Rabbi Haim Asa
May 1, 1931 – May 28, 2014
From the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, California
Rabbi Asa, the senior rabbi of Orange County, was born in Bulgaria to a family with Sephardic origins; his ancestors escaped the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries and found refuge in the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
In 1944, during the Nazi domination of Bulgaria, the Asa family fled Bulgaria and made Aliyah. In Palestine, Rabbi Asa was educated in Aliyat Hanoar Schools and the famous Mikve Israel Agricultural School. At the age of 15, he was admitted to the Gadna-Youth division of the underground Haganah, and he was sent to Platoon Commanders School in the summer of 1947.
After graduation from the Mikve Israel School, Rabbi Asa enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces and graduated from the Israel Officers Academy. In 1950 he was one of the founders of the "NACHAL” division of the Israeli Defense Force, and in 1952 he was the first "NACHAL” officer to graduate from the paratroopers academy and bring back his experience and knowledge to the "NACHAL MUTZNACH' (an independent paratroopers unit which was part of the NACHAL CO S). Following his army career Rabbi Asa served in the "MOSSAD' until coming to the United States in 1954.
After ordination from Hebrew Union College in 1963 and until 1966, Rabbi Asa was the Latin American Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism with headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1966, Rabbi and wife Elaine returned to California, and Rabbi Asa became the rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah until his retirement in 1996. Thereafter, he was Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Tikvah and remained very much involved in the congregation and in the lives of its members. In retirement, he also worked as a senior chaplain with the State of California Department of Mental Health serving Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk and Fairview Hospital in Costa Mesa, California.
Rabbi Asa was a past president of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, a past president of the Orange County Board of Rabbis and the Fullerton Interfaith Ministerial Association. He was the North Orange County United Jewish Welfare (JFFS) chairperson while Elaine completed a three year term of chairing the Women's Division Campaign for the Orange County United Jewish Fund in 1980.
He served several terms as a member of the Jewish Federation Board of Directors and was influential in the development of Federation in its early years. During the early 70’s, Rabbi Asa was a member of the Department of Religious Studies at California State University, Fullerton, and while teaching there he was involved on the local level as the spiritual leader of the Jewish students.
In 1980-81, Rabbi Asa was instrumental in the efforts to acknowledge the role of the Bulgarian people and nation in the saving of the entire Jewish population (50,000) residing in Bulgaria during the Second World War. In 1993 Rabbi Asa was part of an international committee which honored the state and people of Bulgaria as part of the 50th anniversary celebrating the saving of the only Jewish community in Nazi Europe.
The Asas have four children and 14 grandchildren. Aviva and her husband Daniel and their three children live in Efrat, Israel. Aviva is a fund raiser, social worker and grant writer and divides her time between family and work. Daniel is working in the world of hi-tech. Ariel is married to Michele and they live in Atlanta, Georgia with their four children. Ariel is a rabbi, teacher, "mohel”, (ritual circumciser) and scribe and Michele is a nurse. Liora and her husband Michael and their three children live in Har Halutz, a community founded by the Reform Movement in the mountains of the Galilee above the city of Karmiel, Israel. Liora is a trainer for non-profits in the north of Israel and has recently completed her studies for an MBA at Haifa University and Michael is a technical writer for the hi-tech world of Israel. Eliana and her husband Jeff live in the Los Angeles area with their four children. Jeff owns a pharmacy and Eliana is a full-time mom.