Hachossid Reb Aharon Klein was born in 1916 to Rabbi Yitzchok Hakohen and Mrs. Perel Klein, may Hashem avenge their blood, on the 18th of Sivan in Vienna. Both Rabbi and Mrs. Klein were from distinguished families who traced their origins to the illustrious Torah giants, the Chacham Tzvi and the Megale Amukos among others. Reb Yitzchok was a communal figure and known in Vienna for his acts of kindness and generosity.
Aharon and his seven brothers spent their childhood in a home permeated with Torah and Tzedoko. When the winds of WWII began to blow, Aharon moved to England with the intention of eventually settling in the United States. This is how he came to be spared the bitter end that befell his family in Vienna.
Arrested by the British Army
When England joined the war against the Nazis, the British army rounded up all German and German speaking residents of England, in order to make it more difficult for the Germans to place spies in England. The English did not differentiate between the righteous and the wicked so many German speaking Jews were arrested as well. The detainees were sent to a camp under British auspices in Canada. Reb Aharon, a German speaking Jew, was also arrested.
There were no religious articles for the Jews in the camp. Reb Aharon, not a Lubavitch chossid at the time, immediately wrote to the Previous Rebbe in New York about the conditions in the camp. In his letter Reb Aharon expressed pain about the situation of the Jews and asked for help. The Previous Rebbe responded by dispatching religious articles. He also wrote a letter to the famous chossid Reb Shmuel Levitin, then on a mission in Montreal, to interest and involve himself in the plight of the Jews in the camp and to assist them in any way possible.
After a few months, in Nissan 1942, the Jews were freed and Reb Aharon began learning in Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Montreal. Many of his fellow Jews did the same and with their entry into the yeshiva, the Previous Rebbe wrote to them, blessing them with a double Mazal Tov, for their release and for their enrollment in Tomchei Tmimim. Reb Aharon was mentioned in one of the Previous Rebbe’s letters in regards to his activities at this time.
After a few years of studying in the yeshiva, Reb Aharon married Miss Zisel, the daughter of Hachossid Reb Tzvi Hirsh Spielman, a chossid who was close to the Munkatcher Rebbe, the Minchas Elozor, and one of the distinguished chassidim in Munkatch in the generation prior to WWII. After the wedding, the couple remained in Montreal for a few years and then settled in Crown Heights.
The Golden Menorah
This is when a period began in the life of this young family, rich in a growing relationship with Bais Horav. The Kleins were one of the few chassidishe families in Crown Heights. A unique bond between Reb Aharon and the Rebbe was established.
Reb Aharon was blessed with sincerity and simplicity, and being close to the Rebbe, decided to give the Rebbe a special gift. During one of his trips he saw a menorah made of pure gold. It was glistening and was magnificent and a beautiful religious article. Reb Aharon took a photograph of the menorah and went to a goldsmith and commissioned a custom made menorah based on the original. The goldsmith told Reb Aharon that he had four weeks to complete payment otherwise the menorah would be disassembled and he would lose his deposit of $10,000.
Reb Aharon requested a grace period of six months to pay in full. The goldsmith refused and Reb Aharon told him with his typical firmness, “You are playing with fire! This menorah is for the Lubavitcher Rebbe!” The goldsmith held firm and did not want to agree to the deal. A day later, an event took place which forced the goldsmith to leave his position and Reb Aharon was able to come to an agreement with the company.
The menorah was composed of 115 gold pieces and was 24 inches high. Reb Aharon instructed that the following verse should be engraved on the menorah, “Orachti Ner L’mshichi-Yud Alef Nissan 5736, Nesie Yisroel”, I prepared a candle for my anointed, the 11th of Nissan 1976, the leader of Jews.
On Friday afternoon, prior to Shabbos Nachamu 1976, Reb Aharon delivered the menorah to the Rebbe’s house. He was greeted by the Rebbetzin, they exchanged greetings, and then Reb Aharon showed her the menorah.
After he removed the wrapping and the menorah was fully displayed, the Rebbetzin couldn’t hide her excitement at its unique beauty. She asked him “In how much debt are you as a result of this gift?”Reb Aharon responded, “When one purchases a gift for the Rebbe, they are particular that the silver should be clean and pure, and not blemished with debt.”
