November 9, 2023
In honor of Veterans Day, explore the unique experiences of Jewish U.S. military veterans with Dave Warnock, U.S. Army Veteran, and Andrea Goldstein, U.S. Navy Veteran and Reservist. Our guests share what inspired them to join the military, how their Jewish heritage played a significant role in shaping their service, and what advice they have for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers fighting now against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Warnock and Goldstein are members of AJC’s ACCESS Jewish Military Veterans Affinity Group, a space to convene young Jewish professionals who have served in the American military.
*The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.
- (0:40) Dave Warnock, Andrea Goldstein
Listen – People of the Pod on the Israel-Hamas War:
- What Would You Do If Your Son Was Kidnapped by Hamas?
- Renana Gomeh’s Sons Were Taken Hostage by Hamas: What She Needs You to Do to Bring Them Home Now
- What Biden’s Wartime Visit to Israel Signals to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah
- Mai Gutman Was Supposed to Be at the Music Festival: IDF Lone Soldier Recounts Harrowing Week
- Responding to Hamas Terror: IsraAID CEO on How You Can Help Israelis Right Now
- What is Known About Israeli Hostages Taken by Hamas
- 7 Ways Hamas Exploits Palestinian Civilians in Gaza
- How much do you know about Hamas? Try to ace our quiz and expose the truth about the terror group today.
Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod
You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve appreciated this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts.
Transcript of Interview with Dave Warnock and Andrea Goldstein:
Manya Brachear Pashman:
This episode pays tribute to our nation's veterans. Guest hosting is my colleague Dr. Dana Levinson Steiner, Director of ACCESS Global at AJC, where she oversees an international program to engage young professionals. In that group are a number of Jewish military veterans who have served in the American Armed Forces. Dana, the mic is yours.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Thanks, Manya. I'm so happy that we're here today. It was just over two years ago that we formed the ACCESS Jewish Military Veterans Affinity Group, which is a space for us to convene young Jewish professionals who had served in the American military. And here we are now recording our first People of the Pod podcast episode in honor of and commemorating Veterans Day.
With us today are: Dave Warnock, U.S. Army Veteran, joining us from his home in Seattle, Washington, and Andrea Goldstein, U.S. Navy Veteran and Reservist, who is based in Washington, D.C. Dave, Andrea, thanks for joining us today.
Happy to be here, Dana.
Yeah, I’m glad to be here.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
To kick off the conversation, please tell us a little bit about your journey as an American Jewish military veteran. What inspired you to join the United States Armed Forces? Dave, let’s start with you.
For me, there are two kind of main things when I look back on what propelled me to join the US Army. The first one was my great grandfather, Saul Fink. The family legend is like he emigrated over from the shtetl. His family settled in Harlem. And when he heard about what was going on in Texas at the time, and 1916 and 1914 with the Pancho Villa incursions, he felt so propelled by patriotism and love of America that he had to run away from home and enlist at 16 years old. Which he did. Joined the Horse Calvary, a proper Jewish cowboy chasing after Pancho Villa in New Mexico, in a forgotten war. And he made sort of a career out of the army. So that's the legend that he was propelled by patriotism, maybe hated the tenement, maybe just wanted to get out of Harlem, get some fresh air, see the American West, I don't know.
But his service propelled him forward in American society, through the US Army in a way that I think would have been unavailable to a lot of Jews at the time. It's not to say that it was an easy journey. He was certainly discriminated against; he shortened his name from Finkelstein to Fink for reasons that are not kind of lost to history. One joke is that it couldn't fit on the name tag. But through this service, he was elevated in society, he became an officer in World War I. He served through World War II and in the army of occupation in Germany. And his stature, sort of the patriarch of my family, loomed large. My middle name is Solomon, I'm named after him. So that kind of tradition was part of it. Another part was, I enlisted in 2004. So three years after 91/1 when I was a freshman in high school, and that terrorist attack really did propelled, cemented my decision to serve you know, if that didn't happen, I don't know what I would have done differently. But those are the two main reasons that propelled me to join. And I joined the Army and I volunteered for the infantry because I wanted to be a soldier.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
In a lot of ways, it is our family that inspires us to make these kinds of decisions and we learn so much from our family history and our family lineage. Andrea, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your journey too and I'm curious if family played a role in your decision to join the Navy.
