HaGaon HaRav Aharon Walkin zt”l represented the true spirit of Queens, stemming from his upbringing. Rav Walkin was one to never mince words and always said things straight, as they were relishing in Hashem’s sacred Torah. Rav Walkin presided as the rosh yeshivah of the Chazaq Beis Midrash Bais Nosson Meir and the rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Moshe V’Leah, both in Queens, where his genuine warmth was felt, and was the rav of Khal Bais Aharon in Lakewood, New Jersey, where he officially resided. Rav Walkin’s infectious smile helped one ease into learning. It was the Rosh Yeshiva’s passion to help his disciples, from students to professionals, devote their assigned times to the Torah. His profound involvement with the advancement of our community is interconnected with his own life experiences, which paint a colorful picture of American Jewry.
Although born in Brooklyn, with the Poseik HaDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l acting as his sandek, Rav Walkin’s parents moved to Kew Gardens Hills when he was one year old, and then they later moved to be closer his grandparents in Kew Gardens. He was a great-grandson of the Pinsker Rav, Rav Aharon Walkin zt”l, after whom he was named, and a grandson of his son, the Lukatcher Rav, Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin. Our Rosh Yeshiva once remarked, “I carry his name humbly, since I don’t feel I do him justice.” The Rosh Yeshiva followed one ideal very closely: His grandfather was known to practice hachnasas orchim with unique exactness. He was educated to not just bring a guest into your home, rather into your heart, where there is always space.
Rav Shmuel Dovid, a noteworthy prodigy of the Chofetz Chaim, fled the war by staying in Shanghai and eventually was appointed as a rav in Crown Heights and subsequently in Kew Gardens, where our Rosh Yeshiva was privileged to record firsthand accounts from Radin. For a dozen years, early in life, young Shmuel Dovid studied in Radin, spending significant time with the famed sage. His wife, Rebbetzin Tziviah Walkin, who was raised next door to the Chofetz Chaim, was a granddaughter of Rav Moshe Londinsky, the Radiner rosh yeshivah. Rav Walkin’s father, Rav Moshe Yoel Walkin, rav of Bais Medrash Bais Aharon of Queens, was born in Poland before the outbreak of the Second World War. Rav Walkin’s uncle is Rav Chaim Walkin, mashgiach of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel of Yerushalayim.
Rav Walkin was a talmid of various great roshei yeshivah and rabbanim. His halachic theories arose from the ever-perceptive Rav Yitzchok Isaac Leibis, the head of the Igud Harabonim, who also awarded him s’michah and was a family confidant. Rav Walkin treasured the teachings of Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg and followed his way of life. After the Rosh Yeshiva’s grandfather passed, Rav Avraham Pam took a central role as rebbe and father figure. Primarily, Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rosh HaYeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, and Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rosh HaYeshiva of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, were others whom Rav Walkin turned to for halachic insight. Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva, was another influence, in addition Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, while Rav Walkin learned in Yeshiva Torah Temimah. Rav Yitzchak Yisraeli, Chief Rabbi of the Bukharian Community in the USA and Canada, became a partner alongside Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, rav of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok, in the work to uplift the post-immigrant communities in Queens and beyond. Rav Shlomo Teitelbaum zt”l led K’hal Adas Yereim in Kew Gardens and was a close confidant of his grandfather Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin. One aspect Rav Walkin held close was Rav Teitelbaum’s belief in disregarding politics and always seeking the truth. “I go where the truth takes me.” Rav Walkin cherished his relationship with Reb Aaron Cyperstein, who arranged the yarchei kallahs in Rav Teitelbaum’s shul. “Rav Walkin was a gadol who epitomized to the highest level ahavas Torah and ahavas Yisrael,” reflected Cyperstein.
At the virtual l’vayah, Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler shlita, Rosh HaYeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, recalled visiting the Chazaq headquarters where he witnessed the painstaking, tireless work of Rav Walkin firsthand. Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, rav of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok, held a close relationship with Rav Walkin and recalled the m’siras nefesh for all his talmidim where Rav Walkin took pride in treating each bachur as his own son, and took on each problem as his own, no matter their background, Litvish or Sefardi. Rav Walkin’s rebbe, Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, Rosh HaYeshiva of Torah Temimah, revealed that as a bachur, Rav Walkin’s face would light up with each new chidush he would discover. Furthermore, in the last number of days, Rav Walkin called Rav Yosef Fund daily to check on his well-being after he fell, always putting another’s pain first.
At various instances, Rav Walkin referred to his talmid, Rav Ilan Meirov, as a talmid chacham with great leadership qualities who has true m’sirus nefesh in his teachings. At the l’vayah, Rav Meirov explained how the Rosh Yeshiva was down to earth, capable of speaking to each bachur on his own level, from dissecting a difficult text with g’dolim to teaching the basics to public school children or brightening the day of yeshivah yungerleit with a hug or pinch on the cheek. A typical morning shiur would bring doctors, lawyers, barbers, and diamond dealers, yet Rav Walkin easily connected with each intellectually. Rav Meirov reflected that each morning, Rav Walkin’s sweet words of davening would fill the beis midrash. The Rosh Yeshiva would then awaken the various bachurim yet to join the minyan with these words of t’filah, calling each A-Z.
