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JWB: Fostering Jewish life in post-war Germany

Davina Dubnick, right, and her sister, Barbara, are pictured with their friend, Bernie Goldberg, who served as a volunteer lay leader in the army.

JWB Jewish Chaplains Council has been supporting Jews who serve our country since its founding in 1917. Providing chaplaincy and care packages, and other means to support Jewish life, JWB helps create Jewish community on military bases all over the world, where none may exist.

Barbara and Davina Dubnick, who recently made their annual gifts to support the ongoing work of JWB, told us their stories, when they worked teaching on military bases in Germany.

In the 1960s, Davina and Barbara Dubnick, began working overseas for the United States military. Both worked in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, teaching the children of those serving in the military who were stationed in Germany. There they found excitement, culture and easy travel to other parts of Europe. They loved it so much that they stayed on, Davina for 25 years, and Barbara for 18 years.

“It really was a godsend,” says Davina of JWB’s efforts to provide for Jewish military personnel. “It was like mishpacha (family). We grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood, and it was so wonderful having the Jewish Welfare Board there, giving support.”

Although the sisters worked on different bases, both have fond memories of the services that JWB Jewish Chaplains Council provided. By doing so, the JWB provided two Brooklyn girls with a sense of Jewish connection. It gave them both a feeling that they had “family” in a country that while now welcoming, had only two decades earlier, been the perpetrator of so much destruction of Jewish life.

Davina first went to Germany in 1965 when her husband at that time was drafted. He served at a base near a small town near Kaiserslautern. They returned to Brooklyn at the end of his tour of duty, but had liked living abroad so much, returned in 1970.

“Right before Pesach they were giving classes on how to conduct the seder,” says Davina of JWB. “And they supplied us with chickens, Manischewitz or Magen David, matzah, gefilte fish, macaroons, even chickens and fresh produce.”

She was able to use her Yiddish to speak with the locals, whose dialect was close to the Jewish language.

Her sister Barbara was single when she began teaching kindergarten at the base in Wiesbaden, Germany. There, JWB provided Jewish learning opportunities through military chapel on base.

“The Jewish chapel was a wonderful support. I often went Friday night for services, and I took classes from the chaplain,” says Barbara, who still has the books she used in a Hebrew and Jewish culture class that she took. “Our seders in the chapel were wonderful.”

One of the most meaningful thing she participated in was a retreat at Bertchtesgaden, in Upper Bavaria where Hitler used to vacation.

“It was a wonderful feeling to know that we were having a Jewish retreat in what used to be Hitler’s vacation home, and now WE were using it,” says Barbara, who says the JWB provided the food, personnel and backing for the program.

“The Jewish Welfare Board is so important,” she says. “They give so much support to the Jewish community. When you are working for the military and working overseas, you feel isolated, and here’s this community. You need that feeling of yiddishkeit and the sense of fellow Jews around you—and that’s what they provide.”

For more information about JWB Jewish Chaplains Council’s work and how you can support it, contact Arlene Swartz.

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