2017-07-05 / Local News

Post 126’s first female commander vows to recruit more women

MEET SELINA KANOWITZ…
By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

FAMILY: Husband Howard; children Faryn, 24, and Jason, 22

PET: Parrot Remington

HOMETOWN: Voorhees

SYNAGOGOGE: Chabad Lubavitch of Camden & Burlington Counties

HOBBIES: Figure skating & horseback riding

Philadelphia native Selina Kanowitz enlisted in the U.S. Air Force reserves in 1977, just one year after women were accepted into the branch on an equal basis with men.

Although military service wasn’t a typical path for college-educated Jewish women at the time, Kanowitz considered it an opportunity to switch careers—from teaching to the medical field—while serving her country.

And it suited her. Although women then and now comprise a small portion of the branch, even within the reserves, Kanowitz found her place and ability to excel in male-dominated circumstances, just as she has within Furer-Barag-Wolf Jewish War Veterans Post 126, which installed her in the role of post commander on June 4. She is not only the first female commander for the post; she’s only the second woman to lead a JWV in the state of New Jersey.

“I feel very honored,” said Kanowitz, who is retired from the military but continues to work as a nuclear medicine technologist at Temple University. “I feel like I have a lot of challenges and obstacles ahead of me which I’m willing to take on. I feel confident I can raise this to a much higher level.”

Although Kanowitz originally went to school to be a teacher, military service was not an out-of-the-box idea.

“I suppose you would say that we are a military family and proud to serve this great country,” she noted. “My father served in World War II under General Patton; my brother was in naval officer candidate school and my son served 2 1/2 years in Army ROTC at Penn State University.”

From her first days in basic training –when she was placed in charge of the 45 women in her dorm – to marching in parades during her training days, Kanowitz enjoyed military life. She even found it rewarding to explain Judaism to the other enlisted women, who for the most part had never met anybody Jewish.

“They were very respectful towards me,” she said, noting that she often would take her non-Jewish friends to synagogue and social events on the bases.

For the most part, her reserve career was rewarding if uneventful—she worked as a radiology technician at Willow Grove Naval Air Station, occasionally sent to other hospitals around the country and world to support the Air Force needs. Then in 1991, Kanowitz was called to active service during Operation Desert Storm. Stationed at McGuire Air Force base as fighting broke out, she and her unit were next in line to be deployed when the war ended 16 days later.

“That’s how I became a veteran,” she said, noting that she stayed in the reserves until retiring as a master sergeant in 1998.

Kanowitz first became a member of Drizin-Weiss Post 215 in Pennsylvania, where she used to speak to students and other groups about her service. A longtime Voorhees resident, she joined Post 126 a few years ago and started moving up the ranks. As one of two female members of the post—May Brill, 92, a World War II veteran is honorary post commander—one of her priorities is to recruit more women by meeting the needs and interests of female veterans.

On the agenda, the post will be incorporating a visit to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial during a fall trip to sites in Washington, DC. She will also hold informational sessions on breast cancer and services for women vets at upcoming meetings.

Among Kanowitz’s biggest cheerleaders is Brill, who continues to talk to students and other groups about women in the military and leadership.

“We have to show not only that women can do this work but that younger women can do the work,” said Brill. “She is very capable and I am so proud to have this young woman as a commander.” 

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