Each year, from Oct. 11 through Nov. 11, retired Cpl. Paul Cohen is all about poppies.
As a member of Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley, the 81-year-old Woodland Hills resident solicits donations for the symbolic paper flowers in honor of Veterans Day. All funds are used to help sick and disabled veterans. While many fellow 603 members choose to commemorate the holiday by placing American flags on veterans' graves at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles and Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, Cohen feels it is important to help those who remain.
"We can only remember the dead," said Cohen, who was in the Army infantry, "but we have to do what we can for the living." As Veterans Day approaches, it is this belief that enables Cohen to stay relevant to the times and look ahead to the future.
Cohen's voice breaks as he recounts his both horrific and incredible war stories, including earning a Brown Star for saving his platoon leader's life, yet he is equally as passionate about the present. As Post 603 is affiliated with both the Veterans Association Hospital in West Los Angeles and the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills, Cohen is an active volunteer, spending time with patients at both facilities. "And we don't only reach out to the Jewish veterans," he is quick to point out. "We want to help all veterans."
Still, Cohen feels his heritage is important. "I'm very proud to be a Jewish War Veteran," he said, noting that there are not many Jewish veterans who were in frontline combat.
Sgt. Nelson Magedman, 603's post commander, has worked for the Jewish War Veterans in several different capacities over the last 25 years, the Vietnam vet believes his patriotic duties are strictly about being an American. "I don't think my religion has anything to do with the military," said the 65-year-old West Hills resident who worked in the Army's Surgical Research Unit in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. "My perspective on the military has to do with my individual beliefs as an American. We are all Americans regardless of religion or race."
As of yet, 603 has not received any instructions from their headquarters in Washington, D.C., regarding possible duties in the event of a war with Iraq. Still, the veterans expressed strong feelings about the possibility. "I'm not in favor of war, but in order to preserve the peace, sometimes we have to [go to war]," said Magedman, adding that he feels that the Pearl Harbor bombing could have been avoided if the United States went to war earlier during WWII. Having been in combat, Cohen believe that world leaders should work things out themselves instead of "killing America's and the world's young populations."
Cohen and Magedman will all attend a special Shabbat dinner honoring the Jewish War Veterans at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in West Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 15. The temple's Rabbi Daniel Bouskila feels a special connection with the veterans, as he was in the Israel Defense Forces after studying in Israel in 1984. The Los Angeles native was inducted into the Jewish War Veterans organization in Los Angeles as a chaplain. "I always believed that the democracies of the Israel and the United States are one in the same," Bouskila said. "There's a very strong connection between the Jewish war veterans here and in Israel."
In regards to Iraq, the rabbi said he believes a regime change is necessary and hopes it can be done with the most minimal amount of damage to U.S. and Israeli soldiers.
As an honorary Jewish War Veteran, Bouskila believes that the group is an important symbol of our heritage and future. "I think defending freedom and democracy fall right in place with Judaism," he said.
On Nov. 11 at 10 a.m., Jewish War Veteran of the United States of America Post 603 will present a Veteran's Day memorial program at Eden Memorial Park, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills with guest speaker U.S. Army Res. Ambassador Howard Schwartz and an address by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24). For more information call (818) 361-7161.