Rabbi Avrohom Ricter, director of Chabad of Howard Beach, is finally at peace after narrowly beating a deadline to correct a 50-year-old error on a relative’s grave in a Wisconsin military cemetery.
Ricter, whose relative was a WWII veteran, found the grave on May 23 by chance when doing some genealogy searches online. He noticed the grave, which was dug in June of 1964 in Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee, had a Christian cross symbol instead of the Star of David on it.
To stay in line with Veteran’s Affairs, whose rules prohibit modifying a memorial after 50 years, he needed to act fast and got the help of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to speed up the process.
“I got in touch with Veteran’s Affairs right away to try to get it changed but was not getting anywhere,” Ricter said. “I truly thank Gillibrand for helping me fix this in time. It shows that she cares about the normal, everyday person.”
Ricter came across the grave just three weeks before he would have been out of time. He said his relative, Henry Dienstein, had no children, which is why no one had ever noticed the mistake.
By chance, he was on the website findagrave.com helping a woman translate Yiddish writing on one of her ancestor’s graves and then decided to stay on the site and plug in some old family names. That’s when he found Dienstein’s grave with the incorrect religious mark on it and called the senator.
“It’s amazing how something like this just dropped in my lap,” he said. “I felt strongly about this and wanted to go and get it changed.”
Gillibrand expedited the case with the VA and provided the proper paperwork and evidence to get the correct headstone in place. Once everything was confirmed by the VA, they immediately switched the headstones.
“We pay tribute to Mr. Dienstein’s courageous service in defense of our nation in World War II,” Gillibrand said.
“This headstone will ensure that Mr. Dienstein’s memory is rightly honored.”
Ricter said he could not blame the VA for the error on the grave. He noted that back then, when you requested a religious emblem you had to give a number instead of spelling out which symbol you wanted, which he suspects caused the mix-up.
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