Neria Aranbayev z”l, 20, was the type of person with an energetic smile that one desired to emulate. Neria developed into an outstanding student of Torah and a beacon of light for the Kew Gardens Jewish community and the Bukharian community at large. His impact was known throughout the many Queens area shuls and organizations, and his love for Bukharian traditions and music knew no end. The child of Avraham (Alik) and Svetlana Aranbayev, and the brother to two loving sisters Irina Aran Sulay and Cristina Noa Aran, Neria had tremendous love and respect for all.
After Pesach, Neria remained with friends after spending the chag in Arizona to enjoy the final days of bein ha’zmanim before yeshivah would resume. Aranbayev developed a close kesher with Rabbi Nerya Aminov and was a current bachur in his Bet Midrash Ateret Gavriel, learning 10 to 12 hours daily, making an everlasting connection with his rebbeim and friends. He made his first siyum on a masechta not long ago. During his high school career, Neria spent time in Yeshiva Sha’arei Zion’s Yeshiva Tiferet Torah, and was currently pursuing a college degree. His hobbies, while always associated with chesed, included chazanut, hypnosis, reading, and college study. Neria kept a notebook of his plans for life, creating a path for his growth.
While on a boating and swimming trip with a group of yeshivah friends in Lake Pleasant, Arizona, Neria went under water while swimming back to the boat from the shoreline. He remained unaccounted for, for many hours, until his body was recovered over 20 feet below the water’s surface by robotic technology – a recovery that often takes weeks, months, or even years to be revealed. It was surely the fervent prayers and T’hilim of the community that brought a quick completion to the search. Rabbi Ariel Shoshan, rav of Ahavas Torah of Scottsdale and a chaplain in the Maricopa Sheriff’s office, was present to handle an important exchange of information. Local Hatzalah and Misaskim of Los Angeles were on hand for kavod ha’meis.
“You can do so many great things if you just want,” recounted Rabbi Aminov in the name of the niftar. The mara d’asra of Ner Mordechai, the shul that hosted the l’vayah, watched young Neria grow up in the very same building where hundreds now gathered to bid Neria his final farewell. “I learned so much from him. Many do not realize that in the past one year – from Pesach to Pesach – Neria accomplished more things than most people – even talmidei chachamim – do not get to accomplish in their entire lifetime,” said the rav, hinting to Neria’s advanced maturity. Rabbi Aminov revealed that Neria often confided in him his most personal troubles, but always said that he had the most wonderful life because he had the love of his mother and father, and always had delightful things to say of both his parents. Rabbi Aminov expounded on the name of the niftar – Neria, G-d is my light, not the opposite as many think, because it is Hashem who shows us our direction in life.
A few weeks before his untimely death, Neria approached Rabbi Aminov with a list of mistakes he made over his life, errors that Rabbi Aminov had picked up on earlier, but opted not to explore. Neria spent the next week attempting to fix his slip-ups, always reaching out to his rebbe for advice on doing it best. “All I have to do is master the Torah,” Neria told Rabbi Aminov as a remedy for these ideas. “If I know the Torah, all my problems will go away, and I will be the perfect human being.” On occasion, Rabbi Aminov would come to Neria with job offers to help him pay off some of his debts. Instead of accepting, Neria would question the rav why he was distracting him from Torah study. Neria was the type of person who would approach his rebbe on a lunch break asking which of his rebbe’s own burdens he could take on to allow his mentor to assist the community further. The Aminov family shared such a close connection with Neria that often they would lend him their family vehicle. In the name of his 12-year-old daughter, Rabbi Aminov explained that Neria’s smile always helped bring out a smile in others. In his learning, Neria would work on each word to establish a complete understanding, no matter how silly his questions may have seemed. For his livelihood, Neria arranged a car cleaning service ahead of Pesach. It once occurred that a client found chametz in the vehicle after Neria’s staff had completed their services. The car owner berated Neria for hiring incompetent help and announced that bill would not be settled. In a calm tone, Neria responded, “This is Hashem’s money; you can do whatever you want.”
