Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Adar I 5763 - February 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Remembering R' Aharon Paperman, z"l

by His Family

Part I

Last year on 22 Adar, Rabbi Aharon Paperman z"l, well- known rov, mechanech, orator, and fundraiser for Torah institutions was niftar. His long and productive life was dedicated to promoting the growth and development of Torah and Yiddishkeit on the American and Israeli scene.

Who was this multifaceted man who touched so many people in all walks of life and of all ages and left a lifelong impression on each of them?

What caused him to be loved and respected by all who knew him -- even if they did not necessarily agree with his ideals?

At his levaya in Yerushalayim the maspidim spoke of R' Aharon's mesiras nefesh for Torah, his love for and diligence in Torah study, and his middoh of yashrus that personified him throughout his lifetime. These traits were evident wherever he was, in whatever role he played. He did not follow the crowd. He followed the Torah guidelines which he knew existed for every situation.

He had an engaging and magnetic personality and a smile that warmed every heart. It was no wonder that whoever knew R' Aharon felt a close, personal connection to him.

Wherever R' Aharon went, in whatever capacity he served, he always reached out to the individual. He took a profound interest in each and every person, to the extent that each person felt a close connection to him.

During the war years, stationed in Italy with the 54th Army, he profoundly affected Jewish soldiers of all convictions and gained the respect of the non-Jewish officers and chaplains. This was due to his sincerity and his ability to empathize with them.

He blended his American upbringing, his athletic skills and his secular knowledge together with his Torah values and proved that these values need not be compromised even in war- torn Italy. He instilled in people the importance of studying Torah and the rewards of supporting Torah institutions -- not only the one which he represented. He imbued his congregants with the concept and beauty of giving tzedokoh, shemiras Shabbos, chesed, and all mitzvos of the Torah. He showed them that keeping the Torah was not a burden but a zchus that enhances our lives.

In the course of his fundraising years, R' Aharon forged many personal ties with the donors. When he approached people for money, he befriended them and gently educated them to an appreciation of Torah Yiddishkeit. He was always genial but never deviated from his hashkofos. Even people who did not follow his approach to Yiddishkeit appreciated his sincerity. Many people gave donations because of the person who requested rather than the institution -- because they trusted and respected him. As Rabbi Henoch Cohen of Chinuch Atzmai stated: "He was not a fundraiser; he was an Ambassador for Torah." The sums he raised were truly of secondary importance.

Rabbi Berel Wein wrote about him: "People loved him, admired his personality, laughed at his stories . . . and willingly gave him money for the purpose of strengthening Torah in America. Rabbi Paperman was always laid-back in his approach to people and to his job. There was never any pressure, any hard sell. It was only friendship, warmth, good humor and nobility of character and sincerity of purpose that emanated from him."

Early Years

R' Aharon's affinity for a spiritual existence was deep- rooted. His father R' Wolfe came to America from the Ukraine at the turn of the century to escape the terrible pogroms and the poverty.

He refused to succumb to the prevailing spiritual mores of the times. For twelve years, he traveled from city to city earning a living as a chazzan (his occupation in Europe) rather than earning more by compromising his Shabbos. Every Shabbos morning, he rose early and recited the entire sefer Tehillim before davening.

He finally saved enough money to bring his wife Shaindel and their two children to America. After a brief sojourn in New York City, where R' Aharon was born on 20 Teves 5674 (January 17, 1914), R' Wolfe moved with his family to Baltimore, Maryland, then considered the "Yerushalayim of America." He continued traveling the country to earn his meager living, but felt secure in the knowledge that his children were getting the best Jewish education in the best available environment.

R' Aharon's mother Shaindel, daughter of R' Yisroel Yehudah Perlstein a respected talmid chochom, was well-known as a pure, G-d-fearing woman. The kashrus in her house was trusted by many great rabbonim and roshei yeshiva who came from overseas and stayed with the Paperman family.

