Talking about heroism with Sheldon Goldberg

Photo by Justin Katz

In 2018, Christopher Celiz was serving in Afghanistan as a leader of a special operations unit that included members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. On July 12, as he tried to protect a helicopter loading wounded soldiers, Celiz was shot and killed.

Celiz, a South Carolina native, was Jewish. And on Dec. 16, he became the 18th Jewish servicemember to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Celiz’s widow and daughter accepted the honor from President Joe Biden.

That Celiz was a Jew who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country is not lost on Sheldon Goldberg. The Silver Spring resident and Vietnam War veteran is determined to keep the stories of Jewish military veterans alive.

Through his work as a docent at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, his numerous book reviews and his 30 years of service in the Air Force, Goldberg, 83, is driven to dispel any notion that Jews do not serve in the military. His involvement in the Jewish War Veterans is part of this mission.

“The Jewish War Veterans was established back in 1896 to counter complaints and the antisemitism that existed back then that Jews did not fight in the Civil War,” said Goldberg.

“Since that time, there’s always been those that have said, ‘I’ve never seen a Jew in uniform. Jews don’t fight, they’re bankers, they’re doctors.’ This shows the world that we not only fight but have heroes that give their lives for this country.

“Fortunately, in my 30 years of service, I never encountered any antisemitism,” he continued. “I was always conscious of who I was and, in most cases, I was the only Jew in my unit.”

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History was founded in 1958 to document and preserve Jewish contributions to the military. It includes exhibits spotlighting service members such as Maj. Gen. Julius Klein, a World War II hero, and Capt. Joshua L. Goldberg, the first rabbi during World War II to be commissioned a Navy chaplain. Then there are continuing exhibitions: “A Mother’s Grief” and “Jewish War Veterans’ 1933 Protest March Against Nazi Germany.”

With his doctorate in modern European history from the University of Maryland, Goldberg also gives lectures and has published a book and a handful of articles for Officer Review.

“We’re such a small portion of the population. In terms of the antisemitism that’s going around, it’s important that people know that Jews serve. We take an oath of allegiance to the United States of America. We take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. We stand up and give our lives to protect that.”

Goldberg, who flew 214 combat missions during his service, said that a side benefit of his current work is that it keeps him busy and involved.

“Doing this keeps me off the streets. Otherwise I could very easily become a couch potato and just watch TV. I’m learning all sorts of stuff about Jews in civilian life.”

As a docent, Goldberg shares with tour groups the stories of Celiz and the 17 other Jewish Medal of Honor recipients to reinforce their heroic actions and place in American history. He also is looking forward to two new exhibits: one about the Vietnam War and a second about women in the military.

“I just want people to know that we are here,” he said.

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