During this period of darkness that few of us could have anticipated, highlighting the good and noble work of community activists and philanthropists truly serves a purpose. When it comes to selecting from the myriad of causes out there that are advancing the interest of the Jewish people and helping humanity as a whole, the cause that Operation Benjamin is championing is second to none.
Led by Shalom Lamm, Operation Benjamin dedicates its time and resources to identifying Jewish soldiers in American military cemeteries around the world, who were unfortunately, mistakenly buried under Latin crosses. The organization works with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to replace these headstones with the star of David, reflecting their Jewish heritage.
The Torah teaches us that the greatest of Mitzvot is committing good deeds to those that cannot repay a debt of gratitude back in return. The Torah elaborates that there is no greater mitzvah in particular, than participating in a Jewish burial. Commentators explain that the reason this act is considered especially holy, and such a substantial mitzvah, is because it is indeed a favor and a contribution that can never be repaid to the giver. Naturally, helping a family of a fallen American Jewish hero uniquely falls into this criterion. This makes Operation Benjamin’s mission especially sacrosanct.
By identifying Jewish soldiers that were improperly buried in American military cemeteries, the organization and its activists are ensuring that accurate recognition is lent to the identities of these very soldiers. Naturally, this provides an enormous level of comfort to the families of these fallen heroes – knowing that their loved ones are finally receiving the accurate recognition and preservation of their memories that they so deserve.
But even in addition to these obvious benefits, this incredibly noble deed also serves another important purposes. It ensures that the millions of visitors to American military cemeteries in the years, decades and even centuries to come, are provided the ability to conceptually understand the shared Jewish sacrifice in the noble causes of American democracy and freedom.
It’s imperative that visitors to these cemeteries have the opportunity to visually understand the sacrifice these fallen heroes made. In doing so, this doesn’t just ensure that the memories of these fallen servicemen are sanctified. It also ensures that history in its full and complete accuracy is reflected and comprehended by these very same visitors. It’s important that they and all those whom they interact with, are educated and well informed concerning the incredible amount of sacrifice made by Jewish American servicemen over time.
To be clear, Operation Benjamin is far from Shalom Lamm’s first exposure to ensuring that the contribution and service of Jewish American soldiers is preserved and promoted, properly. Shalom was deeply involved in the production of Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray. The documentary tells the tale of the sacrifice of the ten thousand Jewish servicemen who played a pivotal role during the civil war. Consistent with his desire to ensure the memories of these Jewish American servicemen is preserved and honored, Lamm worked on this documentary with the aim of ensuring that the American public writ large is educated and informed of the extraordinary sacrifice of these selfless patriots.
Shalom and the team at Operation Benjamin work with complete and utter discretion in pursuing their holy work. They do so with an extraordinary amount of dignity – ensuring that there is no cost accrued to any of the families of these fallen servicemen whom they are aiding. During the war, paperwork was flawed despite sincere efforts and it was certainly not a unique circumstance or such mistakes to be made when burials were arranged.
During this chaotic period, families in some cases were unable to communicate their preferred markers to the government. And for those family member who were aware of the mistakes made at a later point, making the changes retroactively proved to be an incredibly challenging ordeal. As one can imagine, for a family after having lost a loved one during war – to deal with government bureaucracies under such conditions, is an incredibly difficult ordeal to be subject to.
But under the leadership of Shalom Lamm, Operation Benjamin’s reach has been maximized with a great deal of success. Courtesy of Lamm and his team, the organization has developed a working relationship with the American Battle Monuments Commission. The Commission is the United States government agency that serves as the guardian of America’s foreign commemorative ceremonies and memorials.
Certainly, Lamm’s involvement in communal activism and philanthropy is in no way limited to his work with Operation Benjamin. Over the years he’s served on the board of directors at Yeshiva College and as President of Camp Morasha. He co-founded the Hatzoloh Medical Rescue Squad on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he personally participated in close to a thousand medical rescue calls. Although his community activism and acts of generosity are too extensive to include in the scope of one piece; suffice it to say that during times as troubling as these, learning about selfless people like Shalom Lamm should serve as a source of hope, light and goodness that we will get out of this chaos, sooner rather than later