A Synagogue Building Project in Efrat, Israel in Memory of Rabbi Haim Asa, z”l
and in honor of Bulgarian Jewry
Share Your Memories
Please share your memories and stories about Rabbi Haim Asa
by sending them via our Contact page.
My dear friend Haim was a very kind person---not a kindness born out of weakness,he was strong, effective, clever. No, his friendliness and kindness and compassion and helpfulness were the product of his compassionate and good heart, and his worries for others who were in bad situations. He fulfilled the prescription of pirkei avot about greeting everyone with sever panim yafot...(warmly and kindly).
I could go on and on, but I won't. I first met him when I roomed with him at a rabbinical conference of some sort. We both got up early and he suggested that we walk around this rural camp and get to know each other. That was Haim. That was when he gave me the name Yosef, which seemed to have stuck with the Asa's when referring to me, and one way or another we kept in touch all those years,visits and phone and emails, etc., until the end.
Two stories come to my mind. One was at my installation as a rabbi at the now defunct synagogue in Costa Mesa. This older woman with many troubles, whom he barely knew, threw herself on him crying bitter tears over her life and he held her and tried to calm her down and make her feel better, even though she probably felt humiliated about her job.
Another very different story. We were driving together, which means that he was driving on one of those horrible freeways in Orange County, and there was an iron beam across one of the lanes. He stopped the car, ran out and pulled the beam to the side of the road so that no one should get hurt in an accident, and then called the police from the car.
And you all know that he gave his mental and moral support to all causes that he deemed worthwhile.
Rabbi Joseph Hirsch
Many reflections of Haim and the Asa family passed through my mind as I reconstructed my life in Fullerton from 1972 until today.
Israeli dancing following Shabbat services and the warm welcome that made our decision to make our home and educate our children in Fullerton and Temple Beth Tikvah.
Hal and my involvement as Youth Group Advisers which led to bringing FATY (Fullerton Area Temple Youth) to our home to form a friendship circle around the ambulance gurney which gave Dori mobilization when she suffered a fractured femur in a bicycle accident.
Robin's Bat Mitzvah when Haim urged Robin to "fake it" when she stumbled while chanting her Torah portion.
Then, more friendship circles for both Dori and Robin's SCFTY (Southern California Federation of Temple Youth) events around our backyard pool and spa. And under the Succah, for engagement parties before Dori's wedding at Camp Swig and Robin's at Brandeis Bardin in addition to many choir and havurah potlucks in the years to follow. Of course, how can the brit milahs for Tzion and Ben and the baby naming for Reenat be forgotten in the annals of our shared family history.
Forever grateful for the moral support during many simchas and tzures that affected me and my family, especially in 1992 when we all suffered the loss of our beloved "Little Bird" (Robin).
Almost ten years ago, Haim led me to a new place of spiritual learning and loving...the California Institution for Women in Chino. Upon his invitation, I became a volunteer for a community of Jewish women under his spiritual guidance now known as B'not Or. For several years I coordinated Passover and Simchat Torah events for the women involving many hundreds of guests from the surrounding communities. My last event was a Seder honoring Rabbi Haim Asa when nearly 250 people attended and he was presented a tallit handcrafted by the women of this special and unique congregation who adored him.
Lou Ann Taback
Rabbi Asa was our Rabbi, he was THE ONLY our Rabbi. He welcomed us in 1988, and a few years later our extended family, to the community, and was there for us at any time we needed him. While our youngest daughter's Bat-Mitzvah happened to be in the year when TBT hired a new Rabbi, we requested for our Rabbi, Rabbi Asa to officiate the ceremony. It could not be any other way..... Rabbi loved listening to me playing piano, he would be so kind and caring, always asking about everyone in the family, never forgetting a single name. My family will be eternally grateful to Rabbi Asa for helping my parents and my brother"s family to immigrate to the USA from the former USSR. Since my Mom's papers were lost at the Immigration Office I was absolutely desperate. Nothing could be done at that moment till Rabbi Asa got involved. He took me to the Congressman's office in Fullerton, and in the matter of few days my family in Russia was given a permission to leave the country. I would never forget the feeling of awe, watching Rabbi Asa talking on my behalf and to witness the great respect he was treated with! We miss you, dear Rabbi and you will be in our hearts forever!
