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Daughter Gives Sermon Her Dad Gave in Iwo Jima

12:48 AM, Nov 9, 2013   |    comments
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Williamsville, NY - The daughter of the first Jewish chaplain to serve in the Marines lives right here in Western New York, and Friday night she delivered the sermon her father gave at the dedication of the Jewish Cemetery on Iwo Jima back in 1945.

It was a sermon many chaplains of other faiths protested despite its message of equality and inclusion.

"Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places," said Judy Gittlesohn Fales as she read her father's speech.

For the first time, Gittlesohn Fales is reading the words of her father in public.

"I just hope that his words will make a difference in the world and continue to make a difference," she says.

Rabbi Gittlesohn delivered his sermon at the dedication of the Jewish cemetery on Iwo Jima in March of 1945 when Judy was just three years old.

"It's amazing to me to remember that he was only 34 years old when he gave that sermon and that it became such a famous speech. So it's emotional. It's moving for me," she says.

She knows her father was ahead of his time. His sermon came 19 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, something he pushed for as part of President Truman's Civil Rights Commission.

"I think he was an honorable and very moral human being. And he believed in equality for all. And he believed in doing whatever he was able to do as one individual to make sure that people were treated equally," she says.

She believes her father's sermon still rings true today especially as we reflect on those who have lost their lives for us on this Veterans' Day.

"I hope that they will read his words and perhaps make some decisions in their own lives that will allow them to follow through on the things that he suggests in order for us to have a truly democratic society," she says.

"Here lie officers and men, Negros and whites, rich men and poor together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy," said Gittlesohn Fales as she read her father's speech.

A Navy doctor has just written a biography about Rabbi Gittlesohn which will be published within the next year. His daughter was interviewed for the book and she says it makes her happy because she knows her father's legacy will continue.

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