Rafael Arbisser
Rafael Arbisser
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Rafael I. (Raffi) Arbisser passed away Monday morning at the age of 93, having lived a fulfilling life as a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and a Jewish educator who oversaw the education of thousands of students and served as a mentor and trusted counselor to dozens of them.
Raffi was born in poverty in Warsaw, Poland in 1924 to an observant Jewish family, with two older sisters and an older brother. His family moved to Palestine as a young child with his father and older brother leaving shortly thereafter to make a living in the United States. When in his early teens, he stopped going to school full time and worked as an assistant at Davar, a Hebrew language Socialist newspaper.
Palestine was under a British mandate when Raffi was growing up. Jewish settlements were in frequent conflicts with neighboring Arabs and he participated in the Jewish defense militia, the Palmach. In his later years, he told about his work with the Palmach, including assisting Jews -- many of whom were escaping the Holocaust -- who were smuggled into Palestine in violation of British law.
In 1946, Raffi joined his father and brother in New York. Soon after arriving in the US, he met his wife, D'vorah Binstok, and they married in June 1948. Raffi and D'vorah supported their college educations and their family as congregational parochial school educators in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Youngstown, Ohio, and Bangor, Maine, before arriving in Kansas City, Missouri in 1951, where Raffi was the educational director at Congregation Beth Shalom for 16 years. In 1967, he and the family moved to Houston, Texas, where Raffi served as educational director at Congregation Beth Yeshurun for 10 years.
Raffi was always brimming with ideas of how to instill a love of Judaism and Israel among his students and the broader community. In Kansas City, he established a Jewish day camp and oversaw the design and construction of a large school complex for the synagogue. In Houston, he continued innovations in Jewish education. He set up scholarship programs to send children to Jewish summer camps. He worked with Louis Kaplan to acquire one of the finest Judaica collections as the foundation for a museum. He developed programs around each of the major festivals to entice children to come to the synagogue. For example, he encouraged families to build sukkahs by arranging for a lumber yard to make sukkah kits, enlisting the youth organization to assist in building the sukkahs, and having the children take bus tours of the sukkahs.
Among Raffi's proudest achievements was the establishment of communal Israel youth pilgrimages. While occasionally high school students would travel to Israel as part of national groups, typically segmented along Jewish denominational lines, he envisioned building the local Jewish community so the students from separate congregations could meet, socialize,and share the experience of visiting Israel. He hoped the kids would fall in love with Israel, Judaism and each other, building stronger Jewish families and communities. Many other cities followed Raffi's lead and successfully implemented similar programs.
Although raised as a Socialist, Raffi became an ardent capitalist, investing every dollar he could in the stock market. His success as an investor enabled him to retire at age 55 and move back to his beloved Jerusalem,  where he and D'vorah lived from 1977 until 1999. Even in retirement, however, Raffi remained intensely interested in Jewish education, working for many years on nurturing the Emery/Weiner School, a Jewish secondary school in Houston.
Raffi's focus on education was manifested in his children and grandchildren. He and D'vorah proudly drove around in their aging car with stickers from the many colleges, graduate and professional schools their descendents attended. Raffi and D'vorah actively participated in educating their grandchildren about Israel by hosting each of them for month-long visits at their apartment in Jerusalem. As grandparents they wanted to know and understand each grandchild, while nurturing their love for Israel.
Despite continental or even intercontinental separation, all family generations assembled at least twice annually for Passover and Thanksgiving. The family joked that attendance exceptions seemed limited to hospitalization or incarceration.
Raffi was an avid philatelist and casual numismatist, with extensive collections of Israeli stamps and coins that he loved to share with his grandchildren.  Raffi was a masterful storyteller. He would also light up the room with a smile whenever anyone brought him kosher rotisserie duck, or any and all forms of chocolate.
Raffi is survived by his beloved wife and partner of 71 years, D'vorah, who he lovingly called "Ketzaleh" (Yiddish for "little cat"), sons Amir Arbisser (Lisa) and Aton Arbisser (Norma), son-in-law Charlie Shockey, grandchildren Micah Arbisser (Lisa), Nathan Shockey (Felicia Yong), Talya Arbisser (Joel Gluskin), Lily Arbisser, David Shockey (Mandi Peterson), Ariel Arbisser, Amelia Arbisser, and Ilana Arbisser, and three great grandchildren. Raffi was preceded in death by his parents, two sisters, a brother, and his daughter, Erie Arbisser Shockey.
The funeral will be held at 2:00pm on Thursday, June 21 at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, 4525 Beechnut Boulevard in Houston, Texas.
The family requests that contributions be made to the Raffi and D'vorah Arbisser Excellence Fund at the Kaplan Judaica Museum at Congregation Beth Yeshurun or to the Raffi and D'vorah Arbisser Scholarship Fund at the Emery/Weiner School at 9825 Stella Link Road in Houston, Texas.

