On Sunday, August 28 at 3 pm Eastern Time, Shalom Lamm, CEO of Operation Benjamin, will be speaking with us from Israel in a Casual Conversation under the sponsorship of the Jewish Culture Group. As always, all classmates (and friends) are invited to join us. Please read classmate Bruce Alpert’s (who is Chair of the Jewish Culture Group) description below of the organization and of his personal experience with its good work:
Jewish soldiers faced a dilemma when they signed up to fight the Nazis: what religion to put on their dog tags. The choices were three: Catholic (“C”), Protestant (“P”), or Hebrew (“H”). If you put H on your dog tag and were captured by the Nazis, you would be murdered immediately. Our people knew that and chose to fight under a religious alias, and so when killed in combat, be mis-identified as other than Jewish.
My wife Jeanne knew her mother had a brother killed in the war. Uncle Joe was NEVER discussed by the family beyond the fact that he died in WWII. Jeanne knew nothing else.
Out of the blue two years ago she received a phone call asking: "Was Joseph Sugarman your uncle?" That is how my wife and I learned about Operation Benjamin (OB). This organization surveys US military cemeteries all over the world and identifies soldiers with "Jewish names" buried under a cross. They died with dog tags without an H. OB is dedicated to give these men recognition in death what they had in life: a proud Jewish heritage.
The OB folks researched Lt. Sugarman and found he was Jewish all his life. They sent Jeanne a 50-page notebook detailing his entire life. When we acknowledged that he was her Jewish uncle, OB said it would be replacing the cross headstone at his grave with a Star of David headstone. Did we want to be present for the ceremony? OB wanted no money, only our presence at Uncle Joe’s grave for the dedication of his new marker.
Of course, we wanted to be there: Uncle Joe Sugarman, Of Blessed Memory.
I have attached a link to a Sunday NYT article that gives more details and contains our picture, in color, walking through the military cemetery: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/24/nyregion/jewish-world-war-ii-soldiers... . I may look old and haggard, but I felt nothing but joy inside. Joe was coming home to his faith, and we were there to give witness to this last journey. From generation to generation: L’Dor V’Dor.
Why does OB replace cross headstones thousands of miles from home with Stars of David after 80 years? Because this is what we do for our people, for those who fought and died for the United States, who lived as American Jews and died as American Jews.
OB has generous benefactors, many of whom were with us on the entire trip to Europe. They are the most amazing folks who walk the face of the Earth.
Perhaps this story will bring you a smile and a few tears. It sure did for us.
Here is a short interview with Mr. Lamm and one of his colleagues that gives further background: https://reformjudaism.org/reform-jewish-life/operation-benjamin-helping-... . You may also want to catch up on the case of armored cavalry genius Maj. General Maurice Rose, the highest-ranking US officer to die from enemy fire in World War II, a son and grandson of Rabbis who put a P on his army form. In an email exchange with Mr. Lamm, he wrote: “General Rose and I have become very well acquainted. The last chapter of this saga has yet to be written.”
If you wish to join us, please email me at email@example.com by close of business (Eastern Time) the Friday beforehand, August 26. For the last Casual Conversation, one classmate emailed me at another address, and I didn’t see it until after the session had already taken place. You are on notice.
See you soon.