HaRav Aharon Eliezer Ceitlin ע’’ה

I knew him as Aaron Layzer. He always stood out. As a boy at Yeshivah College (Chabad) in Melbourne, Australia, he was bigger than life like. I was tiny. On my Bar Mitzvah I had to stand on a crate so that I could layn the Parsha. In my eyes, back then, the only person who was bigger, was the late Rabbi Groner.

Aaron Layzer, spoke with a deep baritone voice in keeping with his size. He was one of the first group of emissaries of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to Yeshivah Gedola. A voice that was deep, but a demeanour that was gentle and all embracing.

We were encouraged to have at least one extra shiur during the week with one of the “Shluchim” as they were known, and in between my forays between attending Messibos Shabbos and later B’nei Akiva, I’d often have a shiur with one of the Shluchim over the years. They would come for two years, and it was always a big event to see who they were and what type of personality they exuded. That was one highlight, the other highlight was the “new song” that would be written לכבוד the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday using words from the Tehillim corresponding to the year after (in age)

Aaron Layzer was one who exuded his entire מהות his essence. His English was atrocious, his smile was effusive, and his warmth radiating. He was a מדקדק במצוות כחוט השערה — punctilious in his observance of Jewish Law. This meant that he was not just one who had a relationship with God, but his relationship with people was infectious.

Like all Shluchim, after two years he left. Unlike all shluchim, however, Aaron Layzer never left. He told me later that he was living in צפת עיר הקודש, Tzfat, and his new Shlichus was to build and expand the kindergarten and primary network of schools in Tzfat.

I hadn’t seen him in some years, and then bumped into him consistently, at least once a year. I remember the first year we met him after some time. Many years had passed. My band Schnapps was gracing a Simcha, and in front of me, dancing, I saw his visage. He’d become bigger (and so had I) but he was still much larger than life. I am quite intense on the band stand, as I have musicians to coordinate, and perfection is what I seek even today, so I didn’t react immediately. The next time the gyration crossed the band stage, he waved to me and I waved back with my violin bow.

At the first break, I just had to find him. He gave me a big hug and we spoke about old times. R’ Aaron told me that he had a picture of me in the front row of the Yeshivah Choir singing solo and it was one of his favourite pictures of his time at Shlichus. I think my mother may have that picture, I’m not sure. It would have been taken by Sam Cylich ע’’ה at one of the annual Yeshiva Dinners. When I asked him what he was doing in Melbourne, I gave him money, and from that time on I assumed a completely different approach from the Band Stand.

Each year, at a Simcha, Aaron Layzer would suddenly materialise. Only henceforth, I jumped off the band stage until I caught up to him in the circle and surreptitiously put money into his hand.

from JEM and collide

I had no idea; the Aybishter works in strange ways. One year he gave me regards from our son Tzvi Yehuda in Sydney, who was doing Smicha at the time. Later Tzvi Yehuda married Leah Moss, daughter of Meir and Devora. I was not to know but Aaron Leyzer was very very close to Meir back from the times of Shlichus through to Aaron Layzer’s untimely demise. He also became close to Tzvi Yehuda who lived in Sydney initially when he married. He would tell me about החלטות (good resolutions) that he had made with Tzvi Yehuda, and I was amazed. I was the father and had zero influence (by now). Aaron Layzer would sit and farbreng and mesmerised with his stories of yesteryear and current events and had Tzvi Yehuda eating out of the palm of his hand.

Aaron Layzer came to Tzvi Yehuda’s wedding in Sydney, and I can still see him commandeering  a Sheva Brachos later held in Melbourne in Chelsea, and saying the Dvar Torah.

From that time, he would now come to our house in Melbourne and there were more than a few times he made L’Chaim with Tzvi Yehuda and I (who lived in Melbourne in our house for a time) after marriage. I loved talking to him. He was from Tzfat. I remain anti meshichist. Tzfas is known as a hot bed of paranormal Meshichisten, they even have a name — “Tzfatim”. One sees them en masse in 770 in Crown Heights and they are largely responsible for the sad split between upstairs and downstairs in 770.

(I will go out on a limb here and state publicly that I don’t think a real chosid of chabad can ever wear meshichist paraphernalia, scream Yechi, etc … I believe those people are overtaken by their delusional self-importance)

Aaron Leyzer used to complain about the “meshugoim” as he called him were destroying the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s work.

Alas, on his last visit, in a way that was quite unlike him, he was bemoaning a pain in his leg and asked for a cold drink. He found it hard to walk. We sat in the lounge room. He told me how many different types of treatment he tried on his leg, and I expressed light anger. I suggested that before one has treatment, one should be diagnosed. We have all types of scans, and yes, if diagnoses suggests a particular treatment or if there is a clear scan and blood test, then by all means, try what you will. He told me he was going to see the doctor, in the end, in Melbourne. I have no idea whether his leg problems were at all related to the illness which captured his life, far too early. He left me with חוברת of letters and divrei torah from the Lubavitcher Rebbe about Tzfas. For some unknown reason, I didn’t file it in my bookshelf, but kept it in my top draw.

On Friday night, I found out about his passing. I had sent him an email in the week before with no reply. I was and remain heartbroken by his most untimely departure from our world. I took out a bottle of my best whisky, and suggested to my family who were at the table, that in addition to drinking L’Chaim to Aaron Leyzer, we should each make a החלטה because that is what he would have wanted.

I ran to my study, opened the top draw, and staring at me was the חוברת he had left me. I undertook to learn it in his memory.

יהא זכרו ברוך

המקום ינחם את בני משפחתו בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

4 thoughts on “HaRav Aharon Eliezer Ceitlin ע’’ה”

  1. Some minor quibbles and notes:
    1. Arnie was not one of the first set of shluchim, but (I think) of the fourth.
    2. When he came to Melbourne his English was bad because he was from Montreal and the “goyish” that he knew was French. By the end of his two years his English was much better.
    3. At first he used to come to Australia every other year to raise money for the Lubavitcher mosdos in Tzfas; Leibel Kaplan a”h used to come in the alternate years. After Leibel was killed by a car in Russia, Arnie began coming every year.

    Arnie was one of those fundraisers who would always give you more than you gave him. As with you, the chizuk I got from him was worth much more than the cash I gave him. May his memory continue to strengthen us until we see him again at techiyas hameisim.

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    1. Thanks for the corrections. I fully agree about the Chizuk. The man was incredible. He always left me with great inspiration. Your timing above helped to explain some erroneous dates I had heard and which I couldn’t reconcile with my age etc … I never called him Arnie though, I guess because I wasn’t in Yeshiva Gedola. For other readers, Australians have this peculiar habit of shortening names or even lengthening them with an ie or ey at the end. Think Lehavdil Shane Warne the great cricketer became … Warnie etc

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  2. At the shiva house I heard that about a month or two ago he told his mother, “Father and the Rebbe are calling me, but I want to stay a while longer”.

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    1. I went to a farbrengen in Melbourne (a rarity for me) לעילוי נשמתו and heard stories. I was morose. His mechuten twice over related how the first shidduch occurred … Through a dream. I find it hard to be less morose in the sense of והחי יתן אל לבו

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