My family decision to do the military was much more related to growing up in the United States, growing up in New York at a time actually, probably when we didn't have the NYPD outside of synagogues. I didn't really think about being Jewish, at least in New York in the 90s. But my family came here in mostly two waves, most in the early 20th century, and then another wave right before the Holocaust, and found everything they were looking for. And depending on which wave, either second generation or third generation where a sense of precarity and being American was gone. We just were American Jews. And I am currently sitting in a home that has embroidery on the wall that was sent to my great-grandmother, by family members who ended up–who perished in the Shoah. This country really gave us everything and I wanted to give back to that.
The value of tikkun olam is very central to everything that I do. And so serving my country and wearing the cloth of the nation to me felt like really the only way to do that.
9/11 was not a motivating factor for me, despite growing up in New York City and being in New York City on 9/11. My desire to serve in uniform predated that, in fact, 9/11 led me to really not so much reconsider, but really give even more thought to my military service, because I knew I would be serving in conflict zones, which, with the peacetime military of the 90s, that wasn't clear. But I ended up joining through an officer program. I didn't initially have any family support, because it was such a shocking choice. I had great-grandparents who'd served during World War Two great-uncles, but not from a military family at all. And what became very understood by my family, because it was, what was motivating me was, this desire to serve my country and wear the cloth of the nation, no matter what.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
I want to pivot a little bit, I want to get back to questions of Jewish identity in a moment. But when we're thinking about American Jews serving in the US armed forces, while there isn't a ton of data, the most recent-ish data suggests that just about 1% of the US armed forces, or the US military, is made up of American Jews. It's tiny, only 1%. And that 1% is of an already really small number of American Jews who already live in this country.
So, you know, thinking about this statistic and also acknowledging American history in serving in the military. What do we make of this small number? And what would you like to tell young American Jews who may be considering joining the military but may have doubts or concerns?
So there are a couple of things I would say to that. I would comment on that data–first of all, that's only commenting that that only includes self reported numbers because we don't collect demographic data on, it’s seen as completely religious affiliation. The military does not collect demographics on Jews as being an ethnic group. So it's actually quite difficult to self-report your religion. So there's going to be an undercount, there are people who are Jewish, who may even practice privately, who are not reporting. And it also doesn't capture Jewish families.
So it doesn't capture the number of people who may be not Jewish themselves, but their partner and spouse is Jewish, and they're raising Jewish children, and they're observing Jewish holidays with their families. So there's a lot that we really don't know. What I would also say is, if you were to overlay where the military struggles to recruit from, with the parts of the country where most Jews live in the United States, you would see probably some very interesting geographic trends.
The military has become a family business. There has also been, there have been some comforts that the military has had in where they recruit from. And that typically is not New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Washington, DC. So in addition to being one of the very few Jews that I know, in the military, I think I know probably even fewer people from New York City, especially officers.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Dave, I'm curious, your thoughts on some of these numbers? And also maybe what you would tell–you and I have talked about this before about wanting to really engage in conversation with young American Jews about this experience and what it can mean for them, you know, acknowledging this number a while not perfect, I would imagine it's not so massive. So tell us a little bit about what you think and also maybe what you would tell a young American Jew who might be considering enlisting.
Sure. First off, my mom was also very surprised when I joined, perplexed, flummoxed, aggrieved, perhaps she would have much rather me not join the army. But I just have to get that out there because she's certainly going to listen to this. Yeah, so, you know, I don't know where that number comes from, you know, the infantry's a different representation, I would say Jews were less than 1% of the infantry. But when I was at basic training, like for one station unit training, as they called it back then, after your red phase, like your hell phase, or whatever you want to call it, you are allowed to go to religious services on Sunday.
So I went to Jewish services on Sunday, because, you know, it is the army. And I want to do it, like in my basic training company, there were no other Jews. So the company’s like 200 guys, and then when you go to religious services, they're all of a sudden, like, 200 guys, they're like, Oh, my God, why so many Jews all of a sudden in every company in Fort Benning, except for mine? And then I realized is because they serve Kiddush lunch and you could get snacky cakes after services. And it turns out there were like three actual Jews at the services.
