Daniel E. Minkow
First Lieutenant, U.S. Air Force
Lt Dan Minkow is a logistics readiness officer and currently serves as the flight commander for his unit’s Management and Systems Flight. He has served at his current duty station at Travis Air Force Base in California for 2 1/2 years. Service in the Air Force is a family tradition for the Minkows. Both of his parents are retired Air Force officers.
His other job in the Air Force (which he proudly declares is his most important) is serving as the Jewish lay leader on base. As the lay leader, he assists other Jewish airmen with their religious needs. He leads Friday night Shabbat services, “Lunch’n learn” and even planned a Travis Sukkah Project.
One of Lt Minkow’s proudest moments as the lay leader at Travis is when he and reserve Chaplain Jon Sommer were asked to be keynote speakers for the Holocaust Center of Northern California.
The event was a luncheon to honor the holocaust survivors that volunteer for the Center by going out and telling their stories, educating young kids as well as adults about the Holocaust.
Below is the speech that Lt Minkow gave at the event. It is a little longer than I normally like to post here, but it is such a good speech and I thought everyone should get a chance to see it.
My name is Lt Daniel Minkow and I am the acting Jewish Lay leader at Travis Air Force base. I am a logistics officer by trade (basically means I get people and cargo form point A to point B )–I have been working at Travis for 2 years now and it is my first assignment in the Air Force. I went into the Air Force actually following the footsteps of my parents who were both in the air force, my mother Ret Lt Col Florence Minkow is in the audience today. She few all the way out here from Tampa Fl to share this day with us.
As I mentioned I am the Lay leader at Travis. The position of a Jewish Lay Leader is a voluntary addition to my day to day job as Flight Commander for a Management and Systems Flight. However, to me the Lay Leadership is personally the most important duty that I have in the military! As the lay leader I am in charge of creating a Jewish community on base and helping Jewish personnel fulfill religious obligations. I am proud to report that we now have monthly events including everything from Friday night Shabbat services, Lunch’n learns and our upcoming Travis Sukkah Project. Were we will, for the first time in many years, have a Travis AFB Sukkah.
Two years ago when I joined the military I gave an oath, something Judaism does not take lightly, however my oath was to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.” What does that mean? As we all know throughout the history of our great country many brave Jewish soldiers have given their lives from the revolutionary war, civil war, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam to the gulf wars and the war on terrorism. Doing what they were sworn to do… “Defending the constitution” So what does all this have to do with my job and position as a lay leader? Well I believe that being scrupulous in my day to day job as a flight commander “defending the constitution” that has given you me and every other Jewish person in this country have the RIGHT to practice whatever religion we choose.
My job…. My REAL job, — is to be Jewish and to be a good person! That is my real Job, to study Torah that is my Real job. To fulfill my obligation as a Jew that is my REAL job…This Covent is my G-D given responsibility…But I know that to be able to have the right to do my REAL job I must work to defend those rights. And you all know oh too well that throughout our history we have rarely had this luxury. So that is why I do, why I joined the military, and why I work hard day to day.
A few years ago on a trip to D.C. my family and I went to the National Holocaust Museum which was an incredibly moving experience to say the least. If you haven’t been you must go. We also went to Arlington national cemetery were we saw the tombs of thousands of American soldiers who paid the ultimate price defending their country. Also if you haven’t been you MUST go. Most graves were mark with bright white crosses all lined up one right after another. The thing that struck me however, wasn’t the unending sea of crosses, but the occasional Star of David headstones. If you ever visits these military cemeteries you become overwhelmed by the shear number of troops buried there and the young ages of the soldiers laid to rest. However, the one thing that sticks out is these stars, they stand out! We should be proud of all the Jews who not only served, but have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we take for granted everyday. For your ability to be here speaking freely, to go out and tell your story. That’s why these people gave their lives so WE here today can BE Jewish! When I went to both Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Stars of David tombstones and then National Holocaust Museum something clicks, there is a connection. I realized that some of those Jewish Stars at Arlington are people, JEWS, who personally fought Nazis, who were there at D-Day, who also fought against the Soviets, North Koreans, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein’s Bathist regime. These Jews gave their lives so we can, one: worship freely, two, so the Holocaust never happens again, and three, so you all can go out and tell YOUR story and finally so that the REST of US all can be Jewish. To be able to live Daven, go to Sul, have a Jewish Wedding, study Torah keep Kosher if we wish to..This is not only what Israelis are fighting for everyday, but also this is what Jewish Americans are fighting for. Politics and economics aside it comes down to ideology. This country is an amazing country and worth fighting for!
