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Congress Urged To Approve Jewish Chaplains Memorial

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Jewish Chaplains have been serving alongside Catholic and Protestant Chaplains in the military since the Civil War.
Jonathan Wilson
Jewish Chaplains have been serving alongside Catholic and Protestant Chaplains in the military since the Civil War.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the history and the sheer scale of the Arlington National Cemetery grounds.

But for Rabbi Kenneth Block, a 30-year chaplain with the Veterans' Administration in Maryland, there's something important missing: recognition of Jewish military chaplains killed in the line of duty.

"Just from visiting the cemetery, I assumed, 'well, I just didn't see it. It must be somewhere, and I just didn't pay much attention,'" Block says.

The absence is most obvious at a place in the cemetery called Chaplains Hill, where three large gravestones stand, commemorating Catholic chaplains, Protestant chaplains, and chaplains killed in World War I.

"We don't want to keep promoting this view that its the territory of Christians only, or that Rabbis aren't doing their fare share," says Block.

A Jewish memorial isn't just appropriate, he adds. It would also help clear up the misconceptions he hears about the chaplaincy just about everyday.

"Someone says, 'What do you do?' [I say] I'm a rabbi. They say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but where's your congregation?' I say, 'I'm a chaplain with the V.A.'," he says. "They look at me and say, 'How can you be a chaplain -- you're a rabbi!" Block says.

Jewish chaplains have been part of the military since the Civil War. A total of 13 Jewish chaplains have been killed in the line of duty.

A group has formed -- led by the [Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington] 9http://www.jhsgw.org/) -- to push for a memorial to be added to Chaplains Hill at the cemetery.

The proposed memorial -- which has already been designed and privately funded -- needs Congressional approval, just like any memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. A bill that would allow the monument recently passed through a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Supporters are pressing for its approval by Memorial Day.

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