A Hall Of Heroes


It’s home to the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, where such outstanding athletes as Mark Spitz and Sandy Koufax are immortalized as hero athletes.

Now the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack is trumpeting an exhibit featuring another kind of hero — Jewish members of the U.S. military from World War II to the present day.

“A lot of times we make heroes out of sports people, but these are the real heroes, the men and women who put their lives on the line everyday,” said Alan Freedman, the Y’s associate executive director.

For the past two months the Y’s military exhibit has focused primarily on Jewish men in the military. It is slated to end on Memorial Day, to be followed by an exhibit featuring Jewish women in the armed forces.

In addition, the Suffolk Y has a special display about the Jewish men who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the armed services of the United States.

“There are 18 Jewish Medal of Honor winners going back to the Civil War,” Freedman said. “There have been none since the Vietnam conflict. Tibor Rubin was the last Jewish recipient.”

Rubin, who turns 81 next month, lives in California and had been scheduled to speak at the JCC. But he broke his kneecap in a fall that also affected an old war injury. As a result, he has been in a rehabilitation facility and Freedman said his trip to the JCC has been postponed to sometime in the fall.

But one of the youngest Medal of Honor winners, Jack Jacobs, 64, drove to the JCC in a rainstorm last month to regale nearly 100 people – primarily veterans themselves — with war stories and lessons he learned in the Army.

“I joined because I thought it was my duty to do so,” Jacobs said, adding that he served for 20 years and retired as a colonel 23 years ago.

When he enlisted, Jacobs joked that his parents began tearing their clothes as if in mourning. When he retired, he said, they asked him, “Why are you doing this?”

He peppered his talk with such one-liners as, “The objective in life is to be old enough to be a burden to the children.”

And he offered such sage advice as: “The first thing I learned in the military is that you have to know what you are trying to accomplish. … There is no such thing as too many resources. … If you are in the military or in the investment business, always ask what could go wrong and plan for it. That’s why we have reserves and a backup plan.”

Half of the exhibit about Jews in the military is borrowed from the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, D.C. The Jewish Federation of Hartford, Ct., assembled parts of the exhibit called “Pride, Honor and Courage: Jewish Women Remember WWII.” Freedman said it would also include segments that deal with women in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

For instance, there is a section dealing with Roslyn Schulte of St. Louis, who was killed a year ago in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. She was 25 and the first graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado to die in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Another display features Staff Sgt. Helen Trachtenberg Fischman, the only female member of the staff of the Belvoir Castle, the newspaper of Fort Belvoir in Fairfax, Va. She served as both a reporter and editor during World War II.

In his talk last month, Jacobs declined to discuss in detail the actions that earned him the Medal of Honor. He simply referred to his biography that had previously been distributed. It said Jacobs received the award for exceptional heroism in 1969 in Vietnam, where Jacobs served as an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion.

The unit came under intense enemy fire and Jacobs had to take command when the commander was disabled. Although bleeding from severe head wounds, he was able to withdraw the unit to safety and return repeatedly under intense fire to rescue the wounded and perform life-saving first aid. Jacobs is credited with saving the lives of a U.S. adviser and 13 allied soldiers.

A Brooklyn native who now lives in New Jersey, Jacobs, 64, is an NBC military analyst and previously worked as an investment manager.

In his remarks, Jacobs repeatedly spoke of his belief in “universal service.”

“Everyone who is lucky enough to live in this country owes service” in some manner, he maintained.

Today, he said, “less than one-half of 1 percent” of Americans has been in uniform.

“We don’t need every 18-year-old for two years, but as soon as he [or she] graduates from high school, he would report for 10 to 12 weeks of basic training. … The last week of training we’d have to convene boards to decide who we keep because there would be so many who want to stay.”

But he quickly added that such a scenario could happen only if there was “extraordinary leadership or a catastrophe.”

But at the present time, Jacobs said, “it’s easier to pay people than recruit them. … We’ve outsourced our national defense.”

Asked about Iran and the possibility of an Israeli attack to prevent development of nuclear weapons there, Jacobs said the U.S. at one time “had an opportunity to do something about it and did not. Now we can’t. … The U.S. is disinclined to do anything, and that means Israel” is on its own.

“Israel will not launch a preemptive strike unless it has intelligence that it will be successful. Israel might decide if it doesn’t act it faces a huge danger and that the U.S. will not come to its defense. If it does act, Israel must know it has the right target and that it is able to destroy it. But Israel is less and less capable of doing it itself [and] the U.S. resolve is not there.”

Towards the end of his talk, Jacobs referred to the incident that earned him the Medal of Honor.

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