Local Jewish War Veterans leader aims to raise awareness, support other vets
Two key motivators sparked Howard Goldstein's involvement with the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, an organization for which he launched a local post in DuPage County and is now active at the state and national levels.
The first reason -- and why most members join -- was to educate the public about the role of Jewish soldiers in the armed forces since before the Revolutionary War, he said.
The second was to help other veterans, whether it be by volunteering at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, donating supplies and equipment, or making them aware of the benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Goldstein of Glen Ellyn served as a medic in the Vietnam War in 1968 and 1969, working at field hospitals, an immediate care facility and a long-term convalescent center.
Upon returning home, Goldstein went back to college -- he previously quit to join the Army -- and earned his master's degree in business administration. He began a career in the insurance industry, started a family, moved around the country and had "zero to do with military or veterans" for years, he said.
Over time, however, he decided to ramp up his volunteer work and became involved with the American Red Cross. In addition to his disaster relief efforts with the Red Cross, Goldstein started working with a division in support of armed forces, and eventually became a Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service liaison to Chicago-area VA hospitals.
That experience prompted Goldstein to join a committee at his local synagogue in hopes of engaging members of the congregation in veteran assistance efforts. It wasn't long before 10 people had signed up -- enough to become a legitimate Jewish War Veterans post, he said.
The national JWV was founded nearly 125 years ago in response to a series of anti-Semitic comments about the lack of Jewish service in the Civil War, the website says. It now has more than 300 branches and is the longest-running veteran services organization in the country.
Officially formed in 2015, West Suburban Post 54 aims to carry out the group's mission of supporting Jewish military personnel, providing services for all veterans, combating bigotry and raising awareness, Goldstein said.
"Most people don't know we exist," he said. "We are a small percentage of the population, but throughout history, we have always had a higher percentage of Jews in the military than there was in the country."
Goldstein soon became involved with the state organization and worked his way up to department commander, a role that allows him to visit other posts and make connections across Illinois, he said.
He helped launch a JWV marketing committee at the national level, where he now serves as chairman. And he lobbies for Illinois and federal legislation in support of veterans, he said, pointing to a recent push for a state law that would help military medics transition more easily into similar civilian positions.
Goldstein's passion for helping veterans drives his volunteerism. But he also has enjoyed the camaraderie among the array of new people he's met along the way.
"I now have friends all over the country," he said. "We get to see the world from different perspectives,"