Legislators on both sides of the political aisle are pushing for the construction of a national Jewish chaplains’ memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, and judging by a unanimous House of Representatives vote in favor of a larger bill containing the provision - and ensuing signoff by the Senate - the memorial could be erected soon.

The memorial – which would honor the memory of 13 Jewish chaplains who died while on active duty in the U.S. armed forces – would stand alongside three existing non-Jewish chaplains’ memorials at the Virginia cemetery.

Army Col. Jacob Goldstein, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi and military chaplain, called the effort “very, very important” and “long in coming.”

“By not having a Jewish memorial, it almost says we don’t serve,” said Goldstein, who among other highlights in his career, presided over Chanukah celebrations at what used to be Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad.

The memorial provision won Senate passage after consideration by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It does not need to be signed by the president in order for the memorial to be built.

The existing memorials at Chaplains Hill in Arlington were funded by private donations, as would the memorial for Jewish chaplains. Upwards of $50,000 has already been raised for the project by Ken Kraetzer, vice commander of the Sons of the American Legion, and Sol Moglen, a veteran who remembers the work of the Jewish chaplain stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina when he was in the service.

“The honor of this monument for these brave service members is long overdue,” said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

At Fort Jackson near Columbia, S.C., Army chaplain Rabbi Henry Soussan noted that Jewish chaplains risked their lives for other soldiers, regardless of their comrades’ religion.

Col. Jacob Goldstein outside detainee camp operated by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Photo: US Army PAO)
Col. Jacob Goldstein outside detainee camp operated by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Photo: US Army PAO)
“It is important to show the contributions Jewish chaplains have made to the armed forces to support all American soldiers,” said Soussan, an instructor at the U.S. Army Training Center, which will open its own chaplains’ memorial on June 1. “We help everybody.”

Soussan pointed to the story of Rabbi Alexander Goode and three fellow chaplains as exemplifying the self-sacrifice of clergy in uniform. Known as the “immortal chaplains,” the four died when they gave their life jackets to other soldiers after their ship was sunk by a German torpedo.

While all four were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and the Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism, Goode is the only one of the four whose name is not listed on a memorial at Chaplain’s Hill.

That’s a shame, said retired Navy Lt. Gary Siegel, who served during the Vietnam War. He will never forget the heroism of Rabbi Morton Singer, one of four Jewish chaplains in the theater while he was stationed in Da Nang.

“He would come by every six weeks,” said Siegel, now 68, who acted as a lay leader and ran Sabbath services when Singer was away.

Singer always let Siegel know when he was on the base and Siegel, an outside storage officer, visited Singer on more than one occasion.

“We would go to the hospital and visit the wounded soldiers,” Siegel recalled.

Siegel last saw Singer at the beginning of Chanukah in December 1968. Singer then flew down to a Marine Corps installation at Chu Lai to conduct services there. He was on his way back to Da Nang when his plane was struck by enemy fire. Singer perished.

“Jewish chaplains have served our country for 149 years,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who was alerted to the issue by Kraetzer and Moglen, Jewish War Veterans, the Jewish Welfare Board and the Jewish Chaplains Council, told the House on Monday before the vote. “All that is standing between Arlington cemetery and a memorial for Jewish chaplains is the passage of this bill in the House and Senate.”

Added Weiner: “I look forward to the ceremony at Arlington cemetery that will follow this vote.”