Arabella Kushner, the granddaughter of President Donald Trump, walking on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 17. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

5-year-old Arabella Kushner loves Israel and wants to be a Marine. But should Ivanka be sharing this?

By now, some of you may know a bunch of random but adorable facts about 5-year-old Arabella Kushner, the granddaughter of President Donald Trump. For instance, she likes Israel more than she likes ants, she loves fidget spinners and she wants to be a Marine when she grows up.

We know all this because her mother, Ivanka Trump, posted Arabella’s answers to a questionnaire made by her kindergarten classmates on social media last week.

News outlets pounced on the story, as Arabella is the daughter of the country’s most talked about Jewish power couple and anything that Ivanka Trump or her husband, Jared Kushner, do is intensely scrutinized. Besides, Arabella is really cute and her answers were priceless.

But should she be dragged into the political arena?

Ivanka’s tweet about her daughter’s harmless kindergarten quiz — like so many of her other social media posts — provoked a stream of hateful and political comments.

Ivanka put Arabella at the center of a social media post just two days before the questionnaire post, tweeting an image of Arabella learning the basics of coding — which, unsurprisingly, also produced negative comments.

Arabella is not a special adviser or unpaid public aide to the president of the United States. She is not advocating for any government policies or defending the president against public criticism. She’s a kid — and she may not want tens of thousands of people to know that if she were a bird, she would eat 1,000 worms a day.

When Ivanka posted her daughter’s answers on Twitter and Facebook, she was likely doing so as the doting mother that she is. She probably just adored her daughter’s answers and wanted to share them with her friends and supporters. And there were some nice responses to the tweet.

But Trump’s Twitter account is hardly “personal.” It combines her roles as presidential adviser, self-help entrepreneur and brand manager, with frequent tweets about all three. In this promotional environment, mentions of her children appear to be in service to her political and professional agendas — inviting the kinds of push-back that Ivanka herself only yesterday called “vicious.”

Ivanka might not pay attention to the hateful responses. But maybe she should think twice before involving her 5-year-old daughter so personally on social media pages that she uses to promote the administration she serves and the businesses she runs. Maybe she should post these wonderful disclosures about her kids on a separate Facebook page only viewable to real family and friends.

Arabella may be partial to ice cream and rainbows and the Star of David — but she deserves to be treated as a real and private little girl, not a prop.

Training through Torah: An Orthodox rabbi and Navy lieutenant offers teaching, comfort to Marines

Sitting at the front of a small room inside a nondescript building at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Navy Lt. Aaron Kleinman was dressed in a uniform rarely seen on these grounds: On top of his gray suit, dress shirt and tie, Kleinman’s head was covered by a kippah and his shoulders, torso and back were draped with a large, dark green and olive-colored military-style tallit.

Kleinman was leading a small explanatory prayer service on Sept. 25, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, part of a larger High Holy Days program for the camp’s Jewish Marines. It was the first-ever High Holy Day program of its kind at this base, where nearly 40,000 service members work and live.

Kleinman serves as an Orthodox rabbi and chaplain in addition to his Navy rank, and on this day spoke of forgiveness by describing an experience involving his 9-year-old son, Mati, the eldest of his three children. 

Mati, Kleinman told the group, has a habit that can make his father lose his cool. One year, at synagogue on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah, Kleinman said Mati approached him somewhat awkwardly and said, “I’m sorry. I’m really trying not to, but sometimes it’s hard.”

As Kleinman spoke to the group, his emotions at the memory of his son’s earnest words were evident. His congregation at this small breakout service included a female Marine, a former Navy pilot and his wife, a chaplain-in-training and his girlfriend, plus a young Jewish man who’d come as a guest from Los Angeles. Kleinman told the group: “God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He expects us to look at ourselves honestly and say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m really trying not to, but sometimes it’s hard.’ ”

That, Kleinman said with moist eyes, is what the High Holy Days are all about. We want to be better, or at least “want to want to be better.” But, he admitted, it’s often hard and we need help. It’s a message that can resonate with anyone during the High Holy Days, but maybe it strikes a particular chord for Jews in the military “who want a connection” in the midst of an environment that can be “spiritually corrosive,” as Kleinman wrote later in an email. “It is easy to feel tremendous distance from God [in the military],” he wrote.

Using Torah to teach leadership

Kleinman is one of only nine Jewish chaplains among the Navy’s close to 800 active-duty clergy. He is also an expert marksman and former naval aviator, having served 14 years on active duty (including four years studying at the Naval Academy) before joining the reserves, then re-enlisting as clergy. As a result, Kleinman is just as fluent in the language of his fellow soldiers as that of Torah.

An avid reader of Pirkei Avot, or “Ethics of Our Fathers,” the Jewish compendium of ethical teachings from the sages, Kleinman, during a June tour of the base, referenced a quote, attributed to Hillel, that helps him explain why he felt drawn to chaplaincy: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.”

“In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be that leader,” Kleinman said. “I got into this because there was a need, and no one else was stepping in.”

Lt. Eric Berman studies Torah with Lt. Aaron Kleinman, a rabbi, who is currently serving as a chaplain at Camp Pendleton.

