Peter Eisenstadt is an independent historian, the author and co-author of several books, and active in the J Street chapter of Rochester, New York. This recounting of a memorable life centers upon the issues and concerns that we also hold dear as an organization:
One of my dearest friends passed away last week, Aaron Braveman. He was one of the founders of the J Street chapter in Rochester. The death of those close to us is always a time of intense sadness, but for those who loved Aaron, mourning was tempered by the knowledge that Aaron, who was 94, had lived a long, full, happy, and remarkably useful life. His intelligence, his moral passion, his humor, his talent for friendship and empathy, remained intact until the end. At his funeral, yesterday, the sanctuary of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, where he had been director of religious education for over a quarter century, was filled to overflowing with Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Aaron was a lifelong Rochesterian, but in 1927, when he was nine, his mother, with Aaron and his two brothers in tow, made aliyah to Palestine. Aaron remembered seeing Lindbergh’s plane fly over the ship that was taking him across the Atlantic. He remembered a time when the only bus between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv carried goats and sheep as well as human passengers, and being amazed, along with the mixed Jewish and Arab audience, watching Al Jolson in the first Palestine performances of “The Jazz Singer.”
He remembered Hayim Nahman Bialik as a portly man on horseback, stopping to talk to neighborhood kids in Tel Aviv. He had stories to tell of his memories of the strange scene on the beach the morning after the still mysterious assassination of Haim Arlosoroff in 1933, and what it was like to have David Ben-Gurion as a neighbor.
In 1936, Aaron’s mother returned to Rochester, and so did Aaron, and he would remain in Rochester for the remainder of his long life. Aaron became active in the militantly secular socialist-Zionist organization, Hashomer Hatzair, but eventually his fluency in Hebrew led to his career as a religious educator. Aaron was never religious, quite, but he had a lifelong love of Judaism, in all of its variety, complexity, humanity, and intricacy, and his knowledge all of its branches was profound and was easily imparted to all who knew him. He also had the talent, all too rare for someone with his level of erudition, of being an excellent listener as well. He was a lifelong learner and lifelong teacher.
Aaron was a mainstay of the Rochester Jewish community, but never wavered in his strong belief in a left-Zionist perspective. The return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland, Aaron felt, required sharing the land fairly and equitably with the Palestinians. Until this was accomplished, the miracle of the rebirth of Israel would always remain unfinished and unresolved. He never completely recovered from the tragic and in Aaron’s opinion completely unnecessary death of his nephew in 1982 in the storming of Beaufort Castle during the early days of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
Over the years he had joined many organizations, and participated in countless interfaith dialogues to further this goal. At the age of 90 he became an enthusiastic charter member of the J Street Rochester chapter. When his health began to fail, the steering committee started to meet in Aaron’s assisted living facility, where he would unfailingly give wise advice about whom to contact, and what strategy to pursue. Aaron always remained an optimist, and a believer that two peoples as intelligent, as sensible, and as touched by tragedy as the Jews and the Palestinians would eventually find a way, with the right prodding, to resolve their considerable difficulties. It is true that in his last years he expressed with some asperity that he had fully expected to live to see real progress towards a lasting peace, but this, evidently, was not to be. It will just take a little longer than Aaron anticipated.
May Aaron’s memory forever be a blessing, and may his lifelong commitment to a lasting peace in the Middle East not have been in vain.