A Tzaddik in My Time // Avrumi Wolfson was more than just a friend

By Kalman Wolchok

Words cannot express the sadness and emptiness I felt when I heard the news of the passing of my dear friend Abe “Avrumi” Wolfson. Nonetheless, I wanted to write a few words about one of the people whose presence in my life changed me and made me a better Jew and human being.

It was almost 20 years ago when I first met him. In retrospect, I cannot believe how quickly time has passed! At the age of 28, I had taken a leave of absence from the aviation industry shortly after September 11, 2001. I went off to Eretz Yisrael to study this new “book” (the Talmud Bavli!) I had been shown by my rabbi in Savannah, Georgia, in something called a yeshivah. Abe and I both shared a “slight” deficit of attention, and we both liked to do more than one thing at a time. So even while in yeshivah, I continued to work on a startup company I had founded, with a plan to develop a revolutionary personal business jet manufactured in Israel.
Each week I traveled to meet with the design and engineering team at Israel Aircraft Industries while I studied Talmud in the morning. In addition to the risks of flying an untested aircraft, there was an additional small hurdle—I needed $185 million to get the jet certified by the FAA.

Enter Abe Wolfson. When Abe found out from his brother-in-law, Rav Beryl Gershenfeld, that one of his students in yeshivah had a startup that would provide work for hundreds of Jews in Israel’s aerospace industry, it was enough for him to reach out. One day I received a message that Abe Wolfson wanted to speak to me. It was the first time I’d heard the name.

When Avrumi asked me what I was trying to do, I replied, “I need to raise $185 million to finish the plane’s design.” On the spot, he invited me to meet with him and his brothers in New York. (A day or two later he called again to put me in touch with his friend Motti Zonnenfeld, a major player in the aviation business in Brazil. Motti became an associate and ultimately helped me take the project to Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace conglomerate where the plane is still being built today. And all this happened even before Avrumi and I had met!)

Two months later, after leaving yeshivah and finishing the design of the aircraft, I was in New York sitting in Abe’s office for lunch. After a five-minute vort and an invitation for Shabbos, he called in two of his brothers, Moshe and Aaron (Daniel was probably still in yeshivah). That was the beginning of a set of cherished relationships with Avrumi and his three younger brothers.

To read more, subscribe to Ami