His Brother Aaron


Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the U.S.  At Zeh Lezeh we want to use it as an opportunity to share with you Noah Hartman’s deeply loving tribute to his brother Aaron— a man so devoted to family, faith, and community that he is a role model for us all. (Now if only he could get a few more hours at work…)

Whose life, and love of life, do you celebrate today?

–Jay Ruderman

My brother Aaron

By Noah Hartman

Developmental disabilities often translate into a person being treated differently, perhaps with kid gloves.  While this is the case to a small degree with my 42-year-old brother Aaron, it’s not because he wants it that way, and it’s not because people feel sorry for him.  It’s because Aaron is special—not because his needs are.

Aaron has the absolute purest soul. I imagine it somehow containing every living being on the planet because Aaron always has room for another friend and compassion for another animal, and he somehow finds the light in even the darkest people and places. He doesn’t have time to waste on being upset, and he believes in a world in which differences enrich people instead of dividing them.

For someone with a number of very real limitations, Aaron—who has Williams Syndrome—continues to accomplish a tremendous amount…enough to make those of us with fewer limitations feel lazy! He has two jobs; he finds his way around Atlanta independently; he remembers names, faces, and phone numbers after one meeting; he cares deeply for family and regularly checks in on his nieces and nephews; he participates in community; he contributes to Jewish life in Atlanta (where he’s the self-proclaimed and widely adored “mayor”); he votes every election cycle; he reads enthusiastically; he asks about sick friends and relatives; and he takes care of his own home.

Last year, Aaron won an award from the Tommy Nobis Foundation for “outstanding workplace accomplishments of individuals with disabilities.” He is a greeter at his local Publix grocery store, and while more work hours would be great for him (and Publix), he makes the most of his few days per week on the job. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and he’s proud to be a tax-paying citizen like the rest of us (who are often much less proud).

When we were kids in Atlanta, there were disappointingly few options and resources in the Jewish education community. None of the local day schools could accommodate Aaron’s learning needs, and only one or two rabbis in the community ever reached out to help. It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes only one or two can be enough. Today, Aaron is incredibly Jewishly involved: he often walks to three different synagogues on Shabbat mornings. He waits anxiously to hear if he might be called to the Torah for an aliyah. He never misses an opportunity to recite yizkor in memory of our mother. And he proudly proclaims that he’s a kohen, descending from Biblical Aaron.

I’m pretty sure that one day, someone will be similarly proud to proclaim the same thing about Brother Aaron.

Noah Hartman is Head of School at Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead, Massachusetts.



Filed under Employment of People with Disabilities, perceptions of disability, Uncategorized

16 responses to “His Brother Aaron

  1. Shelley Cohen

    This was one of the loveliest tributes to a brother that I’ve ever read. It makes me want to live in Atlanta so that I could get to know “the mayor” personally. I am sorry that Aaron was not embraced Jewishly while growing up. We must all take a proactive stance in creating inclusive Jewish environments so that we can all benefit from having persons like Aaron integrated in our midst.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to his brother by CHA Head of School Noah Hartmean.

  3. Ari Glazer

    It is nice to hear that Bubba (as we knew him) at Camp Ramah is doing well. Always a special person and much beloved by the Camp community for many years.

  4. Noah, you have written a tribute that says it all about Atlanta’s mayor… Aaron is special and not in the way some people view him. When he was very ill a few years back we were all worried about him. When I finally saw him well healed and raring to go at Cousin Marks wedding I told him were were very worried about him, he thought for a second and said”I’m sorry I made you worry about me.” Wow! He was sorry for making us worry about him. I would say take care of your older brother … but he doesn’t need any one to take care of him he does very well all by himself. I’m am privileged to have known him for all his 42 years. Piz 120 yor. (He should live to 120 years.)

    Phil Fink, Cleveland Oh

  5. Jacob L. Wright

    Wow! What a beautiful and inspiring piece!

  6. Sherry Balber

    Noah, this was such a beautiful tribute to your verry special brother, Aaron.I met Aaron when I was in Atlanta , for your wedding. I thought he was special then, but through the eyes of his brother, He is extraordinary. There is so much to be learned from Aaron.

  7. Jonathan Meltzer

    Very nIce tribute to brother Noah, and yes Aaron is very special indeed.

  8. andrea

    Absolutely beautiful and from the heart. I met Aaron quite a while ago and those moments have stayed in my memory. He is a wonderfully charming young man. I am so proud to read this, but not surprised at what a joy he is.

  9. Batsheva genut Iluz

    Noah–So inspiring. You, aaron and josh are a special family who are all so dedicated to community service and reaching out to others. Thanks for sharing. Purim sameach!

  10. Dane Dino Butler

    Let’s not forget Aaron’s other attribute, which is nothing short of being rabbinical… a little known title that I can personally attest to Aaron being… “the best hugger in the world”.

  11. Well said, Noah! I am so thankful to hear that Aaron is doing so well. It was my privilege to know and work with both of you as campers (and work alongside Aaron as a staff member when he was in the Voc Ed program) at Camp Ramah in New England. The Atlanta community is lucky to have Aaron in its midst! And what a small world it continues to be via these comments…Ari Glazer and Phil Fink!

  12. Gayle Weisman

    Ari, thanks for the reminder forgot about calling him Bubba – yes a loving tribute for sure.Shabbat Shalom!

  13. Eleanor Sherwin

    I remember Aaron well from Camp Ramah. He was such a special person and always so happy! So glad to hear he’s doing so well!

  14. chuck palefsky

    An outstanding tribute to a wonderfull person.Anyone that truly knows Aaron
    will feel that he gives you more than you can ever give him.That is the beauty
    of knowing this genuine human being and our manager.

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