Sol Black of Marblehead could not believe how much his life would change after he joined the U.S. Marine Corps during the War on Terror.
Some of the changes would be positive, such as the friendships he made with fellow Marines.
“I forged lifelong relationships while I was in the military,” he said, “with an unpredictable cast of characters.”
Yet other changes would be tragic for the Marine during his service in Liberia and Iraq from 2001 to 2005. He mentioned surviving firefights and suicide bombs, and having to bury a friend in Iraq for the first time.
Black was part of a unique Veterans Day ceremony held on Zoom on Wednesday night. It was sponsored by the Robert I. Lappin Foundation with partner organizations including the Jewish War Veterans of the US North Shore Post 220 and three Peabody synagogues: Temple Ner Tamid of the North Shore, Congregation Sons of Israel and Congregation Tifereth Israel Sephardic.
The event focused on a Lappin Foundation initiative in which high school and college students interviewed Jewish veterans, with over 50 transcripts posted on the foundation website and shared on social media.
Student Haley Zunick recalled her interview with Black, in which he shared memories of the 23-day, three-week Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, which took place 16 years ago this month. His job called for dismantling enemy bombs, and the process included setting them off in a controlled manner. His service in the Battle of Fallujah earned him a Navy Achievement Medal – a dramatic punctuation to a career in which he endured anti-Semitic taunting.
“His military service gave him direction in life,” Zunick said. “It completely changed his outlook.”
Throughout the evening, students shared their reflections on what it was like to interview the veterans, and in some cases the veterans were also present to give their thoughts.
Harvey Weiner, a Vietnam veteran who is the national commander of the Jewish War Veterans, was interviewed by student Ariel Greenberg. During the ceremony, Greenberg discussed learning about Weiner’s years in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970. The future national commander survived a land mine that killed several fellow servicemembers, including a Vietnamese soldier who died in Weiner’s arms.
“The nation has realized its wrongs in not separating the Vietnam War from the Vietnam warrior,” Weiner said, referring to past hostility toward Vietnam War veterans. “It has tried as best it could to make amends for it.”
Student Alyssa Ardai interviewed Jeffrey Blonder of Swampscott, the Massachusetts state director for the JWV. Blonder discussed his time in Afghanistan, a 13-month tour from 2008 to 2009. It was part of an overall career of military service from 1986, when he entered the Naval Reserve, to 2014, when he retired with the rank of chief petty officer and the Army and Navy Commendation Medals.
Blonder told Ardai about a chance conversation he had with a woman who was a fellow Jewish service member in Afghanistan. Two days later, she was killed in a bombing.
Ardai said that one thing that Blonder took from this brief conversation was: “Anytime you meet someone, it’s important to remember them.”
Student Lucy New recalled speaking with a member of the Greatest Generation: Harvey Siegel, who served in World War II from 1943 to 1945 in Wales, France, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia. He saw action on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge, as well as during the liberation of the concentration camps. He helped capture 100 German soldiers.
New said that in school, “we talk about World War II, but rarely about American soldiers who fought in the war. My generation is probably the last to have the opportunity to hear … about the war from relatives and their survivors.”
Meanwhile, in Revere, Ira Novoselsky, a post commander of both the American Legion in Revere and the JWV in Revere, was among the veterans who spoke at a virtual Veterans Day ceremony for the City of Revere.
Speakers included Mayor Brian Arrigo and veterans whose years of service included recent conflicts as well as World War II.
Although Novoselsky did not see action, he noted that he helped prepare fellow service members for combat as a recruiter for the National Guard.
He also described taking part in the fight to make sure Jews in uniform could have the opportunity to practice their faith. He recalled encountering anti-Semitism, as well as a drill sergeant who refused his request to go to chapel on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Eventually he was able to worship on Shabbat and make up the training time he missed.
“Everybody knows Veterans Day is for those who are still with us, who served and wore the uniform,” Novoselsky said. “We also know Memorial Day is for those we have lost. This holiday honors those still with us.”