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Bonded Hearts

Barbara Bensoussan

One a rosh yeshivah, the other a savvy criminal lawyer. With Rav Aaron Brafman’s shloshim approaching, his brother Ben shares the secret of their unbreakable bond

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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FIND YOUR SPARK One imagines that a lawyer spends most of his energy poring over dry legal tomes, and that a rosh yeshivah will be immersed in Talmud 24/7. Yet the truth is that while intellectual activity is part of both job descriptions, an equally large part has to do with helping people through the roughest times of their lives

"I still can’t believe we’re having this conversation,”

Ben Brafman says, seated at the conference table of his gleaming East Side office with 26th-floor views of the river. It’s just a few weeks since the petirah of his brother Rav Aaron Brafman, the beloved longtime menahel of Derech Ayson/Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, and to him, it feels as if one half of a pair of Siamese twins has been severed.

On the surface, of course, the “twins” were by no means identical. As many people heard Ben say at the levayah, when their father was in a coma during his last months, Rav Aaron would show up for bedside shifts in his black suit, Gemara in hand; Ben would appear to relieve him wearing a sweat suit and toting legal papers. When a nurse expressed surprise that they were actually brothers, Ben quipped, “He’s adopted.”

“I am not adopted,” Rav Aaron rejoined firmly, “and we are not different.”

Their lifestyles certainly looked different; one spent his time within the hallowed walls of the beis medrash, while the other tried high-publicity criminal cases in court. One kept a low profile, while the other would be tailed by paparazzi after big trials and makes appearances on television when necessary. One has a beautiful house with a pool, the other lived very modestly, uninterested in luxuries. “I always struggled to find the right gift for my brother for his birthday,” Ben remarks. “I think I bought him every single tie that could match a black suit. Once I bought him a nice watch, but he was reluctant to wear it. He didn’t think it was appropriate for a rebbi to wear an expensive watch.”

In his brother’s absence, Ben Brafman is finally starting to understand his passion for Torah. 

Many have compared their relationship to a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership, as Ben’s substantial legal earnings helped relieve the financial pressures of his brother’s large family. But Ben dislikes that label. “That makes it sound like a business partnership,” he says, like a man who buys his Olam Haba by paying someone else to learn for him. “Our relationship was based on love.”


Can’t You Be Like Aaron?

The brothers grew up together in Williamsburg, then Crown Heights. Their father, Sol Brafman, who ran into his Vienna shul on Kristallnacht to save Torah scrolls, made it out of Europe to the US after that night of horror in 1938, together with his parents. Their mother Rochel (Rose), the only member of her family to receive a visa, was sent alone to the US; her parents and sister perished in Auschwitz. Having seen their families decimated by the war, Mr. and Mrs. Brafman senior were fiercely devoted to what family remained, and inculcated that loyalty in their children.

Aaron was the bechor, born in 1943; soon after his birth his father shipped out to serve as a combat sergeant in the Philippines. “Our father always said he survived because Hashem was watching over him,” Ben relates. “So many of his fellow soldiers were killed right from the beginning, as they tried maneuvering from the boat to the shore. The Japanese were mowing them down from concrete bunkers. He said he just kept saying Shema Yisrael over and over.”

The other Brafman children, Malkie, Ben, and Shevy, were born after Sol’s return. Ben recalls a simple childhood — his father worked as a garment cutter at a very modest salary, although he always found money for tuition. Ben’s paternal grandparents, particularly his grandfather, were a constant presence, and left a deep impression on the children, especially Aaron. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 676)

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