On Monday, 11 Av, the Syrian Jewish community of Yeshiva Ateret Torah paid their last kabod to Rabbi Aharon Haim Harari-Raful, z”l, one of the pillars of Ateret Torah who was instrumental in building, expanding and sustaining the yeshiva and the kehillah for decades. Rabbi Raful succumbed after an illness that he battled valiantly for the past 17 years.
Ronnie, as he was known, was born to his illustrious parents, Hacham Yosef, shlita, and Rabbanit Ruhamah (Carol), in Kislev 5725. While still a young child, he accompanied them on the ill-fated flight to Israel that was highjacked by Palestinian terrorists and diverted to Jordan. For several weeks, Klal Yisrael davened for the safe return of Hacham Yosef’s family, along with the family of his brother, Hacham Abraham Harari-Raful, zt”l, and Harav Yitzchak Hutner, zt”l, and his family, and the rest of the hostages.
For elementary school, Aharon attended Yeshiva Torah Temimah, and then spent his high school years in the Yeshiva of Philadelphia and Yeshiva of Denver. He then learned in Ponevez and Brisk, as well as Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood.
Aharon married Reina (née Dabbah) and together they raised a family of nine children. Rabbi Raful was the right-hand man of his father, Hacham Yosef, today a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael, in building the Torah community of Ateret Torah. The Ateret Torah kehillah is grounded in limud haTorah, and Aharon utilized his effervescent personality and easygoing nature to establish many shiurim, drawing in many to the Torah lifestyle envisioned by Hacham Yosef. Many times, in order to spare his father the need raise funds, Aharon would go out and raise the money himself.
Among the many projects established and spearheaded by Rabbi Aharon Raful was the founding of the Learning Center at Shaarei Zion, the flagship shul of the Syrian Sephardic community in Brooklyn. He raised the funds necessary to hire talmidei hachamim to teach Torah to the masses, and the naysayers were proven wrong as it blossomed beyond anyone’s expectations. In time, the limud haTorah spread to other places, which created a revolution of learning in the entire community. In addition to the Shaarei Zion Learning Center, he was instrumental in establishing the Learning Center in Manhattan, which served as a catalyst to establishing night kollelim in various locations.
Around 25 years ago, Rabbi Raful started the first Torah Bus, a vehicle that transported people from Deal, New Jersey, the summertime location of many Syrian families, to their workplaces in Manhattan. As the passengers traveled to and from work, Rabbi Raful would deliver shiurim to them, filling their mornings and evenings with in-depth learning. This brainchild of Rabbi Raful’s caught on and, before long, others arranged similar transports where shiurim were given for the passengers.
Within the Ateret Torah community, Rabbi Raful was influential in attracting many distinguished talmidei hachamim to deliver shiurim. “He had a fantastic eye to spot the right talent needed for the people in Ateret,” a member of the kehillah told Hamodia. “His choices proved to be spot-on, as they quickly found their following among the kehillah, enhancing the limud haTorah upon which the community is based.”
When there was a need to find a person to fill a position, Rabbi Raful would spend time convincing young talmidei hachamim in the community to accept the responsibility of spreading Torah. People wondered why he did not take the position for himself, but he put the needs of others before his own. In addition to placement of avreichim in positions of harbotzas Torah, he also helped young men make connections in order to establish businesses and support their families.
The levayah took place Monday morning at Shomrei Hadas Chapels, where Rabbi Dovid Ozeri cried as he described how the shivah d’nehemta, the seven weeks of consolation, were turned into seven days of mourning. He spoke of how Rabbi Raful took some people who had never learned Torah and changed them into bnei Torah, where they can now open a Gemara and learn on their own, and they have children who are steeped in Torah. In addition, Rabbi Ozeri revealed that Rabbi Raful would undertake the support of almanot and yetomim, which was always done with the utmost dignity. His tremendous ahavat Yisrael was apparent in the way he was constantly giving and doing for others.
Hacham Yosef Harari-Raful spoke about how his son walked for a long time in the “valley of death,” yet displayed the middah of “vayidom Aharon.” He never complained or expressed anything negative because he knew that this was the will of Hashem. Additional emotional hespeidim were delivered by his brothers, sons, sons-in-law and other esteemed Rabbanim in which they described his amazing accomplishments in his relatively short time on this world.
Reb Aharon Haim is survived by, ybl”c, his parents, Hacham Yosef and Rabbanit Ruhamah; his wife, Reina; his children, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Rahamim, Moshe, and Eli; Mrs. Ruhamah Shames, Mrs. Miriam Laniado, Raheili, Yehudit, and Ruti; and his siblings, Rabbi Ezra, Rabbi Maoz, Rabbi Yaakov, Reb David (Ralph), Rabbi Avi, Mrs. Rachel Laniado, Mrs. Esther BenHamou, Mrs. Aura Choueka, Mrs. Ruthy Esses, and Mrs. July Safdeye.
Kevurah will take place on Har Hamenuhot in Eretz Yisrael, near the dignitaries of the Syrian community, including, z”l: his grandfather Mr. Nouri Dayan, his uncle Hacham Abraham Harari-Raful, and Hacham Baruch Ben-Hayim.
Yehi zichro baruch.