Jews in the military are, in Kleinman’s words, a “low density, high demand” faith group. There aren’t tons of them (it is estimated that fewer than 5,000 are currently on active duty, of which 2,000 serve in the Navy) and they’re spread out across the globe, wherever America’s armed forces are stationed.

“You’re talking all the major rivers, lakes and waterways in the continental U.S., all up and down the East and West Coast,” Kleinman said, listing the vast territory protected by America’s sailors and Marines. “Hawaii, Okinawa, the Mediterranean — we now have a presence in Australia, Europe. That’s a lot of area for nine Jewish chaplains to cover.” Kleinman’s job includes the constant possibility of relocation — he goes wherever there is a need.

And, many servicemen and women could use a rabbi to lean on, particularly one like Kleinman, who has seen combat and understands the physical and mental demands of military life.

On an earlier visit to Pendleton on a scorching summer day, Kleinman’s routine schedule seemed anything but routine to a civilian. 

He socialized with Marines in the gym and those training in the Corps’ martial arts program, then delivered the benediction at a change-of-command ceremony and observed a combat medical evacuation team’s training mission at a site built to resemble a typical Middle Eastern desert village dotted with light-brown two-story structures, mirroring what an actual combat zone might be like.

Kleinman was 17 when he entered the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1991. He served as a Navy pilot in both Iraq and Afghanistan and speaks with the authority and confidence of a fighter who has trained for and experienced combat.

The tone of his rabbinic teaching, as a consequence, sounds very different from that of a typical community rabbi. He’s more deliberate, perhaps.

“If you strive for the good of the assembly, you should do so for the sake of heaven,” he said, sharing with a lunchtime Torah study group in June what he calls “Kleinman’s version” of an excerpt from “Pirkei Avot.”

“Because if you’re expecting gratitude or thanks, you’re going to be sorely disappointed,” Kleinman said.

He says his combat days are behind him. These days, his work is to help the men and women at Pendleton — both Jews and non-Jews, alike — with their personal, emotional, familial and theological issues, all of which continually get tested by the demands of the life of a Marine.

From phonebooks to the Naval Academy

Drinking an iced coffee outside a Dunkin’ Donuts at the base, Kleinman tried to explain why he felt compelled as a teenager to pursue the less-traveled path of enrolling at the United States Naval Academy.

He grew up just a few miles from Virginia’s Naval Station Norfolk, a massive base a few hours south of Washington, D.C. His childhood was a mix of military ethos in a Jewish home where, as he put it, the expectation was, “The dumb ones became lawyers [and] the smart ones became doctors.”

His stepfather, who was in the Navy, had worked side jobs to help bring in extra money for the family. One of those jobs, Kleinman recalled, was delivering phonebooks. One day, Kleinman tagged along with his stepdad and three Navy buddies who were helping three women make their deliveries across Virginia Beach.

As Kleinman remembers that day, the women were moving slowly while they tried to figure out how and where to deliver the books. So his stepdad and the three sailors intervened, reading through the distribution list and, in 20 minutes, delivering a semi-trailer truck’s worth of phone books. 

“That kind of motivation, that kind of take-charge attitude, that kind of, ‘let’s get the job done and cut through the nonsense,’ was highly appealing to me,” Kleinman said.

As he neared high school graduation, and as his friends were looking at schools like the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, Kleinman instead applied to and was accepted by the Naval Academy.

At that time he was not a kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew, as he is now, but Kleinman said his fellow sailors in the Navy knew he was Jewish.

And in the military, what happens when people know you are a Jew?

“Mazel tov, you’re a rabbi!” Kleinman said. “You represent Judaism, and you represent God, no matter how much or little you know.”

Being the “official expert on all things Jewish,” as the chaplain described his academic and active-duty experience, may not have been what put “rabbi” onto his list of possible post-combat careers — but it didn’t bother him, either. 

“I didn’t have the language of kiddush ha Shem [sanctifying God’s name] at the time,” Kleinman said, discussing his early days with the Navy, “but I understood very quickly that I represented Judaism as a whole to basically everybody who saw me.”

In 2000, Kleinman served aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, piloting an E-2C Hawkeye—an $80-million aircraft that provides crucial communications and surveillance support against threats on the ground and in the air within enemy territory. He was deployed to help enforce “Operation Southern Watch,” which created a no-fly zone over the skies of southern Iraq to buffer Kuwait’s northern border and to protect Iraqi Shiites from Saddam Hussein, the country’s former Sunni dictator.

In 2000, Kleinman served aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, piloting an E-2C Hawkeye (Below). ) Photos from Wikipedia

Two years later, in 2002, Kleinman shipped out on the USS John F. Kennedy, flying more than 60 missions, again on an E-2C Hawkeye—this time over Afghanistan as part of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” in which U.S. and coalition forces attempted to rout Al Qaeda and the Taliban following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Kleinman would not elaborate on the substance of his missions, but he did say, when asked, that he had some “close calls” piloting the Hawkeye. 

“There’s not a carrier aviator who has not had close calls,” Kleinman said. “It’s a dangerous job. No one goes through flight school without losing friends.”

From Fairfax High to Manhattan Project

When Frances Browner, then 21, announced she was joining the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, her mother and most of the rest of her family were appalled. They thought that this wasn’t something a Jewish girl should do.