I had a completely different experience in officer candidate school where we were allowed to leave on Friday nights.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Oh, interesting. Dave, what was your experience?
So again,, this is like 2005, things might have changed. But when you joined a Combat Arms significant you just went to one station unit training and it was a fairly intense experience. Think about Full Metal Jacket, whatever, people screaming at you, doing lots of push ups. And all your time is blocked out and accounted for. So you've trained on Saturdays and religious service time was Sunday morning. That's the time you got, so if you want to go to services, you had to do that. Something to consider if you join certain aspects of the military is, religious accommodations will be difficult. You know, I served with guys who were vegetarian. And there's one vegetarian MRE. You ate that a lot, like our rations for the field. So you eat that vegetarian ration a lot. Get real used to it.
Certainly that is a consideration and it would be difficult to be religiously observant. In the infantry. I actually there was one guy in my company on the latter half of my service who was a religious Jew. And he basically got a lot of exceptions by his rabbi to serve. Because it was hard. The army would accommodate him to an extent, like, for example, we had to shave every day. And so he was allowed to use an electric razor. But it's something to consider if you are religious, that serving in the US military will be challenging.
But you know, I encourage people to consider it. I don't regret my service, it's difficult to imagine my adult life without it. I'd say, I'm proud of it, too. But it carries costs. You know, when I was 19, on my first tour in Iraq, I was wounded, it took me six months to recover and get back to the line. The, almost five years I was in, I rarely saw my family because I was stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq twice. So I was overseas, essentially, for the entire time of my service. And that's something to consider, but this is all my perspective.
But the experiences you get, that will propel you forward in life in a way that I don't think you get through other things, certainly, when you're 18, or when I was. That being said, you know, a lot of soldiers in my unit did die in combat. A lot of guys, when they got out, they did struggle with PTSD and suicide. So it's not all sunshine and roses. But for me, it was the right decision.
Military service is really incredible. My field does have more Jewish folks, especially in the reserves where I'm still serving. What's been very interesting is as an intelligence officer, the active duty component doesn't have a lot of Jewish people, but the reserve component, my last unit, we had enough people to have a minyan in a unit of 50 people. And I have found, similarly to just living in society. I mean, your exercises are not–you’re going to have exercises that take place during Rosh Hashanah, you're going to be deployed around Christian holidays so that people can be home for Christmas. Maybe you'll be lucky if that's around Hanukkah.
But I've also found people to who I've worked with to be incredibly accommodating up until, up to the extent that they can. So maybe I was going to be away for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. But people would change their shifts with me on watch so that I could run the service because I was the lay leader, or so that I could break my fast at the end of Yom Kippur war.
And I experienced people being really curious and asking a lot of really good, in good faith questions. And I've had incredible experiences that range from serving with a lot of incredible, not just our military, but partner militaries. The most rewarding was my time with NATO where I got to teach in Norway and Greece and in Sweden and get to have these incredible experiences with people as the people who– actually the Germans all notice my last name, which was really interesting. And that's a whole other story. But you also see things you can't experience anywhere else. And it's not just the–I saw a meteor shower in the middle of the ocean, on my 26th birthday from the middle of a ship. Like there are certain experiences that you don't think about when you're going into the profession of arms. But you will get to experience these incredibly vibrant experiences just because you've, you've made this choice to go where no one else does. And so it's incredibly rewarding.
I've also found that as a millennial, I mean, there are some very realistic things about the economic environment that we graduated into. And because of my military service, I have no debt, and I own a home. I have a master's degree that the GI bill paid for. So there's some other things.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
You talked about sort of the things that you learned and the experience that you got as a young person. Dave tell us maybe a little about some of the more rewarding experiences or things were really profoundly important to you in your service.