When R' Aharon later at the age of 17 wanted to travel to Europe to continue his Torah studies, she acquiesced even though it was difficult for her to send her son so far away. She understood that it was necessary for his growth in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

In Baltimore the family joined the prestigious Shomrei Mishmeres Shul where R' Wolfe became the chazzan, whose rov was the well-known Rav Avrohom Nachman Schwartz zt"l. Thus began a long and close relationship between the two families. HaRav Schwartz exerted a positive influence on the whole family and especially on the young Aharon as he grew up. Ultimately, R' Aharon was to become his son-in-law, albeit after HaRav Schwartz's petiroh.

The young Aharon attended the Hebrew Parochial School -- today known as the Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim/Talmudical Academy of Baltimore -- founded in 1917 by Rav Schwartz with four students. He proved to be an outstanding student in both his Torah and secular studies. His outgoing, charismatic personality made him very popular among the students as did his prowess on the sports field. However, his heart guided him to pursue a spiritual existence.

At R' Aharon's bar mitzvah, the renowned HaRav Meir Shapira, founder and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, was present. He was visiting the United States to raise funds for his yeshiva. HaRav Shapira was so impressed with R' Aharon's droshoh that he exclaimed that, although the rule was not to accept any student into his yeshiva who didn't know 200 daf by heart, for this bochur he would waive the requirement!

The full-time Parochial School ended after sixth grade and the boys attended public school for Junior and Senior High School for most of the day. After their secular studies classes, they attended limudei kodesh classes in the Parochial School for 3-4 hours each day.

R' Aharon cut short his high school education and, due to his intense desire to immerse himself in his Torah studies, left home for New York to study in Yeshivas R' Yitzchok Elchonon. There he found a group of outstanding young scholars -- some from Baltimore -- who had a very strong influence on him. These older bochurim, among them -- R' Avigdor Miller, R' Yehuda Davis, R' Mordechai Yoffee, R' Nosson Wachtfogel, zecher tzadikim livrochoh and HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita -- were his role models who fostered his quest for growth in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

His chosen path was not the accepted norm in those years, and the support and guidance of these older bochurim was extremely helpful to reinforcing his commitment. Most American teens strove for excellence in secular studies in order to attend university or to follow other paths to material success. Aharon's desire, however, was to succeed in growing spiritually and to excel in Torah studies and a Torah- true way of life.

After a short stay at Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchok Elchonon, R' Aharon moved on to Rav Levenberg's yeshiva in New Haven, Connecticut. Unfortunately, the yeshiva was unable to thrive in New Haven and an attempt to replant it in Cleveland, Ohio was unsuccessful.

Following the advice and encouragement of his good friend and fellow Baltimorean R' Avigdor Miller zt"l, and with the approval and assistance of Rav Schwartz, R' Aharon decided to travel overseas to drink from the fountains of Torah there. Under Rav Schwartz's direction he decided to attend the illustrious Telzer Yeshiva in Lithuania, where Rav Schwartz himself had studied in his youth. A big consideration in his choice was his desire to be in a yeshiva where not many Americans were studying. He wished to live and study and feel European, thereby enhancing his spiritual growth.

From Baltimore, Maryland To Telshe, Lithuania

Traveling overseas in the 1930's was not an everyday occurrence as it is today. Travel by ship was long and arduous and seasickness was not unusual. There was no thought of coming home even once a year, let alone for every family simchah or for various yomim tovim. Living conditions in Europe were definitely not as comfortable as in America, even for one from as poor a family as R' Aharon's. Then, the only means of communication was written correspondence or, in times of urgency, the telegram.

However, R' Aharon was not deterred. The call of the pure Torah-filled atmosphere and the thought of the yeshiva steeped in Torah and kedushoh (plus the adventure) lured him across the ocean.

R' Aharon spent six years, from 1931-1937, in the renowned yeshiva of Telz absorbing the Torah of the illustrious roshei hayeshiva and the general aura of kedusha that permeated the yeshiva and the town itself.

