Tag Archives: Bronx

Jew of the Week: Aaron Rajman

In Memory of “the Matzah Brawler”

Aaron Rajman (1992-2017) was born in the Bronx to an observant Jewish family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Florida. In his teen years, Rajman got involved with a bad crowd and struggled in his personal life. However, he soon got back onto the right path by returning to his religious roots, and taking up mixed martial arts. Rajman joined the American Top Team gym, one of the premier MMA training facilities in the US. He started racking up amateur wins, and earned six different titles before turning pro. His overall record was an impressive 21 wins to 4 losses. Despite his success in the ring, Rajman did not abandon his faith, making sure to keep the Sabbath and stay kosher. He was nicknamed “the Matzah Brawler”. Rajman was also an avid cook, and regularly hosted friends and family for Shabbat meals. In his spare time, he taught self defense in his community, and instructed local police officers in Krav Maga. After his father passed away from cancer, Rajman fought a number of charity bouts, donating the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. Earlier this week, Rajman was recovering from a leg injury when a group of thugs broke in to his home and fatally shot him. It was just a week after his twenty-fifth birthday. His community in West Boca Raton remembers him as a “sensitive, caring and kindhearted soul.” Donations to his burial fund can be made here.

Words of the Week

Our mission on earth is to recognize the void – inside and outside of us – and fill it.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin

Levin and Feinberg

Mike Feinberg (b. 1969) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, while Dave Levin (b. 1970) graduated from Yale the following year. The two met in a Houston school where they were both teachers. Despite each having just two years of teaching experience, they started a new education program called KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) in 1994. The program was geared towards children living in poverty, and aimed to increase the number of such students that graduate and go on to college. Students would go to school six days a week, with longer days and shorter summer breaks. There was a lot of homework, but also a lot of teamwork; strict discipline, combined with music and travel. The result was spectacular. Impoverished students were succeeding at unprecedented levels, and enjoying it, too. Feinberg and Levin won ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards, then opened two official KIPP schools, one in Houston, and one in the Bronx. By 1999, these were among the best schools in their regions. In 2000, KIPP got a $15 million donation from Don and Doris Fisher (the founders of GAP, and former Jews of the Week), to expand KIPP into a national network. Today, KIPP has 200 schools across America with over 80,000 students. It is the largest and most successful charter school system in the US. About 96% of students are either black or Hispanic, and 87% from struggling households. 90% go on to graduate high school (compared to the national average of 80%, and 69% for black students), and 45% get college degrees (compared to the 9% national average for impoverished students). So many people want to get into KIPP schools that students are selected through a lottery. Feinberg and Levin have won multiple awards and honourary degrees for their work, including the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize, for “Paradigm-Shifting Vision in Education”, and the National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen. Their story is told in the bestselling book Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created America’s Most Promising Schools.

Words of the Week

The Torah commands: “Six days shall you labor, and do all your work.” But is it possible for a person to do “all their work” in six days? Rather, [it means to say] rest on Shabbat as if all your work is done.
– Mekhilta