When the Rebbetzin asked how much the menorah cost, Reb Aharon refused to answer. It was later revealed that the gold used for the menorah was worth twenty-thousand dollars. The Rebbetzin asked if Reb Aharon also had such a menorah. He responded that many years earlier, he bought a menorah on the Lower East Side in Manhattan for six dollar and that was sufficient for him but a king needs a golden menorah. The Rebbetzin ordered a special table on which to place the menorah. In addition, Reb Aharon also gave the Rebbe a pure gold cup for kiddush
“Yes, I know”
The connection and relationship between Reb Aharon and Bais Horav, the Rebbe and his family, resulted in a relationship between the Klein family and the Rebbe’s mother, the Rebbetzin Chana. On one occasion, Reb Aharon asked Rebbetzin Chana, if she was aware that she had a unique son, and that there was no such a person as he in all the generations. The Rebbetzin responded with her customary simplicity, “Yes, I know.”
Mrs. Klein was one of the directors of the Bikur Cholim of Crown Heights and was involved in all the Tzedoko activities in the neighborhood and in communal affairs. She was a beautician as well, and had a shaitel business, and the Rebbetzin Chana would use her services.
Colel Chabad and Charity Deeds
In 1944, Reb Aharon became involved in the charitable institution Colel Chabad supporting families in Israel. In a letter to the Mashpia Horav Hachossid Reb Zev Greenglass, the Previous Rebbe wrote regarding Reb Aharon’s efforts for Colel Chabad, “Hashem should assist him in his physical and spiritual needs.”
Over the course of many years, without receiving any salary or compensation Reb Aharon served as the gabai, treasurer of Colel Chabad. Even in his eighties, he would make his rounds by train and bus all over New York to raise funds on behalf of Colel Chabad.
In an unusual moment, Reb Aharon told one of his grandsons that he had managed to raise millions of dollars. During the shiva after Reb Aharon’s passing, a Crown Heights resident who once owned a shoe store spoke to the family about Reb Aharon’s devotion. Reb Aharon once approached the store owner before Pesach and he and wanted to buy shoes for families who urgently needed them. When the owner asked for sizes, Reb Aharon gave him a long list that was committed to memory. This was an example of how Reb Aharon was concerns about people, down to the smallest detail.
Celebrating the 150th Jubilee
The summer of 1962, preparing for the advent of the 150th jubilee of the histalkus of the Alter Rebbe in early 1813 on the 24th of Teves; during a Yechidus Reb Aharon contributed $150 to the Rebbe and suggested that a magbis, an appeal, in honor of the jubilee be made. At the Farbrengen on the 18th Elul marking the Alter Rebbe’s birthday, the Rebbe initiated a campaign to study Torah and contribute Tzedoko in amounts corresponding to 150.
This Farbrengen actually marked the beginning of an entire year of events, and the Rebbe mentioned that this project came as an awakening on the part of chassidim.
The Mitzva Bus
A number of years before Mivtza Tanks were sent out, an idea occurred to Reb Aharon. He rented a bus, filled it with sforim and set up an area for putting on Tefillin. He maintained the bus on a daily basis, which would park at the end of the day in front of 770. One day the Rebbe passed by the bus. Reb Aharon was there, and to his and everyone else’s surprise, the Rebbe stated that he wanted to go onto the bus. The Rebbe walked on with Rabbi Hodokov. Reb Aharon remained standing there, delighted, overwhelmed and surprised. During the visit, the Rebbe advised Reb Aharon that a curtain should be hung around the area where people put on Tefillin, in order that no one should feel discomfort or embarrassment. This would encourage more people to put on Tefillin.
During an 18th of Elul Farbrengen, the Rebbe said, “From time to time, new ideas are developed. We now have a new contribution to spreading chassidus in quality as well as quantity. An additional feature to spread chassidus is a vehicle on four wheels and its’ light is superior to all other methods since it enhances an increase in all aspects. The people involved in this project should say L’Chaim and from him others should learn and do likewise.”
A diary of those days reveals that a speaker to play nigunim was installed on the bus, which also contained Kehot books available for purchase or loan.
In 1967, Reb Aharon bought the building on Union Street, which served as the study hall for the kollel. This was intended to contribute toward the broadening of the shul.
The purchase of 784 and 788 Eastern Parkway in order to enlarge 770, and their development into the large space that is currently the shul, is a story for itself. If not for Reb Aharon’s intervention, it is doubtful if any action regarding these buildings would have been taken. As the Rebbe once said, “If it was not for Reb Aharon I would not have a shul today.” It is noteworthy to mention that although there were additional donors who offered to be partners in this project, the Rebbe did not accept their offers.
