After a Queens Rabbi discovered that the grave of his relative, a Jewish World War II soldier, was marked with a Cross instead of a Star of David, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand went to work, successfully lobbying the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that the soldier’s resting place be properly honored.
“We pay tribute to Mr. Dienstein’s courageous service in defense of our nation in World War II,” said Gillibrand. “This headstone will ensure that Mr. Dienstein’s memory is rightly honored.”
Rabbi Avrohom Richter, of Howard Beach and the Director of Chabad of Howard Beach, discovered the grave of his relative Henry Dienstein by chance, during extensive research into his genealogy. Dienstein, who was a private in World War II, is the first cousin of Rabbi Richter’s grandmother. The veteran was buried in Wood National Cemetery, a VA National Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
After discovering the error, Richter reached out to Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director and President of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO), who connected him with Gillibrand. When the Rabbi asked for help, 49 years and 11 months had passed. VA rules prohibit modifying a memorial after the 50 year mark.
“Nearly half a century passed before one of our prized World War II veterans, Henry Dienstein, received his final farewell, one which appropriately reflects his Jewish faith,” Niederman said. “Time was of the essence and we are tremendously grateful that Senator Gillibrand did not waiver for a moment, and sprang into action immediately when we brought it to her attention, taking on and successfully completing that mission.”
Gillibrand expedited Dienstein’s case with the VA, working closely with Rabbis Niederman and Richter and Dienstein’s next-of-kin to provide appropriate paperwork and evidence and immediately requested a proper headstone be replaced. The VA approved Gillibrand’s request and recently replaced Mr. Dienstein’s headstone with one bearing the Star of David.
Gillibrand’s office is now working the National Personnel Records Center and National Archives to secure records and more details of Mr. Dienstein’s service.
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