Aaron Braunstein was born and raised in Brooklyn and educated in a yeshiva. However, because his family was the only Jewish presence in a heavily Italian part of the Bensonhurst neighborhood, he spent his childhood after-school hours happily playing with gentile friends.
“That might have had an effect on my worldview,” he muses now, at age 78, following a long US Foreign Service career. “I have been exposed to multiple cultures over my entire life, and perhaps it started with that, as a young kid.”
His passion for Israel also started at a young age. As a member of the Betar youth movement, Braunstein came to Israel in 1955, at age 17, for the Jewish Agency’s Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad program. He did six months of study in Jerusalem and worked the fields for six months on what was then a border settlement, Mevo’ot Betar – near today’s Tzur Hadassah – which was established in 1950 by native Israelis and immigrants from Argentina and America.
“It was the period of the fedayeen [Arab guerrilla attacks], and several members had been murdered by infiltrators from Egypt-controlled Gaza,” he says. “It is remarkable to have the sense that you’re part of something that is truly a revolution in the annals of human history: the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.”
Braunstein attended Brooklyn College at night for the academic year 1957- 8, working days to earn enough money to make aliya in 1958. He stayed in Israel for five years, earning his undergraduate degree from the Hebrew University in history and political science. He then did a master’s degree in international relations at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris.
French would be necessary for his interest in Foreign Service work. Once with the US State Department, he attended its training program in economics.
Braunstein also became conversant in Spanish and gained a basic knowledge of Arabic and Dutch.
He earned a second master’s at Johns Hopkins University in 1978 through the United States Agency for International Development to study international health and nutrition.
Braunstein’s career took him to USAID postings in Niger, Senegal, Mali, Tunisia, Vietnam, Peru and Egypt, in addition to Washington, DC. For five years in Egypt, he supported multimillion-dollar programs in family planning, including contraception distribution, model family- planning clinic development as well as the multimedia public information campaigns of the Egyptian State Information Service.
He says that being Jewish in Egypt wasn’t a problem. “There were at least 100 Egyptian employees, and I worked with them extremely well. The fact that I was not the typical WASP meant that I could relate to and understand Middle East culture in ways many Americans couldn’t.”
Braunstein always had in mind to return to Israel when he retired after 30 years with a full pension. In 1996 he did just that, moving back to Jerusalem with his wife and then-nine-year-old son.
“One of the considerations of coming then was that our son would be young enough to overcome some of the difficulties of the change,” he explains.
Early retirement afforded Braunstein the opportunity to invest his experience and knowledge in several other ventures.
He assisted hi-tech firms in document writing and editing, public relations, marketing and corporate promotion.
Currently program chairman of the Jerusalem Rotary Club, he also worked for some time for the Israeli-Palestinian Internet Discussion Group on Peace Education at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, writing newsletters and correspondence and promoting professional exchanges.
In 2005, Braunstein was the English- language editor for Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum. This led him eventually to found a nonsectarian educational association, the Jewish Covenant Alliance, five years ago.
Its educational website (www.covenantalliance.
org) offers material in 10 languages to advance an understanding among both Jews and gentiles of the Jewish people’s mission “to be in the vanguard of humanity’s fight for spiritual victory over regime evil in the world.”
Braunstein explains: “The Holocaust is also an issue for the whole world.
Over 50 million people died in Europe because of the virus of anti-Semitism.
In my work for Yad Vashem, I saw that the restoration of Jewish sovereignty is a revolution in history, and I realized that the Jewish mission, whether we are designated as a ‘chosen’ or a ‘choosing’ people, is alive and well. Two thousand years of Diaspora existence and mentality have made us wary of the word ‘mission,’ but we’re now taking this Jewish concept back.”
In Braunstein’s eyes, the Jewish mission involves trying to overcome what he terms “the evil idolatry of mass movements that have plagued humankind.”
“For the last 2,000 years, this has taken the form of a struggle against totalitarian ideologies, starting with ancient Rome. Each comes with a supposedly beautiful objective, such as Pax Romana in the case of the Romans, but in the process they nailed tens of thousands of people to crosses across their empire,” he points out.
“The Nazi ideology to ‘improve the human race’ was not such a foreign concept in the early 20th century. After Bolshevism and its ‘social justice,’ we now have come full circle to what I call master jihad, a totalitarian religio-fascist idolatry that also seeks to dominate humanity. From a logical perspective, the Nazis and jihadists rightly identify the Jews as their eternal enemy. It starts with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.”
Through his JCA, Braunstein advances his guiding principle that “Israel is the herald at the gate, warning the whole world of totalitarian threats to mankind.” He recalls US president Ronald Reagan’s 1983 condemnation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” as a watershed moment.
“With the return of Jewish sovereignty, it is now possible to struggle effectively against evil in the world, especially against Ayatollah Iran as also an evil empire, not just the seat of an evil regime. JCA seeks to have this fully discussed within national security circles – moral improvement at home, for all its good, is not going to keep the wolves away from the gate.”
He dispatches news alerts every month or two to about 6,000 people, some 2,000 of them Christian Zionists.
He also has many personal conversations with people interested in learning more.
Braunstein’s ambitions may seem quixotic to some, but he is optimistic.
“I came to Israel in 1955 for the first time, when the population was 1.5 million people, mostly Jews. Now we have over six million Jews, the largest Jewish population in the world. I see that everything I struggle for now is coming to fruition in Israel. I would not be able to act for the Jewish people and for the world from any place other than Zion,” he concludes.