These years had a profound influence on the rest of his life. He always considered himself a "Telzer talmid" and always strove to conduct himself according to the standards his rebbeim set for him. He became a ben bayis in the home of HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy"d, the Telzer rov and rosh hayeshiva, and maintained a close personal relationship with the entire Telzer family.

In later years, he searched for and located some of the remnants of the family whom Hashem had spared from the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust. HaRav Gifter, zt"l, related that upon arrival, as he stood in awe at the doorway of the Telzer beis medrash for the first time, a bochur approached him and said, "Are you Gifter from Baltimore? I'm Paperman from Baltimore."

Thus began a lifelong friendship between the two and their families. Ironically, although they were both from Baltimore, they had not met until they were both studying in Telz.

When his father R' Wolfe passed away suddenly on Purim 1936, R' Aharon received a telegram from his sister notifying him of the petiroh and informing him that he was needed at home to help support their mother. But R' Aharon was not yet ready to return to the United States. He remained in Telz for nearly a year longer, enough time to receive semichoh from HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy"d, his rosh hayeshiva and the rov of Telz, even though Rav Bloch's policy was not to ordain unmarried men. In this case, as R' Aharon needed the semichoh to earn a living and was surely deserving, the Rosh Yeshiva made an exception.

R' Aharon was also ordained by HaRav Avrohom Mordechai Veseler zt"l, the rov of Anikst, Lithuania, and a brother-in-law of the Rosh Hayeshiva; by HaRav Yitzchok Begun zt"l, rov of Radvolishke, Lithuania and author of the sefer Sedei Yitzchok; and by "the Yerushalmi," HaRav Yosef Zussmanovitz zt"l, rov in Slobodka who wrote a glowing endorsement of R' Aharon.

He also received a very complimentary letter of approbation from HaRav Zalman Bloch Hy"d, the dayan and moreh tzedek of the city Telz and menahel ruchani of the Yeshiva.

Embarking on His Rabbinical Career

R' Aharon returned to the United States, a unique combination of a true ben Torah steeped in the hashkofos he had absorbed in Telz -- and an American-bred young man. He was steadfast and uncompromising in his Torah ideals. His honesty and integrity, deeply rooted in his being, did not allow for any actions which might be questionable. He was upright and honest in his interaction with others and totally abhorred the idea of "getting away with it" even though "everyone" else did it.

Studying Torah on a daily basis was a given, no matter how busy he was or how long the day. He did not retire at night before finishing at least his minimum daily requirement of Torah study.

At the same time, he was American-born. He understood the mentality and the needs of American youth and adults. He spoke such an impeccable English that people refused to believe that not only had he never attended college, but that he had never formally graduated high school!

He was impeccably neat and orderly, always stood straight and looked distinguished, but was, without a doubt, down to earth. His warm, outgoing personality, his caring and compassion, his big smile and twinkling eyes -- all endeared him to people of all ages. He was truly interested in people and wanted to help them whenever he could -- especially to bring them closer to Hashem.

This combination of American/European educated bochur was rare in the late 1930s. Most rabbis or teachers were either Europeans who did not understand Americans or else Americans who did not have a solid religious foundation and were unable to infuse their congregants with true Torah ideals. Thus R' Aharon, armed with his impressive semichos, special personality and talents, entered the rabbinic field and began to make his mark on the American scene.

A Young Rabbi

His first position was in Gardner, Massachusetts. As he related in a letter to R' Mordechai Gifter and R' Mendel Poliakoff who were still in Telz, there were only 45 Jewish families in Gardner of whom only three old men were shomer Shabbos. He understood the importance of reaching the children and gave various classes for them. He wrote that he "organized 5 of the 10" boys "into `shock-troops' for Yiddishkeit. They daven daily, they wash and make hamotzi before eating and bentsch afterwards. They keep the Sabbath holy."