“She said I was trying to kill her,” Browner, now 92, said. “I can still see my mother’s face as we left on the train. She was really upset.”

More than 350,000 young women like Browner served in the armed forces during that war, in the WACs, the Navy’s WAVES, the Coast Guard SPARS, the Marines, the Women Airforce Service Pilots and as nurses. My Aunt Ruth joined the WAVES, much to the shock of her parents and her older sister, my mother.

Each had their reasons for volunteering. My aunt, no doubt, wanted to contribute to a war effort that enveloped the country, as well as to find adventure. Frances Browner’s reasons were much the same. “I wanted to get away from home,” she said. “Also, I was very upset because I’m Jewish, and Hitler was taking over all those countries.”

Of those many women, few had Browner’s wartime experience — working with scientists in secret in Los Alamos, N.M., making the first nuclear bomb.

Hers is a fascinating story of a girl from Fairfax High School with, as yet, no college education, doing mathematical calculations for some of the world’s great scientists. I heard about her from Nancy Volpert, public policy director for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which provides volunteers to visit older people, like Browner. I was drawn in immediately because of my affection for my late aunt. I felt meeting Browner would be a rare opportunity to recall the wartime exploits of a generation fast slipping away. And I thought she would shed some light on the struggles of ambitious, intelligent young Jewish women in an era when they were expected to follow the traditional path of marriage, kids and homemaking.

Browner and I talked in the living room of her home in Mar Vista. She and her husband moved into the house just after it was completed as part of a large subdivision, and she raised two children there. She sat in a comfortable chair, friendly and eager to tell her story. “As a youngster, I had two wishes in my life,” she said. “One was to have a father. My parents divorced when I was 2.” The second was to go to college. But, she said, her mother “wanted me to get a job and support her. I am surprised that I actually resisted.

“I had, I think, the only Jewish mother in the history of civilization who didn’t want her kid to go to college,” Browner said.

 Browner’s mother forced her to pass up a scholarship to Los Angeles City College, but she attended half time and worked part time. UCLA, her real choice, seemed too distant a goal. Then war broke out. “When the Army came along, I told my mother I’m not doing this for me or you. It’s for the world. It may sound corny, but I felt that way.”

During basic training at Fort Des Moines, in Iowa, she scored so high on her intelligence test that she was given a mysterious assignment and sent there — by train, and then by truck. “They put us in closed Army trucks,” she said. “No one knew where we were going.”

In fact, she was headed to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where scientists, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer, were working on the top-secret Manhattan Project, making the atomic bomb. 

Browner helped with mathematical calculations, adding up long lists of figures. “After I was there a short while, I had an idea that it was some form of explosive, but I had no idea it was an atomic bomb,” she said.

She remembers Oppenheimer at work, seated at his desk smoking a pipe. Once, an uncle, passing through Albuquerque, wrote to ask her to meet him at the railroad station. “I had to go to Oppenheimer and ask for permission,” she said. “He said, ‘No, sorry, we can’t let you.’ ”

With great pleasure, she recalled how “every afternoon they had tea, and I would sit with the … scientists. Here I was a young kid who had never been away from home, and I was always interested in college and learning and having none of that in my environment, and then I get to go to a place where every day I have tea at 3 o’clock with some of the most brilliant scientists in the world.”

At night, she stored her work in a basement vault, where a testing machine was operating. After six months, she developed respiratory troubles, which eventually led to her discharge for disability. Respiratory ailments dogged her for years afterward, and, looking back, she thinks it might have been from radiation. The GI Bill permitted her to attend UCLA after the war. With her poor health, it took her seven years to graduate.

We had talked for almost an hour, and it was time for me to go. Browner had another appointment at 4 p.m.

I thought of how tough those days were for women of Browner’s generation. When she spoke of her mother, she still seemed mad, just as she was still proud when she remembered her acceptance by the scientists.

She insisted on getting up from her chair and, with the assistance of a walker, she escorted me to the front door. I looked at a photograph of her in a WAC uniform on the wall, amid family pictures. She looked pretty, friendly, smart and ready to go to war against the nation’s World War II enemies — and against the limitations that a backward time had placed on women like her.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Mila Kunis goes to the ball

Mila Kunis became the latest celebrity to make it to the 236th annual Marine Corps Ball this week. Fresh off being named GQ’s Man of the Year, Kunis was the distinguished date of Sgt. Scott Moore at the Greenville, N.C., soiree.

A few months ago Moore, of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, posted a short YouTube clip asking Kunis to accompany him to this year’s ball. It took a few months until the clip went viral, but eventually it created an interesting trend of people asking out celebrities online. Justin Timberlake and Kristin Cavallari wound up attending the balls. Scarlett Johansson and Betty White had to pass.

According to People magazine, a fellow Marine said that Kunis “was very nice and very respectful.”

The event focused on the troops that couldn’t make it to the ball. Moore’s unit lost seven men earlier this year, as Moore tweeted about it shortly beforehand: ”Tonight is for you 7 Betio Bastards!” Apparently Kunis, who was wearing a black dress, seemed to be really into the traditions and ceremonies. Marine spokesman Capt. Scott Sasser said before the ball that “She’s going to get a chance to learn about the Marine Corps, and we’re all going to have a great time celebrating the Marine Corps birthday.” After the event Sasser said only that the two were “enjoying the night.”

