Orange County Register

 

Haim Asa, 83, long-serving O.C. rabbi

 

BY LOU PONSI / STAFF WRITER

Published: May 29, 2014 Updated: 7:07 p.m.

 

COURTESY OF TEMPLE BETH TIKVAH

 

FULLERTON – Haim Asa, an Orange County rabbi for about a half-century, died Wednesday at Kaiser Permanente Anaheim Medical Center because of complications from diabetes. He was 83.

 

Asa played a key role in the formation of several Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation Family Services of Orange County, a nonprofit group that provides a variety of services.

 

Over the years, the rabbi served as president of the Orange County Board of Rabbis and of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis and as a member of the Fullerton Interfaith Ministerial Association.

 

Asa was part of an international committee that recognized Bulgaria for saving its 50,000 Jews from the Nazis. He also made more than 100 trips to Israel.

 

“He has touched so many lives around the world,” said Miriam Van Raalte, 61, an administrator at Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton who knew Asa for more than 35 years.

 

Asa was born in Bulgaria and fled the country with his family in 1944 to escape the Nazi occupation. He studied agriculture at Mikve Israel School and served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1950s.

He was ordained in 1963 by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and became rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in 1966. Asa was influential in helping to build a structure that houses a school and a Holocaust memorial at the temple; the building was dedicated as the Asa Center for Lifelong Jewish Learning in 2011.

 

The rabbi made a personal connection with everyone in the congregation, said Beverly Steinberg, 63, a longtime member of the congregation. He remembered the names of children he may not have seen in years.

“He was very warm and always smiling,” Steinberg said.

 

After retiring in 1996, Asa was given the title of rabbi emeritus. He kept active in the congregation right up until the past few weeks.

 

After retiring, he went on to serve as a senior chaplain at Fairview Hospital in Costa Mesa and at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.

 

Asa is survived by his wife, Elaine; four children; and 14 grandchildren.

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