Many years earlier in 1962 Reb Aharon suggested to the Rebbe that it would be worthwhile to purchase the buildings adjoining 770 so that when more space was needed, it would be possible to build a more spacious shul. The Rebbe asked, “Are you sure that we will need such a large shul?” Reb Aharon answered, “We will need much larger than this.”
After a few years the Rebbe approved the project and Reb Aharon began purchasing the buildings and developing them. Reb Aharon was the appropriate person for this task, since he was active in real estate. This was useful in disguising the fact that Lubavitch was behind the project and to keep the price of the buildings from becoming inflated as a result.
Reb Aharon worked tirelessly on this project, together with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky and Rabbi Binyomin Klein, the Rebbe’s secretaries and the gabai RebZalman Blesofsky. Reb Aharon was by nature, an organized and meticulous person who had no patience for delays or inaccuracies even in minor details. From the very first minute of the project Reb Aharon involved himself completely. His wife told the Rebbe that during this period of time her husband was rarely home. On one occasion, the Rebbe came to 770 and saw Reb Aharon. He said to him, “When I come from my house I see you here. When I go home I see you here. When do you sleep and eat?” On another occasion, the Rebbe spoke to Reb Aharon for more than an hour discussing the details related to the construction.
Many people, Jews and non-Jews, lived in these two buildings. It was necessary to convince the tenants to move out at the earliest possible time in order to allow the renovations to begin. Some people left immediately and some after a period of time. Eventually all the residents left with the exception of one individual who stubbornly resisted and remained despite any financial incentive to move.
The bochurim saw that the project was at a standstill, Tishrei was coming, and the Rebbe did not have a suitable place for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. One of the bochurim, together with his friends decided to begin breaking the walls of the apartment. The last tenant had no choice but to leave.
The Court Hearing
Starting to demolish an apartment with the tenant still in residence resulted in a summons for Reb Aharon to appear in court. The case was postponed until the end of Elul. Reb Aharon understood that the situation was not good, but decided not to share his concern with the Rebbe in order not to cause him any aggravation. A short while later, the Rebbe met Reb Aharon in the street and said to him, “It seems that there is something disturbing you.” Reb Aharon tried to avoid telling Rebbe what was on his mind but from the Rebbe one cannot conceal anything. Reb Aharon told the Rebbe about the legal action.
The Rebbe advised him. “Go to court without any attempt to get of it. Do not try to argue, rather admit to all the offenses. At the conclusion of the hearing you should tell the judge that since the month of Jewish holidays is coming up, and there is much activity and expense, you are requesting a postponement until after the holiday month.
Reb Aharon did as the Rebbe instructed. The judge granted his request and postponed the verdict until Yud Tes Kislev. Until this very day the verdict has never been issued.
Planting Trees and Building Mikvos
Reb Aharon was also responsible for landscaping the lawn in front of the Rebbe’s room with grass and a tree, and additional projects enhancing the honor of the Rebbe and Lubavitch.
Another interest of Reb Aharon’s was sponsoring mikvaos in Israel and abroad. Reb Aharon contributed much money to build many mikvaos for the maintenance of family purity. When Reb Aharon heard that the Rebbe was upset about the condition of the men’s mikva in Crown Heights, he also became involved in this mikva and arranged for it to be maintained to the Rebbe’s satisfaction.
Reb Aharon once became very ill and the Rebbe constantly inquired about his health.
In 1998 on the 9th of Shvat, a day prior to that great and sacred day, Yud Shvat, Reb Aharon returned his soul to its creator. He merited much Yiddishe and chassidishe nachas from his children.
He left, may she live and be well his wife, Mrs. Zissel Klein; his daughter, Mrs. Perel Garfinkel, the wife of Horav Hagaon Reb Avrohom Hakohen, of Brooklyn, New York; his daughter, Mrs. Rochel Gottlieb, wife of Horav Hachossid Reb Noson, of Brooklyn, New York; his daughter, Mrs. Devora Goodman, wife of Horav Hachossid Reb Schneur Zalman, the Rebbe’s Shliach in Ashdod, Israel; grandchildren and great-grandchildren among whom are Shluchim and communal activists who continue in his ways, bringing about nachas for the Rebbe.
Yehi Zichro Boruch!
We should speedily witness “The ones who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice” with Horav Hachossid Reb Aharon Hakohen Klein among them.