“Neria was the kind of person who established strong and deep connections,” recalled Rabbi Tzvi Kramer with whom Neria was enamored by his exceptionally deep level of Torah study. Of the many rabbanim that Neria encountered, his connection with Rabbi Kramer was treasured as were the countless hours they spent together either in class or addressing a concern. “His sincerity, goodness, and sweetness were overwhelming. Neria was a study in z’rizus, focused alertness, driven to succeed and accomplish, and was impatient with time, always seeking an immediate answer.” Rabbi Kramer’s young granddaughter had the privilege to engage with Neria during a yeshivah Shabbos and was consumed by tears as the family began to immerse themselves in reciting T’hilim. “Neria had an exuberance and lust for life with so much to offer this world,” reminisced Rabbi Kramer as he recounted his radiant smile that lit up a room, his smarts, sweetness, and his relentless drive to better himself. “Neria had such a charming way with people, making everyone around him feel so special and inspired all of us to do more.” His charisma and larger-than-life personality made him a natural leader.”
“His smile was like a stamp on his personality,” remembered Rabbi Avraham Nissanian of Eshel Avraham, who like Rabbi Aminov had felt the energy of Neria in the Kew Gardens community. “His beautiful smile was naïve, but it pierced through your heart.” Of his desire to do chesed, Rabbi Nissanian said that Neria often desired to walk him home from shul.
Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg of Emet Outreach is also of Kew Gardens. Roughly two years ago, his family connected closely with Neria as they spent almost every Shabbos together. “As his connection to Torah and mitzvos grew, his smile grew from just a happy personality into something much greater.” Rabbi Rutenberg noted that Neria established a stronger connection to Torah during his stay at Long Island University where he connected closely with Rabbi Yehoshua Taib. “The way he connected to learning Torah I do not know if I have ever seen with someone else,” said the rabbi. “He loved life, loved the Torah, and looked for opportunities to do chesed with a special spark in his eyes.” In Neria’s merit, Rabbi Rutenberg asked the audience to connect to Torah on a deeper level.
One such chesed event that Neria regularly participated in was the Chickens for Shabbos clothing distribution, sponsored by the Chazaq Organization at Ner Mordechai. “Neria would eagerly lend a helping hand to carry the boxes and set up the room,” said Robbie Aboff, Events Coordinator for Chazaq. At a loss for words, Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, Chazaq CEO, reflected on his close bond with Neria. Rabbi Meirov recalled Neria’s participation in lectures and events of all kinds, including being of assistance at major Chazaq events like the organization’s festive gala dinner.
Rabbi David Akilov of Congregation Ohr Eliyahu began the funeral with a message to the youth of our generation that are all very smart and knowledgeable in the nuances of a computer and the complexities of books. “Sometimes it is good to listen to our parents, to the advice of our rabbis, or to the elders and teachers, because they are our best friends who desire for us to be on our best paths.” The rabbi encouraged the youngsters to study hard and gain the expertise to build wonderful families. To the community, Rabbi Akilov urged everyone to do t’shuvah in some fashion and accept upon themselves one mitzvah on behalf of the niftar; only then will we be able to return to Hashem. The rabbi reminded everyone that the flourishing Bukharian community will have continued success with peace and unity amongst one another.
Rabbi Yosef Akilov, rav of Congregation Shaarei Eliyahu, recently visited the yeshivah to teach the laws of sh’chitah and noticed Neria’s enthusiasm for learning and understanding the halachos. “This man is the next gadol ha’dor.” Neria stood closest to Rabbi Akilov as he demonstrated the slaughtering process of a chicken.
Community activist Yuhan Benjaminov shares a close bond with the Aranbayevs. “Neria took education from his father and good deeds from his mother and above his learning of Torah truly believed in Hashem.”
“He is going to be the next leader in our community,” said his friend Avner. In a conversation about self-development, Neria once said, “I came to this world, and I want to perfect myself for the rest of my life.”
Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, rav of the Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim, reminded those gathered that Neria passed away in the mikvah of Hashem – the same way as he was born in the water of the womb.
Other speakers included Rabbi Moshe Abramov, Rabbi Baruch Babaev, and Rabbi Moshe Walkin. The Master of Ceremonies for the program was community activist Rafael Nektalov. K’vurah was held in Queens.
A collection launched to help the family with expenses, gofund.me/68def8d3, has garnered nearly $100,000 from over 1,100 donors, mi k’amcha Yisrael. Learning can be done in Neria’s memory ahead of the shloshim at www.hadranalach.com/index.php?action=m_view&id=2332.
By Shabsie Saphirstein