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A funeral service will be held on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at 2:00 pm at Congregation Beth Yeshurun 4252 Beechnut Street, Houston, Texas 77096

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a arlene shalinsky-Prairie Village, KS on Jul 3, 2018

Sharing memories:
I remember the Aribisser family well. I can picture Raffie,z'l in his large office at 34th Paseo. I baby sat for you, Amir when Kay Kantor had other plans. I worked at the Sunday School Dept in the old Applebe House at 95th Wornall. Devorah was stunned that the teachers did not know the Modi Ani so she set forth to teach us.
Going back to Raffie, we thought he looked like Frank Sinatra.
In later years u had a house east 83rd Terr/Mission. The last memory I have of Amir he was studying at the Corinth Library.
We moved near by to Corinth just west of 81st Roe.
5 years ago while visiting my daughter/family I went to an English speaking lecture by a photographer/journalist who had just published a book on the Jews of India. I told him I was a Jew from Kansas- He said "Sure Beth Shalom". He went on to say that when Raffie brought a pilgramage he was the 'madrich'
Deepest of fond memories and sympathies. Both Devorah and Raffie are long remembered.

R Rickie Haith on Jun 25, 2018

Dear D'vorah and family,
I knew Raffie quite well and taught Sunday School under him as our Educational Director at Beth Shalom Congregation in Kansas City, MO.
When he came to KC he wanted  girls to have more involvement in Jewish education. He encouraged 4-5 of us to take Hebrew to enable us to go to Camp Ramah in the early 50's. He also wanted us to be one of the first to have a Bat Mitzvah at Beth Shalom. I started studying, but my grandparents, being Orthodox, did not wish for me to have it. I respected their wishes.
I was honored to be the first woman to chant a haftarah for Sisterhood Shabbat in 1974. I felt I finally had my Bat Mitzvah. How things have changed.
In 1967 Raffie left Beth Shalom, and there was a farewell dinner. On that evening my grandparents were at the dinner. I kissed them goodnight. Little did I realize it would be the last time I would see my grandmother, Batshevah Bratt, alive. She quietly passed away in her sleep.(a kiss of God) This was not the farewell dinner I would ever have anticipated. My soul was stricken with unbearable sorrow at 28.
They were going to go to Israel after the miraculous 6 Day War to finally touch and pray at the Wall. When I was able to go to Israel in 1976, I went to the Wall to pray in her behalf. My grandparents were the first Jewish couple to go to Israel in 1948. 

I am so sorry for Raffie's passing. He did a lot for Beth Shalom with new innovative ideas. I definitely remember him and how he helped advance my Jewish Education. Rabbi Margolies and his 11 year intensive study of Jewish History and the Bible was another blessing in my growth as a Jewess.
Please accept my deepest sympathy and blessings on your great loss,

L Linda J. Miller on Jun 21, 2018

So sorry for your loss and know how much you thought of your father. Will see you guys on August 4.

D Daniel Solomon on Jun 19, 2018

Raffi lives on through his children and grandchildren. His influence on them yielded descendants with good character traits (middot tovot) and a desire to perform acts of kindness (chesed). A life well lived!

K Kelye and Steve Brown on Jun 19, 2018

Dear Amir, Lisa, Talya, Ariel and the whole family. What a beautiful life lived. Raffi and my father share the same birthday. Wish I could have met such a wonderful man. Our thoughts are with each of you. Love Kelye and Steve Brown

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