February 24, 2020

Veteran of the Year

Hy Arnesty

Hy Arnesty, 96

Hy Arnesty has been involved with the Sephardic Temple in Westwood since he was a child. His Turkish parents attended services at the congregation’s former home on Santa Barbara Avenue and, nearly a century later, Arnesty remains active in the congregation, chairing the cemetery and burial committee, helping congregants with their funeral plans. Few people plan for death, he said. Though far from glamorous, he is proud of his work on the committee. “Now I am more at home in a cemetery than I am in my own home,” he said. 

He also loves the congregation. “This is a second home for me,” he said. “I’m here every Shabbat.”

Born in Chicago in 1923, Arnesty’s family moved to Los Angeles to escape the cold weather when he was 2 years old. The family settled in the then-predominately Jewish Boyle Heights area before relocating to the Westside.

In his youth, Arnesty showed athletic prowess. As a member of the gymnastics team at Fairfax High School, Arnesty set an interscholastic world record in rope climbing, ascending a 25-foot rope in 5.5 seconds. His nickname was, appropriately, “Spider.”

In 1943, after graduating from Fairfax High, Arnesty enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan during World War II. He was later called back to service during the Korean War.

Following his military service, Arnesty spent a brief period in the garment industry before being hired by Pensick and Gordon Toys. Over the next 36 years, he rose through the ranks to become one of the company’s top employees. 

“There are those who said Jews never went to war. We went to every war representing the United States government.”

“I sold the first Barbie doll. I sold G.I. Joe. I did the first hula-hoop,” he said. “I started in the warehouse and I worked my way up to be the No. 1 salesman.”

Arnesty retired in 1986 and his life has since become about volunteering, with a focus on supporting military veterans. At the Sephardic Temple, he wore a Jewish War Veterans cap, a tie featuring stars and stripes and a pair of eagles, and a pin of the U.S. and Israeli flags on the lapel of his sports coat.

Named L.A. County’s 2011 Veteran of the Year, Arnesty, who is involved with the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., said not enough people appreciate the Jewish contribution to this country’s military history.

“There are those who said Jews never went to war,” he said. “We went to every war representing the United States government.”

Arnesty has been married and divorced and currently has a girlfriend. He has three daughters who all live in Northern California and work in the medical field, and he also has two grandchildren. 

His philosophy in life is taken from a phrase coined by his boss in the toy industry, and which you can hear on his outgoing voicemail message or see on his business card: Arnesty is the best policy.