Memorial Day message from a World War Two U.S. Armed Forces prayer book

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Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz conducts services among "Dragon's Teeth" anti-tank fortifications in the Siegfried Line in 1945, while Jewish soldiers follow along using the JWB prayer books. (Photo: Center for Jewish History)

An estimated 550,000 Jewish men and women served in the armed forces of the United States during World War Two with some 11,000 killed during the war. Before being deployed, most Jewish service members were given an abridged J.W.B (National Jewish Welfare Board) pocket sized prayer book to take with them as they served overseas.

Soldiers sitting at tables during Passover meal, circa 1945. (Photo: American Jewish Historical Society)

In honor of their sacrifice and heroism this Memorial Day we are posting selected excerpts from the prayer book.

Preface

May this prayer book small enough in size to be carried in a pocket over the heart, bear the spiritual message of Israel’s ancient prayers to the heart of the Jewish members of the armed forces serving their country. The prayers here gathered together speak of the eternal aspirations of the Jewish people, and, indeed, of all mankind. They lift the soul above the immediate cares and interests of the daily round to the sphere of tenderness, purity and faith that is divine. They link those far from home with some of the most beautiful and uplifting associations of family life. They quicken loyalty to loved ones and to all one’s fellow men. They strengthen against temptation and give courage to psurn evil and hold fast to faith in the ultimate triumph of the good. In furthering this high purpose, the little volume of devotion serves not only the men who use it, but also the highest ideal of America.

May this manual of prayer, which from the hallowed ideals of the past draws religious inspiration for the present, help towards achieving a future of peace and human brotherhood under the Father of all mankind.

U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) Eli Bohnen, right, a rabbi serving with the 42nd Infantry Division in World War II, leads a seder service during the Jewish holiday of Passover in Dahn, Germany March 28, 1945. (Photo: 42nd Infantry Division Archives)

Prayer on being delivered from danger

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who grantest blessings on the underserving, for on me hast Thou bestowed good favor.

Jewish Navy WAVES celebrating their last night in New York City. (Photo: The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford)

Prayer for our country

God of our fathers Who givest salvation unto nations and strength unto governments, bless Thou and safeguard our country, the United States of America, and the people who dwell therein.

May brotherly love ever be found among all citizens of our land. Do Thou implant in the hearts of all the people a steadfast purpose to work as one for the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace.

Supreme King of kings, protect and help our president. Shield him against all sickness and injury. Grant to him and to all the constituted officers of our government such wisdom and understanding that they may lead our nation in justice and righteousness. In their days and ours may Judah be saved and Israel swell in safety.

U.S. Army Soldiers serving with the 42nd Infantry Division in World War II celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover in Dahn, Germany, March 28, 1945, just over a month before the German surrender. (Photo: 42nd Infantry Division Archives)

Prayer for moral strength

O Lord, Thou hast created me; Thou hast fashioned my body and its powers. Thou hast also given me the gift of Thy spirit by which I am moved to uses these powers in ways that are good and right in Thine eyes. May I remember this at all times and in the presence of every temptation. For wayward fancies and base passions too often tempt me to seek a passing pleasure at the expense of my enduring happiness, and divert me from my purpose to perform Thy will. Give me the strength to banish thoughts and desires which I know to be wrong. May I do nothing that can bring dishonor on myself, on those I love or any human being. May I not degrade the physical, mental and emotional powers that Thou hast given me by dissipating them in intemperate, self-indulgent and immoral behavior. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me that I may be worthy of those blessings which flow from a clear conscience and a pure love of Thee and Thy children. Amen.

Chaplain Joseph H. Freedman Hq, USAFIME, is shown blowing the Shofar in observance of Rosh Hashana in 1942. (Photo: American Jewish Historical Society)

Prayer for home

Far from home and those I love, I find my thoughts turning to them with affectionate longing. O Thou who aret with my distant loved ones even while Thou art here with me, who hearkenest to their prayers even as Thou hearkenest to mine, bless us and keep us united in spirit until we meet again. Let my memory hold them in such loving embrace that I be cheered by their imagined presence. Keep me under the influence of the ties that bind me to them, so that even in strange surroundings I may conduct myself in ways that do them honor. Keep me gratefully mindful of the blessing of their love and let me not give way to loneliness or despondency. Help me to bring cheer to my comrades, who like me are separated from their dear ones. For Thou, God, art the Father of all; Thou art the source of all love. None who puts his faith in Thee need ever feel friendless or forsaken. Amen.

Soldiers attend a Passover seder at Temple Beth Jacob, Miami Beach, in 1943. (Photo: State Library and Archives of Florida)

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