Sofia Zukerman and family
The God Squad affectionately referred to Rabbi Asa as "Heim The Cat" because we all felt he had nine lives and had lived many lives within one Lifespan! He was and still is Loved and Missed to this day... We say if Heim was around he would get us all to go to lunch together because he had a way about him, so when he wanted to do something we all wanted to do it as well... So even today we are going to lunch together at his favorite Salads 2000 in his Memory! Gone But Not Forgotten, Forever In Our Hearts! P
Protestant Chaplain Larry Larimore, Metropolitan State Hospital, Norwalk California
The are people outside ones family circle we turn to on special occasions. Their counsel and presence makes those times meaningful. Haim Asa was the person who was always there at those times for our family. He was present at our children’s Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmations, at their marriages, and also at the funerals of our parents, bringing understanding to those life cycle events. Haim was also a friend we loved and admired. He was wise, irreverent, and genuine. He made religion relevant through his community outreach, in addition to his role as Rabbi to our congregation. He was a mensch, a do-er, and a role model. We will miss his presence in our lives, and always be grateful he was part of it for many years.
Meryl and Hank Schrimmer
Rabbi Asa z"l and Elaine have been close friends with my family since before my birth. During the years my family sojourned in Israel we were fortunate to have the pleasure of seeing Haim and Elaine during their visits there, and upon my return to Southern California in the 1980's, Rabbi Asa was always a friend, a resource, a sounding board, as well as a social organizer for young Jews in North Orange County. I can recall, for example, spending a Christmas morning in his living room (long before it became vogue for OC Jews to go to Disneyland on Christmas Day). Rabbi Asa was the only choice for my wife and myself as to who we wanted to officiate at our wedding. His close connection with my father z"l was so important to me as my dad had passed away less than a year before we got married and Rabbi Asa was able to bring personal connections into our wedding ceremony. Haim Asa was an entrepreneur, a visionary, a friend, a Zionist, a mensch, an educator, in addition to also being a wonderful family patriarch and groundbreaking Rabbi.
When Haim came to Los Angeles he lived on the property of Myron and Debby Freiberg. Myron needed help for his olive trees and other fruits and Haim was able to do that. So Haim grew up like an elder brother with the Freiberg children Jeffrey, Erica and Tonia. Tonia left California to study in Germany and stayed there after meeting her German husband.
I am the husband of her daughter Kathrina who also grew up in Germany.
I was born (1961) into a catholic family near Cologne and never had contact to Jewish life or Jewish people before.
From the beginning 90s we regularly visited Haim and Elaine at their home in Anaheim with our children Lukas and Franca.
I always somehow felt guilty for what my parents/grandparents generation had done to ruin the world in the Third Reich.
In Haim’ s home I met beautiful people who came in and out to celebrate Sabbath with the Asa’ s on Friday evenings. There were couples just before marriage, a daughter of survivors who never wanted to go to Germany. We visited a friend who` s wife never had bought a German car. I was present when Haim got a call for a man who just died. He was a survivor of a “death march” who just owned a toothbrush when he was freed. I sat next to Elaine in the synagogue while she explained me the constellation of the choir which was singing for us. There were survivors, children of survivors and grandchildren of survivors. I cannot remember a more emotional moment in my life…..
In all those visits I never was treated with distance. All the people I met where so open and friendly to me that I don’t know how to thank for that.
When we stayed at the Asa’s home always after 10 minutes they knew all about us and the children, because they where so interested in our lives. There was no theme that we did not talk about.
Haim was a collector as everybody knows. One day he opened the garage for me and showed me a large collection of jackets and offered me one. Because they looked like they came from another age I was so sorry to tell him, that they would not fit in our luggage…..