This past year we had some wonderful guests on base.
I want to take a moment thank Lissa Schuman, Helen Farkas and Marvin Bertelson who came to Travis Air Force Base and spoke during Yom’ Hashoa in an program called “The Days of Remembrance”. This was an incredibly enlightening program for everyone in attendance including the Wing Commander.
The Days of Remembrance program got started when I received a call from a protestant Chaplin, Maj Patrick Ryan who was the project officer for Days of Remembrance Program at Travis. He called me for advice and assistance as the Jewish Lay leader on base which I was honored to help him with. First we were going to have an interfaith remembrance service at the Chapel…But I spoke with my rabbi, (a former Air Force Chaplin) Rabbi Steve Vale and he was right. He said our target audience IS NOT G-d fearing religious people that would attend such a service.
He said to me that the majority of the people that were rescuers or ‘righteous gentiles” when asked why they risked their lives to save someone who was Jewish before and during the Holocaust they would (in most cases) say “these people are human beings and we are commanded to love they neighbor”….he was right…they were not our target audience they already understood what humanity was…We needed a program that would confront secular airman with a question or an idea to make them think…So our next idea for a program was two fold. One we wanted a movable museum, one that we could set up in different high traffic areas..Reaching as many people as possible to confront them with what the holocaust was…I must tell you something the Ch Ryan said to me when he was putting the display up in the hospital on base, someone came up to him picked up a flier and examined the display depicting how many Jews died from each country and asked, “ DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN?” At that point we knew we had the right audience. We knew then the purpose in what we were doing, we knew how necessary the Yom Hashoa/Days of Remembrance program was.
The second portion of our Days of remembrance event was what we called the “three perspectives” interactive panel. We wanted three speakers: one: a Survivor to tell first hand their story, second: a rescuer or “righteous gentile” to explain why they stood up and even risked their lives to save Jews, and finally: a liberator someone who was in the military, who saw first hand the conditions of the camps as they were liberated by the allied forces.
Lissa Shuman filled in for our rescuer as a holocaust scholar and did an amazing job. The program was an astounding success! I would estimate we had 80 people there including several group commanders and the Wing Commander.
Let me tell you a little more about this Days of Remembrance program. Make no mistake this was NOT a Jewish program!—This was NOT something the Jewish community at Travis decided to put together…This was not even a Chaplin’s program… This is a Secretary of Defense program. Each base is required to have a “Days of Remembrance Program” whether or not they even have a Jewish Community. It was viewed as THAT important….Why? Why did the Secretary of Defense create this program?
They felt everyone should know about the holocaust, but the military MUST understand it! Because it was a military that carried it out!! Our military MUST understand that the “excuse” used by the Nazis at the trails of Nuremburg of “Just following orders” IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE! In the military it is engrained in everything we do that we follow the orders of those appointed over us…We have to! We don’t have a choice! If we are told to charge a hill and knew that it would be a suicide mission we have no choice! We salute smartly and carry on!
However, and this is a HUGE however, EVERYONE in the military MUST understand that they are OBLIGATED NOT to follow unlawful, unethical or immoral orders! Besides the incredible lesson of what the holocaust was historically, this is why the military especially must UNDERSTAND what happened during the holocaust. That every military member from Airman basic to the Commander in Chief should understand that they are obligated to disobey an unlawful, unethical, or immoral order. The Holocaust provides the terribly real world example of the moral chaos and destruction blindly following orders can cause.
I want to thank all of the speakers here today that serve not only the Jewish community by going out and speaking, but the interests of a moral and free society. When you go out to speak you personally bear witness and testify to those that still ask everyday “Did this really happen??! Your work is vitally important!
In the words of Gen Dwight D Eisenhower in 1945 after seeing first hand the liberated camps of the holocaust, “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”
Unlike those American Soldiers in WWII that Gen Eisenhower was referring to, the troop at Travis who asked “did this really happen?” NOW understands what we are fighting FOR, as well as what we are fighting AGAINST! And that is because of you all!
Thank you Lissa for coming to Travis and inviting me to speak here today Thank you to all the speakers that go out to tell your stories and educate people about the Holocaust. Your daily efforts are ensuring that the Holocaust never happens again. I would also like to thank again Helen Farkas and Marvin Bertelson again for speaking at Travis. We hope to have you back on base very soon.
It is an honor to be a Jewish American serving our military, to speak here with you all today.