The accident that took the life of Aaron Shalom Tepfer, a’h, last August has left Klal Yisrael bereft of his special neshamah. The loss is most acutely felt among his peers, who are now facing a world without Aaron’s towering middos to infuse them with the desire to do what is kind and right. This sentiment can be seen in an e-mail the Tepfer family recently received from the mother of one of Aaron’s many friends. Three years ago, her son—who was then nine years old and a friend of Aaron’s—fractured his elbow and had to wear a cast for six weeks. Each day during those six weeks, right before dismissal, Aaron would come to the boy’s class and help him with his coat so that he wouldn’t miss the bus. Aaron went to another classroom daily not only to ease the boy’s pain by gently assisting him with his ailing arm, but to give him peace of mind that he wouldn’t miss the bus!
Hearing this story, and countless others like it, has prompted Aaron’s parents, Tuli and Rachel Tepfer, to create an organization l’zecher nishmas Aaron Shalom to encourage boys to emulate the acts of chesed that made Aaron so precious and unforgettable. Tuli explains, “We named our son Aaron Shalom, and he truly embodied the middah of caring that was the way of Aaron HaKohen. Aaron was also an extremely talented student and athlete, but his best quality was how he felt for others. This one middah stood out. He genuinely cared about everybody, and connected to everyone. It was who he was. We want to provide an opportunity for boys to think about their friends and other people, so that they grow and develop as bnei Torah who think about those around them.”
Called Aaron’s Way, the organization is creating different programs that serve as platforms for boys to do chesed for each other and the community at large. Yosef Wartelsky, currently a head counselor in Camp Munk and former head counselor of Simcha Day Camp, has been named the organization’s director. Yosef points out, “So many parents are looking for healthy and wholesome activities for their children, and Aaron’s Way not only provides so many of those beneficial opportunities, but also instills boys with a love and passion for chesed.”
A number of the organization’s programs are up and running. “AOK,” which began December 30, is a homework assistance program that takes place on Monday nights, 7:00–8:15 p.m., at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv. Created as a “buddy” system in groups of two, the program includes yeshivas from across Far Rockaway and the Five Towns. “Boys will help each other in both limudei kodesh and limudei chol,” Rachel explains. “Boys who are stronger in a particular subject, assisting their friends who can use an extra push, is such a beautiful act of caring and helping each other.” The program will be divided each week into time for study and play, which will include basketball in the yeshiva’s gym, as well as working on a variety of chesed projects.
Another activity took place on the Sunday before Chanukah, when local yeshiva boys not only purchased and packaged gifts for residents of the Ohel adult home in Hewlett, but also put on a performance in the home including juggling, singing, a magic show, and a pizza party, at which the boys warmly mingled with the members of the Ohel home.
As the cold weather continues to set in, another great program Aaron’s Way has developed in partnership with Achiezer is to reach out to children, teenagers, and adults who have offered to help remove dangerous ice and snow from the properties of the elderly and handicapped. Each neighborhood has its own list of volunteers ready to spring into action in the event of winter storm conditions that include snow and ice.
An initiative from Aaron’s Way is bringing junior high school students, on a rotating basis, to perform in Cohen’s Children’s Hospital and other hospitals in the New York area. Another hospital-related endeavor, in partnership with Achiezer, is using boys to stock bikur cholim rooms in local hospitals such as Long Island Jewish Medical Center, South Nassau Communities Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, and Winthrop-University Hospital.
An exciting project which Aaron’s Way hopes to present to the community utilizes the singing talents of its director, Yosef Wartelsky. “We want to create a camp-based performance opportunity for boys,” Rachel explains. “It can provide boys with camp-style opportunities during the school year, and give them expression for their unique talents. Too many boys come home and sit at the computer. We would rather them be involved in these programs, to develop their abilities and do chesed.”
Looking toward the summer months, Aaron’s Way is planning to bring middos programs to sleep-away and local camps. These programs will be conducted throughout the summer months. The boys will receive prizes and awards that highlight targeted middos. “This program blends boys from all backgrounds,” Rachel observes. “The camps are very receptive to the idea.”
Although no longer among us, Aaron Shalom Tepfer’s way of living remains an inspiration to Klal Yisrael—men, women, and children—all of whom recognize his enormous strengths as a compassionate human being who effortlessly upheld the highest standards of being a “nosei b’ohl im chaveiroh.”
A story told at Aaron’s levayah is worth retelling for its poignant lesson. Aaron was picked to be the pitcher by his baseball team. At the most crucial point in the game, he offered the opportunity to pitch to his friend. He did this because he knew how much pitching meant to his friend. “Aaron cared about winning, but he cared more about friendship and the feelings of others,” Tuli explains.
May Aaron’s Way become a beacon of light for the boys who are zocheh to participate in its programs. May Aaron smile down upon the efforts of Klal Yisrael and his loving family, who miss him but have managed to reclaim his boundless energy for kindness in these new and innovative chesed projects for junior high school yeshiva students.
For more information about Aaron’s Way, please visit aaronsway.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. v
Reprinted with permission from Yated Ne’eman.