Through people like Haime the world gets a little better. The chance to meet such a person inspires me to also try to make the world a little better.
Dr. med. Josef Ley
I visited read through this website and tribute to Chaim. It is very beautiful and fitting. When Chaim passed, I was living in Israel....far away from the funeral. I searched the internet instead to pay tribute. I watched hours of YouTube lessons taught by Chaim recounting Bulgaria rescuing its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. Chaim impacted so many people that even his passing was voiced on the floor of Congress by Congressman Ed Royce. The obituaries recorded on your website continue to bring smiles and sadness, but the stories captured his essence and legacy and this is a blessing. I would hope that on my parting day I could have under my belt even half of the accrued merits and mitzvot which your father brought the world, especially ahavat Yisrael and g'milut chasadim. How lucky are all of us who were a recipient to his love and kindness.
One memory which I recall vividly was after I grew towards an "Orthodox" / observant life. In my early 20's things were viewed very dogmatically with few tolerances to the shades of gray. One Shabbat morning I recall attending morning services at Aish Ha Torah (...my guess 1998). Lo and behold, Reform Rabbi Asa was there! I couldn't believe it... a Reform rabbi.. in an Orthodox shul..coming to pray! Chaim was different than the others. If he kept to the "party line" (Reform camp), when it came to loving one's fellow Jew, it spanned all denominations. Chaim acted le shem shamayim. Chaim's life was about helping his fellow Jew. Chaim was always my Rabbi... during my childhood and yes, even as an "Orthodox"observant Jew, I learned from his deeds.
Your Mom and Dad imbued in you a love and connectedness to our Creator, our heritage, and Israel. Chaim's sense of risk (moderated by your Mom's pragmatism of course} allowed his life to be one following heart, mind, and conscience. How many people are lucky to say the same? His life was dedicated to helping the Jewish people and safeguarding Israel.
May Chaim's memory always be for blessing and may his deeds be a constant source of elevation to his neshama.
With love and sincere respect,
Unlike many of you who had an enduring relationship with Haim, my contacts were pretty much limited to our mutual addiction. You may not know there was another side to Haim: he was a 'car guy' and even though there is a discordant tone inherent in the term "Rabbi Car Guy," he fell clearly into the 'dyed-in-the wool' segment of those of us passionate about cars.
Haim was equally comfortable discussing the marketing failures of GM, Ford and Chrysler (read: Elsel, DeSoto and Cimarron) as he was at relating something akin to the significance of Moses's return from Mt. Sinai. His takes on the industry were always spot on and delivered in his iconic tongue-in-cheek style.
I have missed those momentary interactions with a kindred spirit and was delighted to hear a synagogue will be built in his honor - a very suitable tribute I might add. My hope, of course, it that it contains a suitable parking garage for the Rabbi's car.
Might mention that contacts with Haim stemmed from an '80's association Elaine and I had with the County's Juvenile Justice Commission. In later years contact with the Asas was facilitated by mutual friend, Pete Gwosdoff, a relationship going back to our mutual attendance of Long Beach City College in 1957.
We met Haim 50 years ago. He was our long time friend. Our family (Claire, Naomi and Rachel) stayed in their Fullerton home on several occasions. He was the kind of guy to help in any way.