Fourteen years ago, the Rosh Yeshiva took on the mission of Chazaq full-force, noting that soon it would be an organization with a reach across the globe. Rav Walkin was able to partake in making this dream a reality up until the Sunday before his p’tirah, where he inspired in his warm demeanour in his last public address on a worldwide platform, alongside Chacham David Yosef, Rav Yisraeli, and Rav Oelbaum. To build up b’nei Torah, Chazaq opened Yeshiva Gedolah Beis Nosson Meir, first in Rav Igal Haimoff’s Ohel Simcha, and for the past two years in Od Yosef Hai, just across from Rav Oelbaum’s beis midrash. Rav Walkin often praised Rav Haimoff for physically and financially starting the movement of yeshivos for Bukharians and welcoming him into his territory. Another friend of the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Noach Deutsch from Australia, had an encounter with Rabbi Nosson Meir Wachtfogel, where he was encouraged to build yeshivos. The naming of Rav Walkin’s yeshivah was a form of hakaras ha’tov to them both. Here, the Rosh Yeshiva lived his dream of giving baalei batim and many bachurim a home to excel in their learning. Ensuring that the avreichim receive their stipend was always a concern for Rav Walkin. In his hesped, Rav Meirov explained that, just as the novel coronavirus was winning over, the news was being delivered that the kollelleit were going to be sustained.
Over the last number of years, the Rosh Yeshiva spent the weekdays in Kew Gardens Hills. Depending on their stages in school and work, different sons joined Rav Walkin in Queens. To them it was no secret that the Rosh Yeshiva would often stay up overnight, shedding tears in t’filah and learning for often-absolute, complete strangers, treating them like his own children.
This past year, the Rosh Yeshiva traveled to Eretz Yisrael. There, he related to his son Pinchas the need to always include learning in his daily schedule and to work to complete Shas. Other highlights for the Rosh Yeshiva this past year included participation amongst leading g’dolim at both the siyumim hosted by Agudath Israel, an ongoing partner in Rav Walkin’s programming, and Dirshu. In his unbelievable humility, Rav Walkin remarked, leaving the Dirshu program, that it was a lifetime highpoint to sit amongst our sages, being just a simple Yid.
As January 2020 began, the Rosh Yeshiva, with the encouragement of Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, led a packed Daf Yomi class, attracting all kinds of local men on 137th Street in Kew Gardens Hills. The Rosh Yeshiva, as well, merited to lead the siyum in an Agudah-sponsored event on Maseches B’rachos beside Rav Haimoff at Ohel Simcha just before Purim. Rav Walkin expressed his thanks for all of Rav Haimoff’s assistance over the years and his overall vision of implanting Torah in Queens. Rav Walkin then remarked that Maseches Shabbos would be much more difficult; how much harder it truly has become. At the siyum, Rav Walkin made it overwhelmingly clear that the test of learning is consistency – to be involved in its study, day after day and night after night. There was no better role model for this concept than the Rosh Yeshiva’s personal dedication to his studies, especially in the toughest times.
Also in the beginning of January, the Rosh Yeshiva’s Kollel Zichron Moshe V’Leah celebrated a s’michah convocation of eight new rabbanim, including many who stood by Rav Walkin’s side for four consecutive years: Rabbi David Kalmus, Rabbi Michael Khaimov, Rabbi Azarya Pinkhasov, Rabbi Nissan Shalomayev, and Rabbi Tomer Zino. Rabbi Pinkhasov remembers the Rosh Yeshiva’s wide embracing smile and mannerisms of love for all he encountered: “When I was about to be introduced to the Rosh Yeshiva, I had a present fear; once we began speaking, these feelings of trepidation instantly melted.” Overpoweringly, it was concluded that the two most poignant traits taught by Rav Walkin were honesty in all of life’s trials and tribulations and hakaras ha’tov, expressing thanks to anyone who is deserving. Then, in the beginning of March, Rav Walkin made his final appearance in Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills at Rav Yisraeli’s s’michah convocation.
Moshe Sdayeb, a close talmid of Rav Walkin, stated point-blankly, “The Rosh Yeshiva changed Queens.” Following a horrific Brooklyn house fire shattering the lives of the Azan family, Rav Walkin was pained to the point that he described to his yeshivah baalei batim the need to dedicate a sefer Torah in memory of the k’doshim. In a special show of achdus exemplifying the Rosh Yeshiva’s love of all, the sefer Torah, mostly sponsored by members of the Queens Bukharian-Sephardic community, was donated to Rav Walkin’s Lakewood Ashkenazi community. We have lost one of our crown jewels.
Rav Walkin gave his heart and soul delivering Torah to his students. There are no words to describe the weight that Rav Walkin had on the molding of our community and living to be a true example of a Queens Yid. With over 350 lectures available on TorahAnytime, Rav Walkin will remain a leading power in Torah thought and Jewish law, allowing his words to live on.
Rav Walkin leaves his eishes chayil, Dr. Yaffa Walkin, and their children, as well as his parents and siblings.
Yehi Zichro Baruch
By Shabsi Saphirstein