Tribute Dinner, February 10
By Arye Nisonson
It will be a great tribute to an understated and private man who changed the face and style of chinuch in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway over the course of almost half a century.
Aside from a select few, including Rabbi Yaakov Bender, the dynamic visionary who built Yeshiva Darchei Torah, there is virtually no one in Jewish education over all these years who had an impact on so many individuals like Rabbi Aaron Brafman.
Rabbi Brafman passed away last year, leaving a void that cannot be sufficiently filled. This coming Saturday night, the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway is presenting the first award in his memory to the rabbi’s brother, Benjamin Brafman, the famed attorney and advocate for numerous causes that benefit Am Yisrael.
“I’m very proud to be accepting this award,” Mr. Brafman said the other day to the 5TJT. “But it’s a bittersweet moment because my heart is broken. I’d prefer being at the dinner with my brother like we were for so many years up to this year,” he said.
The outpouring of love and respect for Rabbi Brafman is being translated into the largest event of this nature for Yeshiva of Far Rockaway in the almost half-century that the yeshiva has been in existence.
For Rabbi Yechiel Perr, the founder and rosh yeshiva of YFR, the loss was both personal and profound. “I don’t think I ever cried so hard as when I heard that Rav Aaron passed away,” Rabbi Perr said. “We were very close and shared all our concerns, successes, and disappointments in life for many decades,” the rabbi says.
“When he had a concern or even a health challenge, I think he called me first, even before he called Ben, and I did the same,” Rav Perr says.
Rabbi Perr adds that in a sense the loss impacted him, his family, and the yeshiva in a way that is too difficult to articulate. He says that it took him 30 years to be able to effectively grapple with the loss of his parents—and all that time until he was able to organize his thoughts and write about them. In that vein, he adds that it is way too soon for him to sufficiently express the depth of his feelings about Rabbi Brafman.
“A lot of people out there loved and respected my brother,” says Ben Brafman, and he said that he gauges that conclusion by the multiplicity of calls he has continuously been receiving from former students and parents of students whose life Rabbi Brafman touched in so many ways.
“People say to me all the time that we had a Yissachar–Zevulun relationship,” Mr. Brafman says. That is a brotherly, cooperative relationship where one brother provides the material resources while the other brother spends his time engrossed in Torah study.
“But I have to correct people when they say that, because my brother was one of the hardest working people that I knew,” Mr. Brafman says. He goes on to explain that Rabbi Brafman worked just about seven days a week, always involved in one aspect of the yeshiva or another.
Ben Brafman says that his brother cared deeply about people and that more than anything else he was concerned about the welfare of his talmidim. “He could see on a boy’s face whether there was something troubling him,” his younger brother says. “Communicating with and relating to the boys in the yeshiva was an all-consuming endeavor,” Ben remarks.
Rabbi Perr recalled hiring Rabbi Brafman a year after the yeshiva opened in 1969. “At the time I reached out to him and offered him a position in the yeshiva because he had a reputation of being the best rebbe in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas,” Rav Perr said.
Ben Brafman says that he has never known someone like his brother Aaron who was so connected and involved in the needs of so many families. He talks about the fact that for many summers Rabbi Brafman ran a day camp in Far Rockaway and that after the summer one of his assistants would come to him with a list of people who had not paid the camp tuition.
Ben Brafman says, “Aaron would review the list and then confer with the office and instruct ‘not to call this one because they are having health issues, or not call that one because he recently lost his job,’ and so on.”
Rabbi Perr says that for his part they agreed on almost everything when it came to operating the yeshiva. “I always wanted Minchah to be at 2:15 but he thought it should begin at 2:17,” the rosh yeshiva says. “I thought 2:15 was a nice even number, but no—he thought the boys should have an extra two minutes to come down from their classrooms to the beis midrash.”
Rabbi Perr adds that Rabbi Brafman never saw the yeshiva as one massive unit but rather as a compilation of young men—individuals—all different, some stronger, some weaker, but all requiring and deserving personal attention.
“More than anything, I miss the daily calls,” Mr. Brafman adds.
While Rabbi Brafman has left a void in so many lives and on so many levels, the memorial award being presented on motzaei Shabbos, February 10, is more than just that. It is a giant step in the direction of recognizing a life of Torah and yiras Shamayim well-lived—a life that today continues to inspire.