He always told me that I paid too much for my car. His office was filled with Torah Scrolls. Our Temple wanted to buy one, but he had very old and brown Torahs. I don't know what finally happened to them. He also reconsecrated our wedding vows at our 50th anniversary party. Haim and I also shared a hotel room at many conventions. He always had a quip on hand. We miss him very much. He was a dear friend and a great rabbi. Rabbi Arthur and Claire Abrams
Rabbi Arthur J. Abrams and Claire
The Fisher family moved to Orange County in 1983. One of the first things we did was join Temple Beth Tikvah. We also enrolled our daughter Melissa in the Temple's Early Childhood Learning Center. We soon met Rabbi Haim Asa and his wife Elaine. A bond was formed between us that is deep and enduring. There is no one story that adequately captures the true nature of Haim Asa and what he has meant to our family. Rather, it is a series of stories. He formed a strong bond with Melissa beginning in the ECLC and continuing throughout her life. He mentored her, officiated at her bat mitzvah, introduced her to Jewish educators when she was considering a career in the rabbinate, invited her to speak at the event honoring his retirement as TBT's rabbi, and officiated at her wedding to Jonathan Goldman. He hung the mezuzah on Jonathan and Melissa's new home just a few weeks before his death. He welcomed Jonathan into the TBT family where he has become a comfortable and active participant in all aspects of Temple life. Haim had a special bond with Michelle as they shared the unfortunate experience of both being long time battlers of type 1 diabetes.They often shared experiences on new treatments in diabetes care. Haim helped Michael by counseling his mother as she struggled through a difficult illness, and officiated at the funerals of both of Michael's parents. Michael and Haim grew especially close when Michael was TBT president during Haim's last year as rabbi. The Fisher and Asa families have shared many simchas and some sad times. The sad times were less painful because of Haim's calm and soothing presence. Haim Asa was our rabbi but also our dear friend. We will miss him, remember him and appreciate forever the influence he had on us.
Michelle and Michael Fisher; Jonathan and Melissa Goldman
We feel honored to be able to donate to this wonderful tribute in honor of our dear Rabbi Haim. When we came to Fullerton from Toronto 37 years ago, we were strangers in a new world. We had two very young sons and we hoped we had made the right decision. When we told our painter, who was still working on the day we moved into our house, that we had joined TBT, he said, "That's funny, because I was going to tell you that your husband reminded me of a wonderful rabbi I know in town. He has the same kind of humor!" That must have been a good omen. From the moment we began attending Shabbat services, we felt that our new rabbi cared that we were there. If we missed a Shabbat, dear Haim would make it a point of coming over to us on the following Shabbat and asking if we were ok......adding "We missed you!" Whenever we saw him......not necessarily in the temple......Haim always asked how we were and how are two boys were.....and always remembered their names. Years later, he would ask about their families. We will miss our dear rabbi very much.
Elaine & Harvey Socol
One more story.......I lost my brother, my mother and then my father over a period of a few years. They were all in Toronto, so when each of them passed away, Harvey and I would fly in to attend the funeral there (if I wasn't called in before) and I would stay behind to sit shiva. Haim phoned me each time to ask, "Are you alright? Do you have a support group there?.... always adding "We're thinking of you!" Unforgettable!
Elaine & Harvey Socol
It is a privilege to honor Rabbi Haim Asa, and donate to this worthy cause. Rabbi Asa was a man of integrity with the kindest heart; a true man among men. There will never be another human being like him. This donation is dedicated with gratitude to my beloved Rabbi Haim Asa and family, in the name of my grandparents Hyman and Caroline Weissman (of blessed memory); my husband Rod Umscheid and myself, and our son, Jeff Umscheid.
So comforting to see the many tributes on Facebook for Rabbi; the photos of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, baby namings, brises, funerals; all of the life events he was a part of. Such a life well lived, a heart so loving. I remember in my confirmation class, which was held in Rabbi's study in the original Temple Beth Tikvah building. There were only about 5 or 6 of us as I remember. We could ask Rabbi anything and we definitely talked about everything. The subject of death came up - I think we were talking about what it would be like to die in your sleep, and we were all a little grossed out at the thought of waking up beside a dead body. Rabbi told us there was nothing to be afraid of and if or when the time came, we would be ok. Years later, when I was 21, my Grandma Caroline passed away at my parents' home. Rabbi and Elaine were already there when I arrived. I was able to be with my Grandma for quite awhile before the coroner came. I had my arms around her and my head on her shoulder. I couldn't bear to say goodbye to the woman whom I adored all of my life and regarded as my true mother. After she was taken away, I told Rabbi that he was right - what he told us in confirmation class about being ok and having nothing to be afraid of. He nodded and smiled. Days later, I was speaking with Elaine and she told me that Rabbi shared that story with her and that it meant so much to him that I remembered what he told us. It was a deeply meaningful moment for me too. Rabbi, thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for the times you came to see me when I was at boarding school - just to sit on a bench and talk for awhile. Thank you for the time we visited you and Elaine at your house, and you patiently, lovingly, answered all of the questions about G-d, and the Hebrew calendar, and why right to left instead of left to right, and where do we go after we die, and yep the big one, what about Jesus? All the questions our son wrote down in a small notebook to ask you, you answered. It was such a sweet moment. Seeing our son sit next to you on the couch like that; just talking, asking, listening. Rest in peace Rabbi. There will never be another human being like you. With love - and as you would say, "et cetera, et cetera."
