MONROE: Jewish group thanks church for support

Mae Rhine, Managing Editor
   MONROE — A local Jewish War Veterans group feels blessed.
   During its annual poppy drive in May, members of the Jewish War Veterans Post 609 were welcomed by a local church, Nativity of Our Lord at 185 Applegarth Road, to solicit donations from its parishioners after the 9 and 11 a.m. masses.
   In appreciation, the group, consisting of about 85 members, most of whom served during World War II, presented a plaque Tuesday to Father Ed Flanagan, pastor, and some members of the congregation.
   Each year, the Jewish War Veterans group fans out throughout the community — in front of supermarkets, for example — asking for donations during the annual poppy drive.
   People are asked to make a donation of whatever they can afford and, in return, receive a cloth poppy made by veterans, according to Junior Vice Commander Shelly Bloom, of Monroe, who served during the Korean War in the Army.
   But this year, the group decided to do something a little different.
   ”We sometimes don’t really think about what we do,” Mr. Bloom said.
   During the past several years, the organization has contributed $15,000 to the New Jersey National Guard Family Readiness Council, which helps needy families of National Guardsmen called to action, according to Bernie Passer, of Monroe, senior vice commander and an Army veteran of World War II.
   ”The military doesn’t pay very much, and some of these people are away quite some time, and their families are really struggling,” Mr. Passer said.
   The council is run by Linda Reith, wife of Gen. Glenn Reith, head of the New Jersey National Guard.
   The local Jewish War Veterans group also provides money to support veterans in hospitals and the Menlo Park Veterans Home for disabled soldiers as well as CARE, which helps homeless veterans.
   It also provided a large-screen TV and sound system for an old firehouse at McGuire Air Force Base, which is a recreation center for soldiers being deployed or those returning from active duty. It is used by soldiers from McGuire, Fort Dix and the Lakehurst Naval Training Station.
   Mr. Bloom said he started thinking, “Who are these vets?” served by his group.
   ”They’re not Jewish,” he said. “They’re gentile. Ninety-eight percent of the soldiers who served in the past and today are gentile so we’re helping the gentile population quite a bit.”
   So he figured, “Why not go to the church and ask them to help us out?”
   ”The guy next to you getting shot at could be any religion; he’s your buddy,” Mr. Passer added.
   The church readily agreed to let members of his organization ask the congregation for donations, he said.
   In fact, Father Flanagan was “very impressed,” Mr. Bloom said.
   ”He said what a wonderful way to get together and help our Jewish brothers,” Mr. Bloom said. “I sat down and started crying.”
   At the end of his sermon at the two masses, Father Flanagan told his congregation that the Jewish War Veterans group would be outside.
   ”Father Ed told them we were going to be outside; he forewarned them,” Mr. Bloom said with a laugh.
   The result was amazing to members of the veterans group.
   ”We made almost $1,000 in two hours; more than any other collection place,” Mr. Bloom said, adding the group hopes to return for next year’s poppy drive.
   ”Never in the history of the Jewish War Veterans has it been allowed to collect in front of a church,” he said.
   ”We called the national and New Jersey Jewish War Veterans, and they said it was a fantastic idea,” Mr. Passer said.
   Mr. Bloom added, “The most amazing thing was the overall reaction” from parishioners. “They said ‘God bless you for doing what you do. Thank you.’ We were flabbergasted.”
   ”It was a nice gesture on the part of different faith communities,” Father Flanagan said. “We were delighted to host them.”
   He added, “People still may have preconceived ideas between Catholic and Jews. The climate in the church has changed. We consider each other brothers and sisters, especially in Monroe, where there is a large population of Jews and Catholics.”
   Mr. Bloom said two of the parishioners — Ann Marie Parisi and Steven Marone — even offered to help collect donations outside after Mass.
   So the group decided to thank the congregation with a plaque.
   ”We felt it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Bloom said.