Fort Lee man helps honor Jewish soldiers on JNF wall
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Fort Lee man helps honor Jewish soldiers on JNF wall

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Zoom Fleisher unveils the plaques he donated on the Wall of Honor. To his right is Shimon “Katcha” Kahaner, a deputy battalion commander in the 1967 battle for Jerusalem.

Piloting bombing runs over Japan, flying combat missions into the heart of the European theatre, gunning on a destroyer, serving in the South Pacific – all these wartime activities were carried out by six Jewish brothers from Newark.

One of the brothers, Fort Lee resident Seymour “Zoom” Fleisher, chose a unique way to pay tribute to his soldier siblings.

Fleisher was among the first to buy plaques on the Jewish National Fund’s new Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. Not just a memorial, the Wall of Honor acknowledges Jewish soldiers past and present from across the world.

At the dedication ceremony in May, Fleisher’s thoughts drifted to his mother. “She had three of us in combat at all times during the war,” said Fleisher. “Standing at the wall, I thought of the huge sacrifice she made.”

Fleisher’s widowed mother had remarried in 1928, when he was just 5. The new blended family included three Fleisher sons – Martin, Harold, and Seymour (known as “Zoom” for his youthful basketball prowess) – and two Kivitz sons, Alex and Murray. Daniel Kivitz was born later on.

During World War II, Martin and Zoom served in the Army Air Corps, Alex and Murray in the Army, and Harold in the Navy. Daniel enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and was the only brother who did not see action. They each finished their tours of duty safely, and all but Alex are still alive.

Describing himself as an American patriot, Fleisher has been supportive of JNF since he was a schoolboy collecting coins in the organization’s blue-and-white boxes. When he learned about the planned Wall of Honor three or four years ago, he donated funds to inaugurate the associated Information and Documentation Center of the Jewish Soldier, recently opened at Ammunition Hill in partnership with the International Council of Jewish War Veterans.

Fleisher also paid $5,000 each for the plaques, adding to revenue that is earmarked toward preserving and expanding the grounds and museum at Ammunition Hill, site of a fierce Six Day War battle that proved pivotal to the reunification of Jerusalem..

“The wall is a meaningful way for people to help us dramatically renovate and preserve the site,” said Shimon “Katcha” Kahaner, a deputy battalion commander in the 1967 battle for Jerusalem and a longtime Ammunition Hill official.

Kahaner contributed the first plaque in tribute to his father, Asher, one of 34,000 pre-state Jewish volunteers in the British Army during World War II. “Ammunition Hill is a symbolic place for heroism, solidarity, and love of Israel,” he said. “The new generations, Jewish or not, must know that Jews gave their part with honor all over the world.”

Project Coordinator Shany Douiev said Jews historically have served in the military in disproportionately high numbers. America’s armed forces during World War II alone included 550,000 Jews – 10 percent of the U.S. Jewish population at the time. Globally, more than 1.5 million Jewish soldiers fought in World War II.

“Our goal is to bring these kinds of facts to light and honor the Jews who fought for their countries, even though they were sometimes persecuted in their own societies,” says Douiev. “We are developing a multimedia educational center and archive about Jewish soldiers in armies, partisan groups, and underground movements.”

Other North Jersey honorees

Joel Leibowitz, JNF’s Northeast Zone director and supervisor of the Ammunition Hill project from the American side, contributed toward plaques honoring three brothers of his mother, Laura Salvin. His late uncles, Eli and Harry Berenson and Morrie Benson, were raised in Garfield.

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The dedication outside the new research center at Ammunition Hill was made possible by a donation from Zoom Fleisher.

“Eli was shot down as a navigator over occupied France when he was 19,” said Leibowitz. “I have a letter from President Truman to my grandmother informing her that he was shot down and missing in action, and another letter confirming he was dead.”

Harry served in North Africa during the war. Morrie – who had changed his name from Morris Berenson in reaction to anti-Semitism in the military – flew 52 bombing missions as a navigator in the Army Air Corps.

“Morrie stayed in the service almost 30 years and retired as a full colonel,” said Leibowitz, whose son, Marc, a former IDF paratrooper, heads the Israeli committee overseeing the expansion of the site.

Mark Rattner of Morristown donated a plaque in memory of his father, George, who sailed around the world with the Merchant Marine during World War II. The elder Rattners spent most of their adult years in Paramus; George died in 1998.

“I was at the dedication of the wall on a JNF mission and I thought it was a great way to honor Jews who fought for their countries, so I chipped in with my brother and sister to do this in honor of our father,” said Rattner. “He had visited Israel once or twice and was supportive of Jewish causes.”

Teaneck resident Anita Jacobs dedicated a plaque in memory of her brother, Capt. Louis S. Isaacson, a member of the Teaneck High School Class of 1963. Having joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rutgers University, Isaacson was commissioned as a second lieutenant during the Vietnam years. He served as a lawyer in the Quartermaster’s Corps in Virginia and achieved the rank of captain.

Tragically, Isaacson died in a car accident at age 28, leaving a wife and baby daughter.

“My brother felt every Jew should be in Israel,” said Jacobs. “I thought the best tribute I could give him was a little piece of real estate in Israel, even if it’s just a plaque on a wall.”

Evi Isaacson, who lives in Kendall Park, added that her late husband was a strong supporter of Israel and inspired others to make aliyah. “Although his own dream of visiting was never realized, it is comforting to know that a bit of the ‘land of milk and honey’ has been lovingly dedicated to his memory,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Jacobs hopes the plaque will serve as a point of connection to the Jewish state for her niece and her own children. “I wanted to make sure we didn’t forget all those Jewish guys who went through ROTC in the post-World War II generation, who felt an allegiance to the United States and to Israel.”

Plaques cost $5,000 apiece. For $180, donors can have service people included in an on-line honor roll. For further information, contact JNF at (973) 593-0095.

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