Valley Jewish war vets fight an old enemy on the home front: Invisibility

Listen to interviews with Jewish War Veterans:
Track 1: Seymour Bloom and Marty Falk, two members of the Jewish War Veterans Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley, talk about what it means to be an American Jewish vet. Listen here.
Track 2: A story from Korean War Veteran Seymour Bloom about his last bit of military service. Listen here.

They fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. They served in the United States Army, Navy and the Army Air Corps — the precursor to the Air Force. A few flew through anti-aircraft fire over Nazi Germany, another marched over mountains during the coldest winter of the Korean War. One even watched the Bay of Pigs Invasion from the deck of a disguised aircraft carrier floating “spitting distance” from the shores of Cuba.

Yet today, the more than 400 members of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley are engaged in a different campaign: They are battling the widely held perception that American Jews do not and did not serve in this country’s armed forces.

“There’s an old false fable out there that Jews never fought in our wars,” said Seymour Bloom of Van Nuys, 81, a Korean War veteran and member of Post 603. “And I can stand up tall and tell ’em, ‘You’re full of s—-. We were there, too.’ ”

The roots of this fable go at least as far back as 1898, when Mark Twain wrote that Jews had “an unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier.” The Hebrew Union Veterans Association, which would become JWV, had been founded in 1896 by a group of Jewish Civil War veterans in the hope of refuting exactly this type of claim. (Twain issued an apology after consulting data from the War Department that showed Jews had served in disproportionately high numbers on both sides during the Civil War.)

Still, the idea that Jews today are underrepresented in the American armed forces is alive and well. JWV says that Jews serve at a rate proportionate to the general population, but cannot provide concrete evidence, for two reasons: “One, the Pentagon does not keep any records by religion,” JWV National Program Coordinator Cheryl Waldman said. “And two, a lot of the Jews who are serving, especially since they are serving in Islamic countries, don’t present themselves as Jews.”

The veterans in the Valley are doing their part to disabuse people of the notion that Jews don’t serve. In the run-up to Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Post 603 Cmdr. Paul Cohen and Senior Vice Cmdr. Allan Hoffman spent many of their weekdays at a table in Brent’s Deli in Northridge selling paper poppies, the red flowers worn around the world to honor veterans, in an effort to raise money and awareness. And on Veterans Day itself, members from Post 603 plan to participate in the annual San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade, as they do every year.

The average age of a JWV Post 603 member is about 75 or 78, according to Hoffman, who is 70, and the veterans are trying to reach out to their younger counterparts. At a board meeting in October, Julian Cohen, 83, who served in the Navy during World War II, moved that JWV Post 603 train its members to deal with calls from veterans considering suicide. He also suggested they develop an online presence. (Right now, the post’s monthly newsletter is sent through the mail.)

The veterans of JWV Post 603 know that getting young men — and the returning vets are mostly men — to join a group whose board meets every other Tuesday for three hours in the middle of the day is going to be a challenge. “Young kid coming out of the service today,” Bloom said, “24 years old, what the hell does he want to go to a meeting with a bunch of old kackers talking about ancient history? They’re looking for girls; they want to get some action going in their life.

“I mean really,” Bloom added, “they’re going to sit down and listen to war stories from World War II and Korea? They had enough of war.”

Bloom and the other members of Post 603 aren’t just sitting around swapping stories, though. They spend a good chunk of their time helping veterans who are less well-off than they are.

“JWV Post 603 is one of the most active and attentive Veterans Service Organizations in the VA Greater Los Angeles area,” Marianne Davis, chief of voluntary services at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said in an e-mail. Members of the Post, Davis said, donate clothes to the VA and help distribute them to homeless vets. They work with people in the VA’s nursing home, helping with crafts classes and weekly bingo games. Bloom even runs a photography class for patients.

“Their support and compassion has helped provide services and programs our veterans truly appreciate,” Davis said. 

For stories of individual members of JWV Post 603, click here. To contact JWV Post 603, e-mail Allan Hoffman at {encode=”” title=””}.

The Jewish War Veterans of Post 603 [AUDIO]

Listen to interviews with Jewish War Veterans:
Track 1: Seymour Bloom and Marty Falk, two members of the Jewish War Veterans Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley, talk about what it means to be an American Jewish vet. Listen here.
Track 2: A story from Korean War Veteran Seymour Bloom about his last bit of military service. Listen here.

There are a few Jewish themes to the stories that the Jewish War Veterans of Post 603 tell. They tell of feeling ignored by a society that still thinks Jews don’t serve. Stories about anti-Semitism in the military ranks many decades ago are also common—and always seem to involve a superior officer from Georgia.

But most of the stories told by the vets of JWV Post 603 are ones you could hear from any aging veteran, no matter what their religious background: Tales of courage under fire, injuries sustained, near-death experiences. The Jewish vets tell of their own lucky and unlucky decisions, of their (first and second) marriages, of their grandchildren. The stories are inspiring, terrifying, humbling. With apologies to all for their brevity, here are a few sketches:

Morton Schecter, 87, flew 35 missions in the Army Air Corps during WWII as a tail gunner. He remembers, at the end of one of those missions, “coming in on a B-24 with six 1,000-pound bombs, and no wheels.” The plane hadn’t dropped its payload, and its landing gear had been shot out. “We had to come in on the belly. But we didn’t blow up, so I’m still here,” Schecter said.

