BALLSTON SPA – Four Jewish veterans marked the first day of Chanukah in 2021 by performing a mitzvah, volunteering to help fellow veterans and service members of the New York National Guard to load donated Christmas Trees at Ellms Tree Farm in Ballston Spa. Supporting the effort were local Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Gene Altman, Richard Goldenberg, Gary Hoffmann and Dan Tilsner. They helped load 110 regionally donated Christmas trees for delivery to military bases around the country to support military families this holiday season as part of the Trees for Troops program. Alongside the Jewish veterans were volunteers from the National Guard.
The program has been ongoing for 17 years, said Goldenberg, the JWV Capital District Council commander and a member of Albany Post 105. Goldenberg began volunteering in this project in 2006 following his return from a combat deployment to Iraq with the Army National Guard.
“The holiday season, when deployed far from home, can be especially difficult for military families,” Goldenberg said, “whether it is lighting candles for Chanukah or gathering around a Christmas Tree.”
“The donated trees are a reminder of home, no matter your faith,” he added.
The JWV members joined veterans from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan in lending their support.
“It amazes me, each and every year to see the support of our local tree farmers and the turnout to help load these trees,” said Garth Ellms, the third generation owner of Ellms Family Farm, the collection site for regional tree farms. The farm collected the fresh cut Christmas trees before pick up by Trees for Troops partners, FedEx Freight, to deliver to 77 military bases.
“The local effort is a reflection of JWV supporting veterans of all faiths,” explained Gene Altman, the JWV Schenectady Post 106 commander.
Besides participating in Trees for Troops, Capital District JWV also contributes towards Wreaths Across America, an effort to place remembrance wreaths on the gravesites of Christian graves at the Saratoga National Cemetery and JWV members also distribute gift cards and visit patients at the Stratton VA Medical Center on Christmas Eve.
At the national level, Jewish veterans partner with the Jewish Welfare Board and Jewish Chaplains Council to ensure care packages are shipped to Jewish military personnel at bases around the world. In 2020, 120 packages were provided, according to JWB director Rabbi Irving Elson. The packages contain gifts for Chanukah: tin menorahs with candles and gelt.
The J.W.V. welcomes new members. Any Jewish man or woman who has served in the military is invited to learn more and join a local post. Information may be obtained by e-mailing Altman at email@example.com and visiting www.jwv.org.