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The Story of Private First Class Ray J. Kaufmann

As war raged in 1943, Ray J. Kaufmann knew what he had to do, and he wouldn’t let a little thing like his age get in the way.

“He felt it was his duty to do so, like everyone else at that time, and he was proud to do so,” recalled his son Lenny. Kaufmann’s brothers were already in the army, and his father an auxilliary policeman.

At age 17, Ray J. enlisted in the U.S. Army, lying about his age to get in. After basic training, he was shipped off to Europe. Accompanying him was a mezuzah his mom had given him. Although mezuzahs are installed on doorways, people often carry a mezuzah with them, or keep it near their bed as a protective measure. Private First Class Kaufmann carried the mezuzah in a small metal case hanging from a chain around his neck.

His unit was deployed to man a fort on the Maginot Line near Metz, France, as the Allies pushed towards Germany. At 1 a.m. one night, PFC Kaufmann was awakened by his buddies. Climbing out of his foxhole, he was asked to escort a sick soldier to the aid station in the rear. 

“After we were about 10 minutes en route, I heard a tingling, as if bracelets or ringlets were banging together,” Kufmann recalled in his memoir. “I opened my jacket to see if my dog tag chain and mezuzah were the source of the noise. They were. As I touched them, I could feel where they had been damaged.”

“Then I passed out.”

Kaufmann had been hit in the chest by shrapnel from a German 88-millimeter artillery round. When he came to, he was on a stretcher being put into an ambulance.

“After the repair surgery was finished, and I was in the ward, I was told that a piece of shrapnel from an 88 had pierced my chest a fraction of an inch from my heart, proceeded through my left lung, pierced my diaphragm, and lodged somewhere in my bowels,” he wrote. 

“I believe that the shrapnel had been deflected away from my heart by my mezuzah, and I was lucky to be alive.”

Kaufmann came home a decorated veteran, with the Bronze Star for carrying his buddy to the aid station under fire, the Purple Heart for his wounds, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for engaging in ground combat with the enemy. 

But his greatest pride was his family, and he passed on the love for Judaism which had saved his life to his children and grandchildren.

“Dad and Mom made sure all six of us children were brought up in a very Jewish home and had a strong connection to Yiddishkeit,” said Ray J’s son, Bruce. “We got up every morning to make sure there was a minyan. They provided a strong Jewish foundation that was carried out to the next generation of children.”

Ray J. discouraged his children from following his footsteps and joining the Army. When his son Avrum was considering enlisting, Ray told him, “The military is no place for a Jewish boy.” 

“But Dad, you enlisted!” Avrum wondered. “It was different then,” Ray responded. “There was something that had to get done, so I got up and did it.”

Sixty years after Ray took off his uniform, something again had to get done, and another Kaufmann put the uniform on. Chaim Baruch Kaufmann, Ray J.’s grandson, is a captain in one of the IDF Paratroopers reservist divisions. What he does is classified, but he continues in the family tradition: proud of their Yiddishkeit, not eager and gung-ho, but ready to serve and risk life and limb for their country and the Jewish People.

CPT Chaim Kaufmann, IDF
Comment 4
  • Dovid Grossman

    Proud of our dedicated service members 🫡 from each generation!

  • Yosef Heisler

    “The hand of Hashem, yes it was clear to them, the hand of Hashem, yes it was shown to them…” (lyrics from the Judea album, by Yerachmiel Begun)
    -Yosef Heisler, Minneapolis- a friend of Rabbi Avrum Kaufmann and proud Rebbi of Captain Chaim Boruch Kaufmann!

  • Yosef Heisler

    “The hand of Hashem, yes it was clear to them, the hand of Hashem, yes it was shown to them…” (lyrics from the Judea album, by Yerachmiel Begun)
    -Yosef Heisler, Minneapolis- a friend of Rabbi Avrum Kaufmann and proud Rebbi of Captain Chaim Boruch Kaufmann!!

  • Jill Isaacson Lashner

    He was a very special man. My 4 sisters and I were lucky to grow up alongside his 6 sons. He set an amazing example as a human and as a parent!

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