Julian Cohen, 83, served in the Navy during World War II. “I was just a lousy seaman,” he said. The ship he manned was a landing craft, a bit like those that landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-day—except that Cohen’s ship was larger, and it’s mission was to land at Nagasaki, just two months after the atomic bomb was dropped there.

“I could feel the heat under my shoe,” Cohen said. “Nobody knew how bad the radiation was, how long it lasted. Nobody knew a whole lot about that.”

A few months later, Cohen began having eye troubles. “I went to see an eye doctor, and all he could do was give me glasses,” Cohen said. “I started macular degeneration. You know what that is? Macular degeneration? If you live long enough, you’re going to end up with it. Your eyes start getting blind.

“It’s called an old-age disease. At 36, I was blind in this eye,” Cohen said, pointing to his left eye, enlarged behind his thick lenses. “From macular degeneration, because of the atomic bomb.

“So that’s the end of that story,” Cohen said, making clear that he’d rather not dwell on his injury. Instead, he talked about the work that he does as the Veterans Affairs Volunteer Service Representative for JWV Post 603. Forty-two Jewish War Veterans from Post 603 volunteer at the VA campus in North Hills every week, and Cohen helps coordinate their efforts. Indeed, he started volunteering and joined JWV 15 years ago for this specific purpose. “I retired about that time,” Cohen said, “so my wife and I decided to thank the VA for doing what they do for veterans, because I’m a veteran.”

Nat Benjamin, 93, enlisted in the Army Air Corps (the precursor to the U.S. Air Force) in August 1942, and was called up on January 11, 1943. “Everybody wants to be a pilot,” Benjamin said, and although he had done well enough on the exam to go to pilot training school, he chose to be a navigator. “If you flunk the pilot training, you’ll go in with the ground army,” Benjamin said.

At the end of one of his crew’s practice flights, before they were set to deploy overseas, the pilot of his bomber came in rough on the landing and hit the tarmac, hard. Benjamin cracked his tailbone. He had to delay his deployment until he recovered, but his crew didn’t wait, and another navigator took over his spot. “That crew went in the 15th Air Force,” Benjamin said. “We heard later that they were shot down over Italy, and no parachutes came out.”

Benjamin deployed with the Eighth Air Force, and flew 35 bombing missions over Germany, including one to Peenemünde, where the Germans were thought to be manufacturing hydrogen peroxide for the V-2 rocket. “Because of our bombing, they never got the V-2 to work,” Benjamin said.

To hear Benjamin describe a bombing raid, it’s a wonder that they ever succeeded. First of all, they had to deal with enemy fighter planes. “Sometimes you could tell if the guy had a mustache or something, that’s how close you were,” Benjamin said.

As navigator, Benjamin sat in the compartment with the bombardier, just below the pilot. The noise in that compartment, with bombs exploding below and the engines roaring throughout, eventually proved to be deafening, and today the VA pays Benjamin a monthly stipend for his hearing aids.

As navigator, it was Benjamin’s job to know where the plane was and figure out in which direction they had to fly—that is, until it came time to actually drop the bombs. “Nine minutes before reaching the target, the bombardier takes over the plane,” Benjamin said. “In that nine minutes, when the enemy came at us, we could not change direction. That was the tough time for us.”

Benjamin still has his navigational instruments at home. He also has a piece of Plexiglas from the B-17, a souvenir from his 23rd mission. “Flack came in, and tore my boot off,” Benjamin said. He won medals for his service, but chose to downplay his heroism. “When you’re flying in combat, who gives a s—- about the medals?” Benjamin said. “It’s getting back home that counts.”

Seymour Bloom, 81, was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Boyle Heights, and missed serving in World War II by three months. He turned down an offer to take part in the postwar occupation of Japan. “I didn’t want any part of it,” Bloom said.

He was working as an apprentice typesetter at an advertisement printing company when the Korean War began. He remembers seeing the headlines on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People’s Army crossed over the 38th parallel that divided the Korean Peninsula.

“I was talking to another apprentice, and I said, ‘Where the hell is Korea?’” Bloom recalled. Even 60 years later, his question sounded more resigned than inquisitive. “And I found out,” Bloom added.

“I was a runty kid,” Bloom said, especially compared to everyone else working at his company. “Half the guys were returning service guys from World War II,” he said. Nobody in his office thought he’d be called up. “I lost the lottery,” he said.

Bloom is an avid photographer; today he’s the official photographer for JWV Post 603 and teaches a photography course to veterans living at the local VA nursing home. Back when he was drafted, Bloom wanted to join the signal corps, which would’ve allowed him to pursue photography and printing while in uniform. It wasn’t to be.

One day, while Bloom was still in training, his commanding officer pulled him out of line. “He says, ‘We have a mimeograph machine,’” Bloom recalled. “‘You could run it.’”

Running the company’s mimeograph seemed to the officer similar enough to the work Bloom had doing in his civilian life. But to Bloom, it seemed overly basic.