In sweetest Memory of our dear Friend & Rabbi Haim z"l. Thank you for the many gifts of your Heart. We treasure the many memories of sweet times shared with you, Elaine & both of our growing families over the 47 + years of our friendship. May your memory & name be for a Blessing and may you continue to do Ha Shem's work on the other side & bring more Peace, Love & Light into our World.
With our deepest Love & Much Light, Bob & Lois Rubin
Lois & Bob Rubin
I have so many memories of dear Rabbi Haim z"l. Bob & I & our family (Sherry, David & Michael) have known the Asas for approximately 47yrs. Our 'Kids' were shlepped back & forth to TBT together since Elaine & I carpooled them to & from Hebrew & religious School.
A favorite memory was the 'action' that Haim z"l provided in the TBT parking lot as Parents arrived to pick up their kids from Religious or Hebrew School. Haim was the official parking lot 'Cop' shmoozing with each parent driver...such a familiar sight.
I had the privilege of working together with R. Haim z"l during the 7 yrs that I taught Kindergarten at TBT. Bob also had this privilege when he taught 8th Graders at TBT.
I learned recently that something very special from Bob; evidently Bob always had a Yiddish name & when it came time for him to be called to Torah at TBT, Haim z"l gave Bob his Hebrew name., Dov Bear. How special is that ?
Also, every Shabbat during the Misheberach Prayer at Services , Bob would put Haim's name into the Prayer...
We both loved Haim so very much and we miss him. We treasure our shared memories.
May his name be a Blessing.
And for Elaine & all of the Asas, know that we hold you in our Hearts & Prayers. May the love, nurturance & support of your family & friends assist you in your grieving and Healing process.
We send you so much Love & Light,
Lois & Bob Rubin
I, like many, many other people, was deeply saddened to hear of Rabbi Asa's passing. המקום ינחם אתכם.
He was much loved by not just the Beth Tikvah community, but by the entire Jewish community of Orange County -- including we Beth Emet folks. I was very happy that he was one of the officiants at my wedding. And he was respected and loved beyond our community, as well. A friend of mine from high school who is now a Methodist minister and back in the day was active in Christian activities remembered Rabbi Asa fondly as someone's whose interfaith efforts help him better understand his own faith as well as ours. And yes, during a scary time when my dad was having surgery, he was there for him and my mom, saying Tehilim and just being present.
I have 3 memories: 1. When my mother died on Christmas morning 1984, we got the call from my father at 2:15 a.m. We immediately left our house in Ontario headed for the hospital in Anaheim. By the time we got there Rabbi Asa was already there. There was no time clock when it came to his dedication to rabbinic work. 2. When my father died, Rabbi Asa went with me to the cemetery to make the final arrangements for the funeral. As we left, he gently said, "Your abba (father) is gone. I will now be your abba." From that day on, I called him abba as he indeed became the person I looked to for those father-daughter moments. 3. As a child I had a fear of leaving home. I never spent the night a friend's house, never went to summer camp. My first semester in college, I took a creative writing class in which I talked about my fears. I realized that on paper I could now share them and work on overcoming them. I walked into Rabbi's office, told him I needed to speak with him, and sat down. He dropped whatever he was doing and gave me his full attention. I put my notebook on the desk, and he read it carefully. He looked up and said, "When you're ready, it won't hurt." He knew the exact words that needed to be said to lift the dark veil that had covered me all those years. It was the beginning of many happy times away from home, beginning with an overnight at camp with the Asa family that summer. He literally gave me my wings.