I got out when I was 23. So 13 years ago now and memories once so vivid that I thought I would never forget him kind of faded away a little bit. One thing that I'll never forget, that was quite challenging, because after I was wounded, I was kind of serving in the rear just like in a limited duty capacity, like back in my garrison. And it was a tough tour, you know, lots of us got wounded, we had lots of members of our battalion killed. And I was asked by chain of command, as much as one can be asked in the military to escort a soldier's body back to his parents and to his burial in Arlington Cemetery. And I did that, and that was, I can't even describe just what that moment felt like to do that to be present there. It's kind of like a unit liaison. I didn't know the soldier, we were in different companies. But that was something I'll never forget. Actually escorting a soldier back to his parents.
Another memory I'll never forget is like, because I have a photo of it. And it's on the wall in our living room is, the photo of me and my fire team. I was a sergeant on my second tour. And so I led like a small unit of four guys. And I have a picture when we were leaving Iraq for the last time. And just that sense of accomplishment of, everyone came home safe from my team on that tour. And that's why it's hung up on my wall. It's you know, we're smiling. We're happy. We're leaving. Yeah, so those are two things that tend to stand out in my service.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
So Andrea, you started off by saying that the value of tikkun olam, repairing the world is one of the things that really guides you. And what I want to ask both you and Dave is how has your identity as a Jew, also shaped your experience as a veteran, we talked a little bit about, you know, in the beginning about your experiences as Jews or maybe your family, being involved in the military not being involved, being surprised. But tell us a little bit about how your identity as a Jew has shaped your experience as a military veteran and as someone who served in our armed forces.
So I left active duty in 2016 and stayed in the reserves but left full time service because I felt like I had reached a ceiling on what I could really do for others and that be my full time job. I wanted to keep serving, I wanted to keep serving my country. But a lot of that actually had to do with the way that I saw a lot of my teammates being mistreated by systemic issues, whether they be cultural or policy. And I wanted to spend a lot more of my time actively putting putting more good into the world versus preventing bad things from happening. Because that's what you do in the military, especially if you’re in intel, you try to stop the bad you don't do anything that actively promotes the good. And so I've spent the last seven years in my civilian career, either in nonprofit or public service, doing just that.
And about half of that time has been active either actively helping veterans, particularly women veterans, and people who have experienced sexual violence or other kinds of institutionalized harm, and currently serving members of the military. And I also firmly believe that our institutions need to live up to the ideals that we profess. And I want our nation to represent the ideals that my family came here believing it had.
And so that's what I've been doing with my time. I spent two and a half years on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and helped write over 100 laws that particularly supported women veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, sexual trauma survivors, people living with PTSD, to help them get improved access to healthcare and benefits. And I'm also very proud that I've also had the opportunity to work with the IDF and provided some insight into the way that we've made some policy changes here in the US.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Dave, tell us a little bit about your Jewish identity and how it plays into this experience.
Well, my unit was very diverse in many ways, not gender, because the unit was closed to, or at the time that the MLS was closes to females, so the unit was, the job was all male. And, you know, part of the pipeline and being new and being a private is your identity is kind of like stripped away and melted down, you're built up as part of this team, your individualism is kind of knocked away. So when that process happens, you know, whatever is the more like forefront of your identity kind of consumes it. In a sense that, like, if you have a very pronounced southern accent, everyone's going to call you a country guy, or whatever. And if you're from New York, there's a guy from Queens, so like, everything about him became like, you're the New York guy.
And for me, it was like I was the Jew. Because that was the most forefront and center thing of my identity. Also, when you shave my head, I have a really big head. So it was all like, all my nicknames were either about having a big head or being a Jew. And then eventually, when I started to grow my hair back and settled more on the latter.
So it was always very central to my service, because that was me, I was like the company's guy who was Jewish. And that was not meant in a derogatory term was more of like a statement of fact. And I think the only thing I really had to overcome was like, in 2005, when you're serving with people, like when I said it was diverse, you could be serving with people from all over the country, the US territories and guys from parts of the South I’ve never heard of, guys from the center of the country place have never been soldiers from Puerto Rico and Guam, like all over the world are serving in the US Army and then we have immigrant soldiers from, you know, Colombia, Nicaragua, Vietnam, like it was a very wide swath of representation and not very many of them had even met a Jew before.
So in a way I was like the first Jew a lot of them had ever met. And I think, you know, rewind back 2005. If you know anything about Jews you probably know like Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld, which are exactly like pictures of guys you want in a foxhole with you. So I had to sort of maybe work a little harder to prove myself in the basic soldiering tasks, but like that didn't take very long.