I said, ‘Are you kidding?’,” Bloom said, “so he said, ‘OK, get back in line!’”

Bloom became a Forward Radio Operator for an 81-millimeter mortar, but he saw the mimeograph machine in action, though. In January of 1952, during what became known as the Korean War’s Second Winter Campaign, Bloom’s unit was attached to three rifle companies, marching through the Incheon valley.

“They issued us some more cold weather gear, and then we went on line,” Bloom said, “and it was 20 below zero by the time we were moving up on line. And just as we were going over this hill, over this mountain and another mountain, there was a tent. And it said, ‘Headquarters.’ So I’m marching with these guys, and I’ve got my 80 pounds and all that, and I look in that tent there,” Bloom said. “And there is a guy with a mimeograph machine, cranking it like that, with a big pot of coffee and a potbelly stove.”

Bloom smiled. “I look at my buddy and I says, ‘Kick me!’”

Marty Falk, 85, was drafted in June of 1943. “I was asked Army or Navy,” Falk writes in a two-page document called “MARTY’S WWII STORY.” He was 18 years old. “I remembered about where my father was in 1917.” Morris Falk, Marty’s father, fought in the United States Army in the First World War, and he was gassed in the trenches in Germany. “So I picked the Navy,” his son writes.

Falk became a naval electrician, and he did experience combat during his service—although he didn’t exactly see it. He was on a Destroyer Escort in the Mediterranean when a unit of German Junkers 88 planes came in from Southern France to torpedo their whole 80-ship convoy.

“My General Quarters Station was below decks in the engine room. Wondering when it was our turn to get hit with a torpedo,” Falk writes. They didn’t get hit. “We all were awarded the Bronze Star for this action with the enemy.”

Senior Moments – And in This Corner, Stella Goren

Stella Goren is only about 4-foot-10, but she packs a strong punch.

It all started when she was turning 79, and her husband asked what she wanted for her birthday.

“I'd like to work out at a gym with a personal trainer,” Goren told him.

In spite of thinking she was meshugge and assuming this wouldn't last, her husband gave his wife of 45 years what she wanted.

“I was very happy,” Sam Goren recalled. “I didn't have to go out and buy her a present.”

It turned out to be the perfect gift. Goren has been working out at the In Training Fitness Center in Hollywood, and loving it, for the past five years.

“Most exercise classes for seniors have you sitting in a chair and you bend down, you lift your arms, you turn your head,” Goren said. “The teachers don't really push you and there's no weight training. This makes sense, because you can get injured if you aren't with a real trainer. But I wanted to build up my muscles and bones.”

Well, Goren wanted to be pushed — and she got it.

Her personal trainer is Stan Ward, a champion heavyweight boxer who was recently inducted into the California State Boxing Hall of Fame. It's obvious that he really likes and admires Stella Goren.

“When you see an 80-year-old lady come into the gym and she has an attitude of 'Yeah, I can do that,' and then she does it, that's impressive,” Ward said. “There are several people in the gym, much younger than she is who don't have half her gumption to do half of the things she does. In fact, when she was there six months, everyone was appalled at how well she was doing. 'She can't do that. How's she doing that?'”

Indeed, Ward was so impressed with Goren's stamina, attitude and coordination that he thought she could handle something more — something like boxing.

“When he asked if I wanted to try boxing, I said sure,” Goren recalled, “and it's been great. What I really like is that you can get out all of your aggressions.”

Goren did make one stipulation when she began her boxing training: “I can hit, but they can't hit me back. I'm not stupid — I don't want to get hurt. I do, however, get hit in the nose sometimes when I work out with the speed ball by myself.”

Goren's background might have suggested the possibility of beginning to box at 81 years old.

She grew up in New Haven, Conn., the middle child of three girls. But she had a special role in the family.

“I had a brother that died in the flu epidemic,” she said. “I became the boy of the family; I was my father's son. He taught me to do electrical and plumbing repairs, and I was driving his truck at 14.”

When the United States entered World War II, Goren joined the Marines. What she learned in that training, as well as her willingness to take on a challenge, apparently emerged when she came to the gym.

“She's definitely a Marine,” Ward said. “She's in it 100 percent. She refuses to quit; she doesn't give an inch. Once she sets her mind to something, she gets it done.”

The payoff for all of her hard work has been tremendous, Goren said.

“Everybody knows me at the gym,” she said. “I walk in, and I'm greeted — 'Hi love.' 'Hi champ.' I feel so loved and like a ganser macher — like a big shot.”

Goren's husband, Sam, who at 81 runs several miles a day, is very impressed with his wife's accomplishments.

“She's become younger, in her thinking and talking,” he said. “And she tries to keep me in line by telling me about all the adulation she gets from the young men at the gym.”

Before she started her physical training at 79, Goren already had a wonderful hobby. In fact, a visit to her home is like touring an art gallery. Every wall and every shelf is filled with fabulous paintings, sculptures and quilts that Goren has created.

“The day I turned 62,” she said, “I retired from my work as a secretary and started taking art classes at Westside JCC. Now I spend more time working out and boxing.”

Ward said Goren inspires him.

“Because of the vivaciousness she has and how she conducts herself, people don't look at her as if she is old,” he said. “If you go around like you're on your last leg, you will stimulate people's negative views of what old people will be like. She is the opposite. She dances and she has fun. She always comes into the gym with a smile; everyone loves her. She's a wonderful person.”

