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Bill aims to honor Jewish chaplains at Arlington

By Eric Tucker

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 20 2011 3:55 a.m. MDT

In this family photo released by the Silberberg family, Rabbi Morton Singer, right, is seen in 1968 at Fort Sill, Okla. Singer was killed in a plane crash in Vietnam while flying to observe Hanukkah with Jewish soldiers. He was serious in his commitment to help American soldiers worship in wartime. Yet his name, and those of 12 other Jewish clergymen, are absent from monuments at Arlington National Cemetery that honor more than 240 other fallen military chaplains. A new congressional effort backed by Jewish groups and survivors of the chaplains aims to change that.

Silberberg Family, Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Va. — Vera Silberberg was almost 4 when her father, a military chaplain, was killed in a plane crash in Vietnam while flying to observe Hanukkah with Jewish soldiers.

She grew up reveling in stories about him: Morton Singer, the weight-lifting Orthodox rabbi who loved cars, rock 'n' roll and his faith.

He was serious in his commitment to help American soldiers worship in wartime. Yet his name — and those of 12 other Jewish clergymen — is absent from monuments at Arlington National Cemetery that honor more than 240 other fallen military chaplains.

A new congressional effort backed by Jewish groups and survivors of the chaplains aims to change that.

"From his daughter's perspective, I think it would have been important for him — not really for his own namesake but so everyone who has perished and passed away, they should all have their names equally there," said Silberberg, a dentist who lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

There are already three monuments at Arlington for chaplains: one for those killed in World War I and one each for Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplains who died in various 20th century conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam. The three sit side-by-side in an area known as Chaplains Hill, not far from President John F. Kennedy's burial site. They were erected and dedicated by different groups of benefactors, so no one blames Arlington for the absence of a Jewish monument.

A joint resolution sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner and Sen. Charles Schumer, both New York Democrats, calls for a new plaque, similar in size and style to the existing three that would honor the late Jewish chaplains.

The 13 died between 1943 and 1974, though not all were killed in overseas combat.

They include Rabbi Alexander Goode, one of four chaplains who died aboard the USAT Dorchester, a troop ship torpedoed by a German U-boat as it carried hundreds of American soldiers across the frigid waters of the North Atlantic in 1943. The chaplains, as the story goes, gave up their life preservers and gloves to the shivering soldiers and offered comforting hymns even as the ship went down. More than 600 died. The names of the three other chaplains are all memorialized at Arlington.

Then there's Irving Tepper, who died in action in France in 1944 after seeing combat in Tunisia, Morocco and Sicily; Louis Werfel, known as the "Flying Rabbi," who died in a plane crash in North Africa; and Herman Rosen and his son, Solomon, who died in an air disaster and drowning accident, respectively, five years apart.

Ken Kraetzer, a bank marketing consultant and son of a World War II Army officer, noticed the lack of a monument for Jewish chaplains while researching the stories of late chaplains from his alma mater, Providence College. Though not Jewish himself, Kraetzer said he was startled by the apparent oversight. He alerted the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council, which has helped lead the effort.

"I don't consider it a Jewish cause, per se. I consider it an honor the veterans cause. This is a chance to honor chaplains, past and present," Kraetzer said. "This group just happens to be Jewish."

Cemetery officials told the organizers they could move forward with a monument provided they raised the money themselves and could produce a complete and accurate list of the dead Jewish chaplains. They did that by cross-checking research from the Jewish Historical Society with records from the chaplain corps of each branch of service.

Sol Moglen, who conceived the idea for a Sept. 11 memorial in Brooklyn and helped develop plans for the Arlington monument, helped lead fundraising. Organizers say they have raised about $50,000 — more than enough, they say, to cover the costs of the work.

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