Benjy is the Campus Recruiting and University Relations expert for Walmart. He is passionate about working with students and helping them build their careers through engaging programming and recruitment efforts. Currently, he is the West Coast Director for Chesed Shel Emes, a United Nations-affiliated emergency response organization in addition to being an active member of Infragard, an FBI/Private Sector alliance, as well as served on The White House’s National Faith Leaders Council. He is also a proud member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, and previously led more than 550 individuals on 11 groups of young adults to Israel as one of Taglit: Birthright-Israel’s most seasoned staff members. He received Rabbinic Ordination from Kollel Ayshel Avraham, in Monsey NY, and received an additional endorsement from the Biale Rebbe of Bnai Braq.
How did you get started with your Jewish community work?
I think it was my freshman year in college where I helped planned the prospective student weekend for high school seniors considering UMD. From there I launched into EMS, community involvement across campus, and even served on the White House Faith Leaders Council.
If you had a year off and an extra million dollars to tackle a big problem facing the Jewish community - what would it be and why?
Raising awareness for the need for families to have life insurance and a will. Being in a death related charity, we see so many families agonizing over issues regarding Jewish burial because of differing family opinions. This has sometimes escalated to legal battles in the courtroom. Additionally, when tragedy strikes our Jewish community, and an untimely death occurs, as an orthodox community, we easily see $1m being raised in a week or less to help the family. This could be avoided if families, particularly in ultra-orthodox community, opened up life insurance policies to end reliance on the greater Jewish community.
Tell us about an epic failure or setback you’ve experienced in your work. What did you learn from that experience?
When I receive a call about someone who passes away without financial means or immediate family, I instantly get to work on researching distant family members or a will or similar legal document exists. Sometimes, we work very closely with family on next steps, and arrange all of the logistical details, and then at the last minute, they have a change of heart, and we are unable to provide the deceased with a proper Jewish burial. Despite our advocacy for a Jewish burial, it’s always a sad moment when we are unable to bring someone to a Jewish cemetery. We do this work out of deep respect for Jewish tradition, and often these scenarios feel like major setbacks. I have come to understand that when it comes to sharing our values, we can only do the best we can and hope to be a resource for people.
What person (or people) has had a particularly big influence on your Jewish communal work?
There are a number of Chassidic community leaders that I have gotten a chance to grow close with over the years. They are influential in education, medicine, social services, national and international governments, and jump at a moment’s notice to help a Jew, no matter what their community affiliation or connection is. As part of this group, I’ve learned from them the importance of thinking outside the box to help someone in need, and we always solve the issue no matter how complicated; sometimes in a matter of minutes or hours.
Additionally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the first Chabad Shliach I ever met, Rabbi Eli Backman, who morphed from being my college campus Shliach to a life long friend of almost 20 years and counting. He truly envelops the idea of community service and selflessly giving to others, and is a role model and someone who has impacted my life in the Jewish community.
Another role model and mentor of mine, who exemplifies Jewish community work possibly more than anyone else in the United States, is Isaac Lieder, Rabbi911, a man with the utmost dedication to helping people when no one else knows how to. Isaac has dedicated his life to helping others starting when he was rescuing people and Torahs from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Now, he runs VitalOne which helps transport the sickest patients and seamlessly facilitates resolutions of some of the most complicated medical scenarios ever; including severe accidents abroad, transporting critically ill patients to see the premiere specialists around the world, and connecting newborns to top experts. Whatever the situation that arises, when everyone else says “no, it’s not possible”, Isaac always says yes. What I always admire about Isaac is that he appreciates everyone who works with him or volunteers with him. Isaac taught me that we can always figure out a complicated scenario, when people work together, put their egos aside, and remember that we are all just servants of Hashem. If I was ever in a terrible situation, no matter how serious, and I had one call to make, it would definitely be to Isaac.
What advice would you give to other young people who want to make more of an impact on the Jewish community?
There’s always a niche opportunity to take a passion project and help it grow. Whether it’s medically related, educationally related, community service or outreach related, social Justice related, or government related. Take something that means a lot to you, and see how you can make an impact in a small subsection of the community, and grow from there.
If you had a MyTzedakah portfolio, what would be very important for you to include in it and why?
Obviously, my organization Chesed Shel Emes, which takes care of hundreds of Jewish burials each year and assists in thousands more death related issues. Food related charities speak to me, because everyone deserves to have a tasty meal in their home, and it’s important to help those who can’t achieve that on their own right now. Lastly, organizations like Renewal, which help with the logistics and costs of Kidney donations do amazing work!
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