Miriam Van Raalte
Rabbi Asa was a fixture for years in Fullerton, though we went to the Conservative Shul in Anaheim (Temple Bet Emet) so he was never officially "my Rabbi." That said I got to know him a whole lot better on a trip to Israel during the height of the Second Intifada with a group of fundamentalist Christians. That in and of itself was a hoot and a half, but what struck me at the time was how much he was "in his element" on the trip and the stories about his childhood and his obvious "Ahavat HaAretz" were infused in everything he said and did on the trip. That and the obvious joy he had in being with his grandchildren on Shabbat the evening we arrived. May his memory be for a blessing.
Rabbi Asa brought Judaism into my heart and mind. When our daughter, Adrienne needed a serious
surgery at 9yrs of age, she would not commit to the surgery until she spoke with Haim privately,
The day of the surgery, Rabbi Asa was at the hospital before 5:00 a.m. to be with her, and remained
until she was awake and alert. Just one of the many wonderful gifts of comfort he extended to our
family. I call him the Rabbi of my heart. Sam and all of my children feel the same. Of course having
Elaine by his side was inseparable from his fame.
My memories of Rabbi Asa go back a long time. I remember the first time I saw him and his wife Elaine and 4 beautiful children at a TBT event. They were all so youthfull and full of enthusiasm!One of my early memories of Rabbi Asa was when my husband was President of TBT and we had a board meeting at our home. It was summertime and I was enrolled in a swimming/diving class with one of my neighbors. I had just returned from class and was still wearing my wet swimsuit when I came in the front door. All the mem were sitting in our living room discussing big plans. Rabbi looked up at me and asked where I had been. I told him about the class. From that day forward, he almost never failed to say he remembered me in my wet swimsuit! I thought that was cute! I have another memory that is embarrassing to me. Elaine was out of town and I invited Rabbi to have dinner with me and Jim ( my husband) I thought I would show off my cooking skills and made a brisket dinner. First of all, he arrived late because he decided to walk to my house instead of driving and he ended up knocking on my next door neighbors door , thinking it was my house. Luckily, my neighbor recognized Haim because he had met him at our childrens Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and sent him to our house! To my embarrassment, the brisket turned out tough instead of the deliciooous juicy meat we were accustomed to. But Haim, being who he was, ate on as if it was a banquet. I apologized for the tough brisket and his response was to ask for seconds! What a guy!
On a serious note, Rabbi Asa was always there for me when I lost my parents, brothers and sisters. He always knew the right words to console me in my grief. When I remarried ( 32 years ago) Jim was not Jewish, but Haim always welcomed him with a hug and a handshake and always said he was a great “Mensch.” When Jim decided to choose Judaism as his faith and went thru conversion, Haim was always supportive and encouraging. When Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 5 yearsa ago and had difficulty walking on his own and was too weak to attend High Holiday Services, only Haim noticed that the “ Atkinson’s weren’t there.” This prompted a phone call from him wanting to know what was going on. Haim was the most caring, loving ,interesting Rabbi I have ever known. He was always there when either of us had to be in the hospital. He was always there, period! I loved that man and speaking of “ mensch” Haim personified that.
In my heart, Rabbi Haim Asa was and always will be my Rabbi. He was certainly sent by G-d to enrich all our lives.
Helen Kohn Atkinson
The unforgettable Rabbi Haim Asa will forever remain in my heart, and in the memory of tens of thousands of Bulgarians in Orange County, Los Angeles, California, Bulgaria and around the world. A gift and his eternal memory! Thank you for continuing his work! Light on the road!