Tzvi Ostrozynski was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. His parents were not religious but they sent him to a Modern Orthodox-Zionist school. There he met a Chabad rabbi who educated him and influenced him to become more religious. At the recommendation of his rabbi, Tzvi moved to America and enrolled in a Chabad school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Later, Ostrozynski married but the marriage only lasted a short time before he went through a bitter divorce right after the birth of his son, Aron. The divorce left Tzvi completely estranged from his young son. He went on to marry again, settling in Crown Heights where he and his wife raised three sons, including Rabbi Eli Ostrozynski, who became a Chabad Shaliach (emissary) in West Hartford
Rabbi Eli always knew that he had an older brother, but had never succeeded in tracking him down.
“I just didn’t know what became of him,” Rabbi Eli says. “My mom, of blessed memory, always wanted to reunite the family. She tried to encourage my dad to reach out to him… My dad asked me to look into it. I did and found an Ostrozynski that didn’t seem to be Jewish and when I reached out to him on Facebook, I never got a reply back.”
In 2012, while he was working at the Bishop’s Corner as a Mashgiach in HKC [Hartford Kashrut Commission]., Rabbi Eli Ostrozynski first met Aron Gerson. Ostrozynski says that even at this first encounter, “he looked like someone I may have met before…he looked familiar.”
Gerson had just arrived in West Hartford and planned to begin his doctoral studies in sociology at the University of Connecticut. Ostrozynski invited Gerson to Shabbat dinner that week, but Gerson already had plans. Ostrozynski told him he was invited any time and to stay in touch.
And that was that…until a few weeks later, when Gerson took Ostrozynski up on his offer.
As a Chabad Shaliach, Rabbi Eli always has lots of guests on Shabbat. Yet this Shabbat dinner was different – it turned into a veritable family reunion as Eli slowly discovered over the course of the evening that Aron was his long-lost brother.
“I was finishing saying Kaddish,” Rabbi Eli recalls. “So, I had a lot of people coming over to the house that week.”
While the two walked back from Shul to Rabbi Eli’s home , Gerson began talking about his family.
“He was telling me how his mom moved from New Jersey to Brighton Beach…I asked him about his dad and he said, ‘I have been estranged from my dad for my entire life.’
Gerson then told Rabbi Eli that his mother’s rabbi was a Chabad rabbi in New Jersey.
“I said to him, ‘One second, estranged from his father? Chabad rabbi? Is your name Mordechai by any chance?’ He said, ‘Yes. Aron Mordechai.’”
Rabbi Eli took Aron to another room to speak privately.
“I said, ‘Your dad’s name is Tzvi?’ He said ‘yes.’ I said, ‘What’s your dad’s last name…He said, ‘The same as yours.’ I said, ‘We may be brothers.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I had a feeling.’”
Rabbi Eli called his father right after Shabbat ended to give him the news.
“I said, ‘Guess who I had at my house last night?”
His father was amazed that his oldest son had been found.
On his end, Gerson called his maternal grandmother to tell her about meeting Rabbi Eli.
He says he always knew he had siblings and wanted to meet them and his father, but didn’t want to upset his mother, who had become disabled in her later years. She died in 2013.
Aron was always close to his maternal grandparents and took his grandfather’s last name Gerson when he turned 18 because they did not have sons. His grandmother, who was 88 and was still living in Brooklyn, was pleased that her grandson had found his younger brother.
“She thinks it was meant to be,” Gerson says.
Soon afterwards, Gerson and his father finally met at Rabbi Eli’s son’s upsherin. Tzvi hadn’t seen his oldest son, Aron, since his bris.
“That was really scary but it was nice, though,” Gerson recalls. “He gave me a big hug. We had a lot of catching up to do.”
“They really hit it off,” Rabbi Eli says. “They were literally talking to each other every day. It was a beautiful end of their life together, because two years later my dad passed away.”
Rabbi Eli believes their reunion was made possible by some divine intervention.
“I was just blown away that [we reunited] on the very same night that I finished saying Kaddish for my mother,” Rabbi Eli says. “The tradition states that whatever the soul can’t accomplish in our lives it will accomplish in our death…and my mom wanted to reunite the family.”