Goren said that working out has truly changed her.

“You can really see the difference from when I showed up the first time and how I am now,” she said. “I was very timid. I'm much more outgoing now, and that is a very new feeling for me. I actually feel confident for the first time in my life.”

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer and owner of Living Legacies Family Histories. She can be reached at or

The (Very) Few, the Proud

When Jeffrey Ullman’s son broke the news, Dad was more shocked at his own reaction than he was at the actual decision itself.

Drew Ullman, age 20, after two years at college in Santa Barbara, had announced that was putting college life on hold and would join the Marines. He heads to boot camp in January, and said he wishes he could go sooner. His father, a former anti-war activist and full-fledged liberal, said at one time he would have talked his son out of it. Now he realizes he couldn’t be prouder.

“My father and I have similar thinking,” said Drew, who grew up in Beverly Hills and the West Valley, “what we call our 9-10 and our 9-12 thinking. I feel like I owe a lot to this country, more so than someone who needs to go into the military as a way out. I grew up with money, with a great education, had a lot of advantages that other kids don’t have, so I really owe a lot to this country.”

Drew’s parents now live in Brentwood. His dad explained it this way: “For years I thought the military wasn’t the right thing for ‘my kind of people.’ That came from my politically liberal background and socioeconomic class…. I was a big anti-war activist and student radical at USC and Berkley. I continued my political activism throughout the ’70s. But now my thinking about many things in the world has changed, including my thoughts about the military. In World War II, where my dad was a doctor with the Navy and the Marines, it was good versus evil. The only right thing to do was to participate, whereas in Vietnam and other battles, even Afghanistan, I wasn’t a supporter. Now, again, it’s very clear-cut. It’s a matter of morality. Drew is beginning a journey that few Jews choose to make.”

Only some 3,000 out of 1.4 million active duty servicemen and women are Jewish, about two-tenths of one percent. When it comes to Marines, the numbers are even more startling. It’s one out of 1,000. One-tenth of one percent. That gives new meaning to the term “minority.”

Yet for Drew and his father, who both have a strong Jewish identity, that wasn’t really a factor. To them, the idea is to serve your country as an American who’s Jewish, not as a Jew who’s American. At his first interview with the recruiter, Drew remembers them asking: “Do you want to be one of the best or one of the rest?”

Drew said: “That helped clinch it for me. If I can be a Marine I can do anything. Being Jewish in the Marines wasn’t really an issue. I can’t imagine too many boys like me that are raised to be doctors, lawyers or accountants becoming Marines, but if I’m going to serve my country let me serve my country. I like defying stereotypes. That’s my favorite thing to do. There’s a stereotype, more of an American stereotype, that Jewish men are not tough, they’re nerdy. That’s not true.”

Of course, with the current war in Iraq, and with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, being a Jew is very much an issue. Jews have taken steps to protect their religious identity in case of capture by the enemy. The chances that we’ll still be fighting in those locations by the time Drew finishes 13 weeks of boot camp and further training is remote, but real. He claims he’s not worried.

“Most likely I’ll be initially be stationed in Camp Pendleton. I could be on ship duty, embassy duty or, yes, I could be in a war like Iraq. I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m not signing up to sit on my ass stateside,” he said.

Sounds like he’s already a soldier.

Dad put it this way: “My attitude is this — to the extent he’s able to wear his yarmulke and practice Judaism while fighting under the American flag, then do that. He always calls me every single Friday night … so I asked him ‘Are you still going to call me? You better call me or you’re in trouble.’ He said ‘I’ll do what I can.’ So no, I’m not worried about him being a Jew going into the military. He’s going to be part of an elite club. Many of my friends, both liberals and those who are conservative politically, might be surprised by my new attitude. They think they know me so they would not have expected it. I say to them, ‘what are your sons and daughters doing for this country?'”

Good question.

Phil Shuman is a reporter and substitute anchor for Fox 11 KTTV News. He is also hosts news programs for Channel 35’s “L.A. Cityview.”

The Few, The Proud, The Jewish

In the entire U.S. military there are about 50 Orthodox Jews — and I am one of them. Why am I telling you this?

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine. In 1976, when I was 5, my parents, sister and I immigrated to the United States and settled in Seattle. I grew up mostly nonobservant, but maintained some connection to Judaism during the summers when I would attend a Chabad day camp. My family and I would also go to Seattle’s Chabad House once in a while during the holidays, mostly for the free food and ample vodka.

As a child, I always wanted to serve my country. By nature I was machmir (strict) and never did anything in a half-hearted way, so I decided that I would join the best fighting force in the world, the U.S. Marine Corps.

The typical Jewish reaction was: “What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in the Marines?”

My parents, who escaped the USSR to keep me from having to serve in the Soviet military, thought I was crazy. On Feb. 8, 1989, four days after my 18th birthday, I shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.

On the third day of boot camp, we were sitting in formation when a drill instructor approached the platoon and barked, “All my Jews, stand up.”

I thought to myself, “Here we go, the persecution of the Jews is about to begin.”

Out of 87 recruits, I was the only one to stand up. He ordered me to report to a major standing off in the distance, which I nervously did.

