ALBANY – The global COVID-19 pandemic could not completely derail the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) annual support “Operation Jingle Bells,” a Christmas Eve tradition to visit staff and patients at the Stratton VA Medical Center during the holiday.

Members of the Jewish War Veterans present a donation to the Stratton VA Medical Center Veterans Services program Dec. 22 at the VA in Albany. From left, Rich Dolins, Harlan Harrison, Paul Zonderman, Richard Goldenberg, Michael Fitzpatrick from the Stratton VA, Albany Post 105 Commander Fred Altman, Schenectady Post 106 Commander Gene Altman, and Bill Jaffe. The $720 donation was offered when COVID-19 restrictions canceled the annual JWV “Operation Jingle Bells” visit to the medical center patients and staff on Christmas Eve.

With in-person visitation restricted again in 2021 due to rising COVID positivity rates across New York State, members of the JWV Capital District Council gathered at the VA grounds December 22 to offer financial support to the volunteer services at the Center.

Albany Post 105 and Schenectady Post 106 provided donations amounting to $720 towards programs and services coordinated by the Stratton VA Volunteer Services program.

“This really makes a huge difference for us,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, the Stratton VA Volunteer Services manager. “Just having you come out today and show your support helps us. We really appreciate it.”

The Jewish War Veterans have supported Operation Jingle Bells for more than 30 years, longer than anyone in the local JWV remembers, according to Albany Post 105 commander Fred Altman.

The program began as an outreach to VA patients who could not be with family for the Christmas holiday. The JWV would distribute phone cards to patients to give them the means to call home and speak with loved ones. As technology changed and cell phones appeared in every patient’s hospital room, JWV had to change as well, Altman said.

Recent years now include JWV providing coupons for patients to use in the VA canteen, providing funds for necessities and sundries.

Most important of all is the human interaction of Operation Jingle Bells with the VA staff and patients on Christmas Eve, explained Dr. Howard Pressman, a retired VA provider and past commander of Post 105.

Pressman, who coordinates Operation Jingle Bells each year on behalf of JWV, said that, “COVID restrictions have the priority over in-person visits,” JWV donations to the volunteer services will make a difference, but we look forward to the time when our veterans are again back at patients bedsides, offering holiday greetings and companionship,” Pressman said.

The local JWV chapters continue to welcome new members. Any Jewish man or woman who served in the military is invited to learn more and join a local post by e-mailing Schenectady Post 106 Commander Gene Altman at galtman903@aol.com or visiting www.jwv.org.