A lot of guys asked me questions about Judaism, because they genuinely didn't know. And I think one of the benefits of my service is, these guys take back their experiences with me, which I hope are positive, and then like, go back to wherever they're from. And they're like, if Judaism or Jews comes up, they're like, Hey, I served with a Jewish guy, he was pretty cool.
But I think that was very important to me, and why it's so important for Jews to continue military service, because you just meet people from all over the country that you never would have met before. And it broadened my experiences too, serving with those guys.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
I think, hearing the story about how in many cases you might have been the first few that these folks have met is really important. I think in a lot of ways it helps to demystify, or in most important cases, maybe even act against antisemitic ideas or stereotypes. So I think that that's really important. And Dave, you and I have talked over the years, about how sort of the term of calling you a Jew was like a term of endearment. It wasn't in terms of a term of antisemitism. And in spending a lot of my time with this ACCESS Military Veterans Group, I've gotten to learn some of the interesting elements of how you communicate and what that can look like.
So I have just one more question for us. And I think it's really important to acknowledge this moment that we're in. On October 7, Israel experienced one of the most horrific tragedies in its 75 year history. It was and continues to be a horrific day for Israelis and the Jewish community around the world. As of today's recording, over 300 soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands have been called up for active and reserve duty.
So a question I have for both of you is, what is a message that you have, or that you can share, Jewish veteran to Jewish veteran. And I should even say just veteran to veteran because one of the amazing things about Israel is that there are many who serve in the IDF and who've been called up for reserve duty or who are in active duty who are not Jewish. They're a part of the Druze community. They're Arab Israelis. I think that's really what makes Israel such a remarkable country.
So tell us a little bit about perhaps your reactions to that day. And also a message that you have for your fellow soldiers in Israel.
I'm struggling to react because – the horror, rage, I'm just going to start crying on this podcast and not be able to actually give words. I was actually in touch on WhatsApp with several women who I've had the opportunity to work with who are veterans and reservists in the IDF. And there's definitely this kind of secret community of women around the world who have served in combat roles. Even if they weren't in combat, occupational specialties in their countries, where we know what we did, and our service has often gone unacknowledged and erased. And that service is also particularly called upon during the most desperate times, which we are in now. And the message that I have is we see you, we’re with you and we want to run towards chaos with you.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Thank you so much, Andrea. Dave?
I mean, I can't say anything that hasn't already been said. You know, shock, anger. My wife and I are expecting our first child soon. And I didn't think we'd be having a daughter, be worried about like, I just thought, ignorantly, that these sorts of things were perhaps in the past. All I can say to those who are going to go serve is, keep your head on a swivel. Watch out for your battle buddy. All the things we used to say to each other then are still true now.
Dana Levinson Steiner:
Thank you. I think just knowing that you are in community with them, and that they have love and support is so powerful. And as I think both of you know, our ACCESS chapters are all over the world, including in Israel, where a huge number of our ACCESS leaders have been called up for active and reserve duty. So we're thinking of them in this moment.
And we're thinking of all soldiers as we approach Veterans Day, and we're so grateful for the two of you sharing your story with us and sharing your time with us and giving a voice to the more than 1% we will hope of American Jewish veterans and perhaps even encourage some folks who may have been thinking that this is something that's been on their mind, maybe perhaps it might be the moment for them to lean into that into that journey as a Jewish member of our armed forces. So thank you both for joining us. Wishing you a restful and restorative weekend. And Shabbat shalom.
Shabbat shalom, thank you.
Thank you so much, Shabbat shalom.
Manya Brachear Pashman:
What would you do if your son was kidnapped by Hamas? In this heartfelt conversation with Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, the parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg Polin, they shared what they know about their son’s abduction from the Supernova music festival on October 7th and the challenges they face in trying to secure his rescue. Hamas terrorists are holding hostage more than 240 people from over 30 countries, which the couple describes as a global humanitarian crisis that world leaders are not treating as such. They shared ways that we all can keep the hostages’ stories alive and bring them home. Go to AJC.org/BringThemHome to do your part.