The Greatest Generation: Learning from Jewish Veterans at Cedar Village Senior Living Community

During the summer of 2019 I had the fortunate opportunity to serve as a Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow at Cedar Village Senior Living Community. The process that led to my ultimate service at Cedar Village was complicated, but I ultimately found the work extremely meaningful. I did not select Cedar Village as my first choice for a summer fellowship placement; I like to say that Cedar Village chose me. When I met Cantor Alane Katzew, the full-time Jewish clergyperson at Cedar Village (who also serves as a chaplain), we immediately made a connection that would transcend the summer fellowship. Before my first day, we spoke about the possibility of revamping the Cedar Village “Resident of the Month” program, I knew my responsibilities as I launched into my fellowship. 

My job was to interview the veterans of the American armed forces who lived in the community and record their stories. Cantor Katzew facilitated the interviews by providing me with a list of residents and convenient times to meet. The goal of this process was to compile the more than twenty stories into a book to be presented to the Cedar Village veteran community at the end of the summer during a special ceremony. Although my primary job was to collect and record the veteran stories, I had other responsibilities as the rabbinic intern: pastoral visits, community engagement, and leading services. I was overwhelmingly motivated to excel in not only the veteran work but also serving the community as a whole. I was able to reach my full potential in this position because Cantor Katzew provided me with guidance and enough independence to organize how I would conduct these interviews and balance my other responsibilities. I spent the entire month of June interviewing veterans, fulfilling my daily responsibilities in the Cedar Village community, and learning about pastoral care and chaplaincy work under the tutelage of Cantor Katzew.

Our goal came to fruition in late July. With the help of Cantor Katzew and the Cedar Village administration team, I successfully published a book that included the many stories and photographs of twenty-five veteran residents that was presented to them at the first ever “Honoring Our Veterans” ceremony at Cedar Village. Cantor Katzew and I spent some weeks planning the event to ensure that the importance of the occasion would be successfully conveyed. I invited many distinguished guests from the Jewish Foundation, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the Cedar Village community to join in the simcha, or joyous occasion, of honoring the many veterans in the community. The ceremony began with the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Cantor Katzew. During the ceremony itself, we invited the veterans to stand and be recognized for their military service as I read short excerpts from their stories and presented them with their own copy of the Veteran’s Journal and a small American flag. The ceremony concluded with a rendition of “God Bless America” sung by another resident. With the guidance and help of Cantor Katzew, the ceremony was standing room only and brought the Cedar Village veteran community into the spotlight within their own community and the Jewish community of Cincinnati as a whole.

This experience allowed me to create lasting bonds with not only the veterans but the whole resident community because I was given the opportunity to spend significant time with them, to learn their stories, and to gain insight into their experiences living as a part of the Greatest Generation. The summer fellowship was an incredibly rewarding experience that allowed me to develop skills I could immediately use. As a rabbinical student, the fellowship gave me a wonderful opportunity to enhance my communication, listening, and pastoral skills in a meaningful environment. I was willing and able to exceed my immediate responsibilities to interview residents, to conduct pastoral visits throughout the facility, and to assist Cantor Katzew with leading Shabbat morning services. Most significantly this gave me meaning and purpose for the summer and beyond because I truly felt my calling reaffirmed through the engaging and rewarding work I completed during my fellowship at Cedar Village.

Rand Burke is a third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an officer in the Navy Reserve.

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