I saluted and said, “Sir, Pvt. Ekshtut reporting as ordered, sir!”

I will never forget the first thing he said to me: “Do you know that you are one-tenth of one percent of all Marines in the Marine Corps?”

He introduced himself as Maj. Goldberg — or some similar Jewish name — and explained that only one in 1,000 Marines is Jewish. He then invited me to attend Friday night services at the nearby Navy chapel. I accepted.

I went on to serve overseas, in exotic locations like Okinawa, Korea, the Philippines and Bangladesh. During the first Gulf War, I was deployed for seven months on a Navy ship in the Middle East. That winter, I lit Chanukah candles in the middle of the Persian Gulf.

After four years of active duty, I continued to serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year in the Marine Reserves. After graduating college as a civil engineer, I spent a few months in Israel where I decided I needed to learn more about what it means to be a Jew.

After several years of learning, I was going to synagogue every Shabbat, putting on tefillin every morning and trying to keep kosher. The only time I could not keep the Sabbath was when I was doing my monthly weekend duty in the Reserves. It was not that I wasn’t allowed — on the contrary, the more observant I became, the more supportive everyone was. I lit candles and made “Kiddush” in the barracks on Friday night, and my friends would even do the “labors” that were prohibited for me on the Sabbath. But in the Reserves, Saturday is the main training day.

It was time for me to make a decision: leave my beloved Marine Corps or stay in the Marines and not be so machmir one weekend a month. After nearly 13 years of service, I left the military to keep Shabbat.

However, a lot of what I learned in the Marines made me a better Jew. Jewish observance is similar to military training — except you don’t have to sweat as much or crawl in the mud.

Being a Marine taught me self-discipline and responsibility, how to answer to a “higher authority,” the value of teamwork, family and community, pride and self-esteem. By being charged by the real commander-in-chief, God, to wake up early and go to minyan, put on tefillin, pray three times a day, keep kosher and live in a Jewish community, we acquire some of the same qualities that the military teaches.

So for me, becoming an observant Jew was a straightforward transition. Nothing else would suffice. I continue to learn and grow Jewishly –I’m even on the board of my synagogue now.

I ask myself, would I want my son, when one day God grants me one, to join the military? In both good Jewish and military tradition, I will cross that bridge when I get to it. My more immediate objective is to find my beshert (soulmate). However, I know that if my future son does serve in the military, he’ll be a better man and a better servant of God because of it.

Mikhail Ekshtut, a civil engineer in Seattle and chaplain assistant in the Air Force Reserve, can be reached at

The Importance of Zinni

One of the most significant elements in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech of Nov. 19 was the appointment of Anthony Zinni, the much-decorated and admired retired Marine Corps four-star general, as his Mideast envoy.

Zinni’s last post was as head of CENTCOM, the command that covers 25 countries, including the Persian Gulf, most of the Middle East (except Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey), as well as Afghanistan and the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. During the Gulf War, he was in charge of installing the Patriots in Israel — a task for which he received special recognition from the Israeli military.

By becoming the first American Mideast envoy with a military background, Zinni has already made history. But there’s a lot more to him than Vietnam decorations and experience in such hot spots as Somalia and Pakistan. Exhibiting none of the standoffish bravado often associated with American military leaders, he’s as at home in the civilian world as in the military one.

Powell turned to Zinni because he has the specific personal traits — among them the ability to instill confidence and to listen to others’ views — that could lead to success in solving the world’s most difficult diplomatic problem.

Some say that because Zinni was assigned to CENTCOM in the late 1990s, when he built a reputation and many close contacts in the Arab and Muslim world, he won’t be able to understand Israel’s concerns.

Quite the contrary. I am certain that Prime Minister Sharon will find Zinni a kindred spirit, to whom he can relate as a fellow retired military officer. Zinni will certainly show a special understanding of the risks and horror of terrorism, because CENTCOM has seen more American lives lost to terrorism than any other command. Barracks in Lebanon, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the USS Cole in Yemen, and the U.S. Embassy in Kenya are more than enough to make a former CENTCOM commander understand the need for the Mideast to reach stability.

It will be very difficult for anyone to bring about a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians, but this is the clear and necessary first step in returning the peace process to the track set forth in the Mitchell and Tenet plans, which are widely recognized by all parties as the only current path back from the brink.

With Zinni’s appointment, another debate has apparently been resolved within the Bush administration: that any meaningful progress can only be achieved in the Mideast through more active American diplomatic engagement there. The region’s importance is too great, and the consequences of further escalation too frightening to contemplate, to simply leave the Israelis and Palestinians a phone number to call. The Bush administration has now acted, and it should be congratulated for doing so.

The administration is enjoying the overwhelming support of the American Jewish community in its prosecution of the war on terrorism. A majority in the Jewish community understand the relationship between the Arab-Israeli conflict and broader American national security concerns. Most American Jews also understand there is no contradiction between maintaining America’s special relationship with her only truly democratic ally in the region and simultaneously acting as a credible broker in pursuing an elusive peace.

Zinni may be one of the few people willing to volunteer his time and hard-earned reputation to accomplish that peace. He goes with the best wishes of the Jewish community and their hopes and aspirations for his success.