Stanley Steinberg was more than disappointed when he discovered that Upper Gwynedd would be honoring veterans of the Korean War on Saturday, Sept. 14 — Yom Kippur.
“When I saw the date, I was livid!” exclaimed the 85-year-old Dresher resident. “I was thrilled, of course, that we, were going to be honored at a special commemoration,” but he quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to attend.
“I wasn’t sure whom to call first,” the retired pharmacist recalled. “The rabbi. Jewish War Veterans? My state representative?”
After getting nowhere with those inquiries, Steinberg turned to fellow Temple Sinai congregant Beth Chernoff of Rydal. Known for her personal experience in the military, including her effort to get a Jewish female chaplain in the military recognized along with male chaplains, Chernoff immediately jumped in, trying to get answers.
She also wanted to ensure that Steinberg and other Jewish Korean War vets would get their due.
Chernoff contacted every synagogue of every denomination in the region to get names of Jewish Korean War vets. The response was lukewarm at best, she said. After numerous emails, phone calls and a great deal of perseverance, the list eventually grew to more than 100 Jewish Korean vets, the majority of them from the four synagogues closest to Montgomery County’s Upper Gwynedd.
She then contacted Glennanne Chabala, Upper Gwynedd Township’s Director of Parks and Recreation, to notify her of the unfortunate choice of dates, and to see what could be done.
Chabala, in an interview, tried to explain the reasoning behind the date selected. “For the past 12 years, our township has held a Multicultural Day, the second Saturday in September,’’ she said, noting that it was organized through the Korean government, in conjunction with the township’s sister city Pyong Chang Dong in Seoul and is run locally by the 21st Century America-Korea-China Leaders Society.
She said that this year, in addition to the usual festivities, the Korean government wanted to acknowledge 2013 as the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice.
“We just provide the venue,” Chabala said. “The ongoing mission is to foster knowledge and appreciation of different cultures and to improve business relationships between Korea and America.
“No one was aware of the Jewish holiday and the subsequent conflict it presented,” she added.
As a result of Chernoff’s persistence, the names of the Jewish Korean War vets will be read aloud at the Sept. 14 ceremony, even though they may not be in attendance. She also arranged for the specially designed medal being awarded to each of the Korean vets that day to be subsequently presented to each of the Jewish vets. Officials said that will be done either by mail, or at the next public meeting of the Upper Gwynedd Township Commissioners on Oct. 28.
Adam Kessler, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia who learned of the situation from Chernoff, said he appreciated the way she handled “a delicate community relations situation.”
“Keep in mind that this was not done maliciously.” said Kessler. “I think we’re a lot more effective, as we try and turn this into a teachable moment.”
Meanwhile Steinberg, who served as a pharmacist in a Korean M*A*S*H unit — the kind that was depicted in the movie and well-known television show of the same name — looks at it through the eyes of experience.
“I am no longer angry,” he said. “They just didn’t know” and they “didn’t do their homework.”