiddush. The Oneg Shabbat that followed was ended by the rigid 11 p.m. curfew.

News that a second Jewish chaplain was arriving in mid-September was greeted with cheers at a chaplains’ dinner honoring a member returning to the United States. The Jewish GIs, asked what they missed most, cite letters from home, salami, lox with bagel and cream cheese. Two USO centers in Saigon are being heavily used, according to director Allen Sternberg, who reported that the troops are just beginning to find the facility.


There is a noticeable lack of Jewish reading materials and other facilities. Religious materials are provided by the National Jewish Welfare Board but, if the increase in Jewish troops continues, there will be a need for more JWB help to maintain the present high morale of the American Jewish servicemen.

The Jewish civilians in South Viet Nam include 41 businessmen or industry representatives, 27 correspondents, and civil and Embassy employees. The leading druggist is Jewish, as is a major automobile distributor. A dozen French Jews have lived here for the past 40 years, but no one asks any other person’s religion.

Jewish communal organization is non-existent, and none of the civilian Jewish residents seems to want to volunteer to start a communal group. The usual reason given is that they are “too busy. ” Many have said they would participate in Jewish communal activities, but no one wants to take the first step. Several Polish Jews have indicated they may create a minyan with enough urging.

Generally, the Jews who are here on a limited stay are awaiting return to the United States. Those here permanently do not care. If a communal organization is established, it was indicated, it will have to be initiated by outside help.

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