This was no easy feat. The shortest route home from shul was through the business district, but R' Aharon chose the long way around. When the boys asked why he walked the long route, he explained that he did not want to see the people being mechalel Shabbos. The boys opted to walk with the Rabbi.

There was also a Bible Class for the adults. In the letter he laments the fact that he had no learning partner to help him utilize more of his free time in Torah study. He gave his weekly Friday night sermon -- "in English only" -- on religious discussions only, avoiding politics. It was here in Gardner that R' Aharon embarked on a public speaking career that would span the rest of his life.

Shortly afterwards, with the assistance of Rav Avigdor Miller zt"l, R' Aharon was accepted as the rov of Plainfield, New Jersey. This was a prestigious position and very challenging. Many experienced observers were surprised that such a young rabbi would even attempt it.

The position entailed being the spiritual leader of the two Orthodox shuls in town and also supervising the vaad hakashrus. The rabbi was also expected to be involved in improving the quality of education in the Hebrew School of Plainfield. Rabbi Paperman was well aware of the challenges of the position but, undaunted, he assumed his new position in March of 1939.

It was at this time that he became engaged to Chaya, the youngest daughter of Rav Avrohom Nachman Schwartz zt"l and his rebbetzin Golda Miriam nee Preil. Since it was a stipulation in the Plainfield contract that the rabbi be married, the engagement was opportunely timed -- another sign that Hashem was definitely guiding his life.

HaRav Schwartz and his rebbetzin had come to America in 1906 to escape the terrible pogroms that were ravishing European Jewry. HaRav Schwartz was invited to become the rov of the newly formed Shomrei Mishmeres Hakodesh congregation in Baltimore, Maryland. Under his guidance, the shul grew in membership and stature.

HaRav Schwartz raised the level of Yiddishkeit in all of Baltimore immensely. He improved the educational system with adult education classes and shiurim, opened the Hebrew Parochial School for boys, encouraged Rabbi Yaakov Y. Ruderman zt"l to open the Ner Israel Yeshiva in the '30s, and later helped his Rebbetzin begin the Bais Yaakov of Baltimore for girls. Under his supervision, the level of kashrus was also elevated.

His wife was a true rebbetzin, aiding her husband in every sense of the word. Theirs was a home open to all wayfarers who needed a kosher home to stay. Many a European rosh yeshiva and rov stayed in the Schwartz home while they raised funds for their various institutions, or until they found a suitable position for themselves in America. The Rebbetzin fed them and cared for them and the Rov helped them in their endeavors.

Having been raised in such a home, Chaya was well prepared to assume the role of Rebbetzin.

They were married the 13th day of Shevat (January 21, 1940). R' Aharon said many times that at the time of their marriage, the most they dreamed of was that their children should grow up to be shomrei Shabbos. This was their fervent hope and prayer. This should give us pause to reflect on the level of Yiddishkeit in America at that time.

R' Aharon proved to be very capable as rov in Plainfield. He and his wife were very well liked by the community and they both contributed to its growth and welfare.

World War II

When the U.S. entered World War II, R' Aharon felt very strongly that he wished to help his fellow Jews. Due to the lack of Orthodox chaplains in the U.S. Army, he felt that he could contribute most by volunteering to become one.

However since he was already married and had a young son and occupied a position of responsibility in his community, he wasn't sure if volunteering for the army was the right thing to do. Therefore he traveled to Cleveland to consult with the Telzer roshei hayeshiva, HaRav Eliyohu Meir Bloch zt"l and HaRav Chaim Mordechai Katz zt"l, who were at that time working to transplant the Telzer Yeshiva there.

After serious deliberation the roshei hayeshiva gave their approval. R' Elya Meir Bloch zt"l even said, "Volt ich geven yunger, volt ich alein gegangen" (If I were younger, I would go myself). R' Aharon also consulted with HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l who agreed that he would accomplish the most as a chaplain.

