At the age of 92, a would-be skydiver from Kendall Park has become a media rock star.
When Aaron Rosloff vowed to jump from an airplane to celebrate his July 3 birthday (as he had done on his previous two birthdays), his North Brunswick synagogue helped launch a successful “Stop Aaron” fund-raising campaign to keep him grounded.
As of Aug. 1, the campaign has brought in $6,829 for the South Brunswick Food Pantry — and has attracted wide media attention along with contacts from old friends and even a former rabbi whom he had not spoken to in decades.
Rosloff credits a June 3 NJJN article with helping to bring in a number of donations from surrounding communities. However, articles also began to appear in local weekly and daily newspapers. The story was picked up by the Jewish Daily Forward, which also posted a video of last year’s plunge on its website. It then hit the New York Daily News, WABC-TV, and WCBS Radio.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” acknowledged Rosloff. “But one thing bothers me about this whole thing. It’s become all about me rather than the food pantry.”
The “Stop Aaron” campaign was launched at a board meeting at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, when Rabbi Robert Wolkoff offered to make a $100 donation in honor of Rosloff’s latest birthday jump.
However, Wolkoff said he would increase it to $200 if Rosloff, who broke his ankle in last year’s jump, would stay safely grounded.
Rosloff agreed to forgo another skydive if donations to the campaign, sponsored by B'nai Tikvah and the South Brunswick Social Services Department, topped last year’s $3,600 total. Moreover, he offered to give a donation of his own, $1,000, once contributions went above that mark.
With feet firmly planted on the ground, Rosloff told NJJN, “When they broke $4,000, I said Kaddish for my $1,000 and sent it in.”
Money is still “trickling in,” according LouAnne Wolf, a B’nai Tikvah member and director of the South Brunswick Social Services.
His moment of fame brought a call from a long-ago religious leader, Rabbi Paul Kushner.
“I moved to Kendall Park in 1959,” said Rosloff, who joined what was then Temple Beth Shalom. “He became our first full-time rabbi in 1963. It was his first full-time job. He had little kids and now those kids have kids.”
B’nai Tikvah was formed in 1981 by the merger of Beth Shalom, Congregation Sharri Shalom, and the North Brunswick Jewish Community Center.
Rosloff also heard from a man who asked if his brothers were Joseph and Reuben, and whether Rosloff’s family used to stay at Bulafka’s kuchelayn, a vacation rooming house in the Catskills.
Startled, Rosloff confirmed that his parents, Sender and Feige, did indeed regularly go to Bulafka’s in the 1930s.
“This man tells me his mother had stayed at Bulafka's — she was about 13 then — and learned how to knit from my mother,” said Rosloff. “She remembered all the names of my family. The family had seen the story in the Forward. How they found me after two lifetimes….”
The mother was still alive so Rosloff called her, chatting about old times and making plans to get together.
“She lives in Jericho, Long Island, and my son lives in Great Neck,” he said, “so next time I go to see him, I’m stopping by to also see these people.”
The success of the campaign has left Rosloff somewhat perplexed about what to do as an encore.
“Has this whole thing now become passe?” asked Rosloff. “Can we top $7,000?”
Wolf would like it to be an annual drive.
“Everyone was very happy to support the dual cause of preventing Aaron from jumping and supporting us,” she said. “My hope is that it will carry on for years to come. It will be a fabulous legacy for Aaron.”
Rosloff recently spoke at the bar mitzva of a cousin’s son about the importance of tikun olam, or healing the world.
“I told them it was a big job and I can’t do it myself so you guys have to help,” he recalled. “When you give to the food pantry you may be allowing a neighbor to feed their kids or pay the water or electric bill, but they don’t know it’s from you. They get to keep their pride and you keep yours just knowing you helped someone.”