Jewish war vet groups merging

Members of two local Jewish War Veterans groups have decided to merge, a sign of increasing membership challenges, according to one official.

The Dec. 9 vote by Los Angeles-based Jewish War Veterans (JWV) of the United States of America will combine Post 113 in Hollywood and Post 118 in Westwood, pending the approval of national leadership next month. A third group, Culver City Post 617, voted not to join in the merger.

Viola Orloff, the organization’s commander of the Los Angeles district council, said the vote is indicative of declining membership. Current members are aging and not enough new young people are joining, she said.

 “As those of us who are from the older wars pass on — and we are about 1,000 a day, as I understand — then there’s no one to take our place,” she said.

Veterans organizations in general are facing diminishing numbers, Orloff said, but JWV, which provides nonsectarian assistance to veterans and advocates on behalf of Jewish issues, faces an additional challenge: The organization requires that members be Jewish. (The group’s patrons, who are considered members, are not required to be Jewish, but they don’t have the right to vote.)

 The Los Angeles district council oversees five posts in the Greater Los Angeles area and one post in Ventura County. California posts have a total of approximately 20,000 members, estimated Orloff, who said that the average age of a JWV member is about 80. 

Still, Mathew Millin, commander of Post 118, said that lack of interest in joining is not the reason behind the merger. JWV is “thriving,” he said. If the organization’s numbers begin to decrease, it will be because there is a smaller pool, with fewer people joining today’s military, which is made up of volunteers as opposed to draftees, Millin said.

Posts 113 and 118 each have approximately 60 members, said Millen, who will lead the new group.

JWV’s national leadership will vote in February to officially approve the merger, which it will likely do, Millen said. 

The chances for approval of the merger are “100 percent,” agreed Greg Lee, state commander of the department of California for the organization and member of the JWV national executive committee, a nearly 100-person body that votes on mergers.

Lee acknowledged that fewer people are joining JWV but said, “As long as there’s Jews and as long as there’s conflicts, there’s going to be Jewish war veterans.”

Faced with smaller numbers, JWV is going to adjust to the times, he continued. This means convening less frequently in person and meeting more often over the telephone and through social media. 

Although in favor of the mergers, Orloff said she wasn’t disappointed in Post 617’s decision to stay put. As long as the post’s members actively engage the veteran community, they don’t have to join forces with anyone else, she said.

“They want to march through to their own drummer, and as long as they’re doing their job, that’s the best thing,” she said.

With more than 300 members, Orloff’s post — the San Fernando Valley’s 603 — is Los Angeles’ most flourishing JWV community. Orloff attributes that to the group’s robust programming during Chanukah and Passover and to its annual luncheon for paying members.

Orloff, who served in the American military during World War II — stationed in Texas, she was assigned to the Army Air Corps — expressed the need for more community-wide awareness of JWV, which she called “one of the best-held secrets in the world.”