He enlisted in September 1942. At first he spent several months in training to be a chaplain and then was sent to Camp Forrest in Tulahoma, Tennessee where his family moved to be with him. In late August 1943 he was sent overseas, where he arrived in September in Tangiers, on the way to Italy.

R' Aharon was stationed in Italy for two years with the Fifth Army, which liberated Italy. Captain Paperman was perfectly aware that army life would present challenges with regard to Shabbos and kashrus.

One incident occurred immediately upon his arrival overseas when he had to present himself to the main US Army Chaplain Colonel Patrick J. Ryan, a Catholic priest under whom he was to serve in Italy. This was on a Wednesday, erev Succos, which meant that yom tov was on Thursday and Friday, followed by Shabbos. R' Aharon did not have a beard at that time and three days of not shaving was against Army regulations and indicated that the person was unkempt. R' Aharon was newly arrived and had to make a good impression.

Aware of his predicament, yet totally undaunted, he approached the Catholic Chaplain to explain his dilemma. He explained that since he was an Orthodox Jew he would not be allowed to shave for the next three days due to a Holiday and the Sabbath and that the same would be true for the following week. "I wanted to explain to you that this would not be due to negligence on my part, but rather to religious observance."

Chaplain Ryan jumped up, extended his arm for a handshake, and exclaiming, "Welcome to the Fifth Army! I'm glad to have a man who adheres to his religious beliefs working with me! I've only served with one Jewish Chaplain in my whole career, and to this day I don't know if he believed in anything! You go ahead and do what you have to do, and if anybody says anything, don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."

And so it was for two years while he was in Italy. Any religious difficulties were handled by Chaplain Ryan.

The family is interested in gathering further information and stories about R' Aharon Paperman. Anyone having such information is requested to phone or fax: 001-718-338-5626; 001-845-425-9014; 011-972-3-6186- 584 (Bnei Brak); or 011-331- 4841-2569.

Letter Written to a Soldier in "a State of Mental Chaos"

Dear Morris,

I almost wept when I read your letter today. If I were at my usual post, I would have immediately tried to contact you personally, but I am away for 30 days and am hundreds of miles from you.

Your letter made me feel small, humble, utterly inadequate to deal with the great problems confronting you. You are, in your own words, in a state of mental chaos, but you are mistaken in thinking that the state of combat and the fear of death have brought you to such a state. You are in your present condition solely because you never had a really deep, satisfying conviction regarding the important things of life and death: the relationship of man and G-d, and man and his fellow man. You lived in a neutral and spiritual vacuum with a few superficial ideas on the basic concepts of the world and your own individual part in it. These superficialities were sufficient under normal conditions to keep you going, although not even under normal conditions were they really satisfying. The stark, naked realities of combat, put the question of life and death to you in all its urgency for solution. Faced with the immediate necessity for a real, satisfying answer and, because you are more honest and sensitive than the average person, not finding the answers in your previous "ideals," you suddenly found yourself in your present mental condition. Let me repeat, the condition was there before Combat merely exposed it to your conscious self.

Here is where my feeling of humility and even of futility enters the picture. All the above is true. Would that I were great enough, dear Morris, to convince you of the truths which I believe in. That the span of man's life is not as important as the way in which it is lived. That death after a life lived right is merely a beginning of one's true fulfillment. That it is possible to achieve in one hour by true thinking and true adjustment, inner adjustment to G-d and the world, more than most people achieve in a normal span of 70 years. Would that I were G-dly enough in my own person so that the overflow of it would reach you even through the medium of script, but alas I am but a mere shell of what I should be.

Dear Morris, you are now in the depths of despair. Cry out unto G-d as did the psalmist: "Out of the depths have I called Thee, O L-rd. L-rd hearken unto my voice, let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." Set yourself straight with Him and He can help you and you will find peace and yes even contentment no matter where you may be.

Go back to duty. May G-d preserve you and return you home alive and well. Keep me informed of your whereabouts and your thoughts. I have a very warm and friendly feeling for you.

Your friend,

Aaron Paperman


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