Social Impact Heroes: How Shalom Lamm of Operation Benjamin Is Helping To Ensure That Our Nation’s Heroes Are Afforded Proper Burials
Never lose sight of being respectful to everyone around you: This is a value I always lived by when in business for nearly four decades. Frankly, it’s inexcusable for anyone not to. Respect the doorman or receptionist just as you would treat and respect the vice president of operations. Hierarchy means nothing when it comes to ensuring everyone is paid the proper respect they deserve.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shalom Lamm.
Shalom Lamm is an entrepreneur who has operated a wide array of different businesses over the course of his nearly four decades in the private sector. Lamm has now set his sights on making a difference in the nonprofit arena. In particular, he is leading the growth and reach of Operation Benjamin, an organization dedicated to identifying Jewish soldiers at American military cemeteries all over the world who were mistakenly buried under Latin crosses and replacing these with headstones with a star of David. In addition to his extraordinary work with Operation Benjamin, Shalom served as a member of the Board of Directors of The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and travelled on missions with the group to Germany, Spain and to military installations in the United States. He was the founder of the Hatzoloh Medical Rescue squad on the West side of Manhattan, personally participating in close to 1,000 medical rescue calls. Shalom resides in West Hempstead, NY with his family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always had a natural desire to make meaningful contributions to society in different ways. Even while still running many different successful businesses during my time in the private sector over the last 4 decades, my wife and I have always sought out ways to provide meaningful solutions to various social programs. Although the transition from being an entrepreneur for nearly four decades to operating as the leader of a nationally renowned nonprofit might sound odd, based on the shared values my wife and I have lived by even while I was still in business, it actually makes plenty of sense when put in the proper context.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There are few things as important as ensuring that someone is provided a proper burial and that their memory is consecrated in a way that would have been consistent with their desires. I have been involved in many causes and wonderful organizations in my lifetime, but I can say without equivocation that this cause is one whose mission I find to be one of the most important. Every time our organization plays a role in ensuring that a soldier’s identity is afforded just recognition, I’m left with a sense of accomplishment that is truly indescribable.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Just like any entrepreneur, I’ve made a number of mistakes throughout my business career. But since transitioning to head Operation Benjamin, I’m pleased to say that thanks to the amazing team around us coupled with the noble mission we are all working toward, we’ve been able to further the organization’s goal in a way that has been nearly seamless. At least thus far.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The social impact Operation Benjamin is making is truly remarkable. What could possibly be more meaningful and sacrosanct than ensuring our nation’s heroes are afforded proper burials with tombstones reflecting their heritage? We specifically work on identifying fallen Jewish soldiers who were mistakenly buried under Latin crosses and replace their headstones with a Star of David. This ensures accurate and proper recognition of the fallen soldier’s identity and provides immense comfort to the families of the fallen. Needless to say, this also allows for the millions of visitors to the American Military Cemeteries to visually understand and appreciate the shared Jewish sacrifice in the causes of democracy and freedom.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
For obvious reasons, we can’t divulge confidences of this sort. Having said that, the impact that our work has had on the family members of the fallen soldiers has been remarkable.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
While I’ve long been a believer in the idea of public/private sector partnerships and collaborations, we are not proactively seeking anything of the sort at the moment.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think Peter Drucker put it best when he said “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and I’m sure all subjects of your interview will tell you that they wish they had a crystal ball when starting their business or philanthropic ventures. But the reality of life is that none such ball exists. It’s what frankly makes so much of business and philanthropy exciting. The creativity; the innovation and the ability to mold one’s destiny. Having said that, here’s a few lessons that I think any hungry entrepreneur or social activist could benefit from knowing when starting out.
- Challenge the status quo and success will follow you like a shadow: This is true regardless of the industry; and regardless of the nature of what one might be seeking to ascertain in terms of a goal.
- Never lose sight of being respectful to everyone around you: This is a value I always lived by when in business for nearly four decades. Frankly, it’s inexcusable for anyone not to. Respect the doorman or receptionist just as you would treat and respect the vice president of operations. Hierarchy means nothing when it comes to ensuring everyone is paid the proper respect they deserve.
- Always try to seek out opportunities to do good
- No matter how successful one might think they are, one must never lose sight of the importance and value of comporting oneself with humility.
- Be involved in one’s community, in a way that is meaningful.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We’re living through unprecedented times right now with the Coronavirus health pandemic. So many people are hurting; with so many small businesses having been effectively decimated due to the economically depressed conditions. Let’s all try to commit to doing something to help each other. The generosity of the human spirit is an extraordinary thing. And when unleashed, so much can be accomplished.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If there’s a thing I’ve learned in my life it’s to not be afraid of the responsibility that comes with caring for other people.” When we leave this earth, we’re unable to take a penny with us. But we are able to take our good deeds with us and carry them to the world to come. Reminding ourselves of this powerful fact on a regular basis is an incredibly important and healthy exercise.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I’ve been privileged during my lifetime to meet so many different accomplished professionals, religious scholars, social activists and leaders in different industries. I’m good for now!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter is the best way. I’m at https://twitter.com/shalomlamm?lang=en
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you very much for the opportunity