Hayim Azses of Jerusalem: Mourning the Loss and Remembering the Man

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(This Original Essay is Copyrighted by Shelomo Alfassa - All Rights Reserved)

A couple of months ago the Jewish people lost a leader, an educator, a scholar, and a defender; his name was Hayim Azses, and he was one great man. Hayim, a short gentle man, with a soft voice, was the epitome of a man that let his passions in life--lead his life, and he would not have had it any other way. Hayim was a lover of the Jewish world, specifically the Sephardic world, and everything having to do with Jerusalem, the city he called home.

Hayim Azses was born in Aleppo, Syria. During his life he lived all over the world. While in Turkey and France, he studied at Istanbul University and at the Sorbonne in Paris. He also studied Middle Eastern Affairs, French Literature, Economics and English Literature at the Hebrew university. Hayim spoke English, Hebrew, Turkish and Arabic, but his passion was French.

Hayim had published extensively. He was editing and creating books in the 1960's, and his works include anthologies, books, films, and audiovisual kits for educators. The Hadracha & Hasbara Digest series were conceived and developed by Hayim Azses in 1982. Education was his life. He spent 30 years working for the Jewish Agency for Israel where he became a leading educator and project developer at the former Youth and Hechalutz Department, the modern day Education Department. He had extensive experience in the field of educational and leadership training, directing many projects at the Education Department of the Jewish Agency. Hayim's last project was one he really proud of. It was a 360 page book entitled. "The Shoah in the Sephardic Communities." which was published by Dr. Jose A. Nessim's Sephardic Educational Center with support from the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Hayim was a well known expert on the Arab media and on Hasbara, a Hebrew word Golda Meir once said was described as best meaning "public diplomacy." Hayim often used a unique media-oriented approach when developing new educational content in his drive for Hasbara. Recently, Gila Ansell Brauner, an editor and producer who works for the Jewish Agency told me, "Hayim developed numerous Hasbara workshops, kits, and educational booklets that led the field in informal and formal education." Gila also said, "unfortunately, we can't find the 'This is your life, Hayim Azses' slideshow that we made about him before his shlichut to France in 1985, it had a lot of family history, for which I interviewed his close relatives in Jerusalem." Gila had worked with Hayim from January 1982 to summer 1985.

Hayim Azses had a love of film making, and made several films with several different production teams. Among his films were: "If I forget Thee O Jerusalem" (distributed in 12 countries) and "The Confrontation" (a short film on Theodore Herzl twice broadcast on French TV). He also did films and docudramas about Jews and Arabs, one called, "I am a Palestinian," and one about Jews who lived during the period of the Inquisition.

Hayim was an international man who spoke in many countries promoting Israel and explaining its policies to the world, especially young people, who he knew--would be the leaders of tomorrow. In his last years, he lectured at several New York area campuses including NYU, Fordham University Law School, Hunter College, and Baruch College.

Proud of his Halabi (Syrian) Jewish roots, Hayim Azses remained a vital spark which helped keep the glow of the Sephardic torch burning. He was an expert on Syrian Jewry and "Sephardic Jerusalem" and was a keeper of tremendous knowledge on the topic. His last professional position was as the Educational Director for the Sephardic Educational Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, and that is where I met him. I remember one particular day, it was a wonderful quiet Shabbat in Jerusalem, and he, his wife, myself, and a couple friends had a beautiful quiet lunch in the courtyard next to the Yohannan Ben Zakkai (Kal Grande) synagogue. There, in the bright sun, while the birds were chirping and distant church bells rang, Hayim told us the sweet story about how he met his wife, about his emigration to Israel, and about his passions for inspiring young Jews about the Jewish world and the land of Israel.

Hayim Azses was tragically killed in an automobile accident when a young man crossed the road and crashed into him head on. He remained in the hospital for several weeks, but eventually succumbed to his injuries. While he was an older man, he was not ready to go, and had much life and energy to persevere.

Hayim leaves behind a heartbroken family, including his loving wife Michal and a brother who he was very close with, (and I remember him always speaking fondly of), Prof. Yom Tov Assis, Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hayim was a charming and special man who was worldly, sophisticated, and had a passion for Jewish education rarely found these days. I, and countless others, from the many friends he had in Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Istanbul, Panama, Paris and other locations, are going to miss him greatly, but remember him always.

In Jerusalem with R' Benarroch, R' Elnecave and the late great Haim Azses ZS"L and myself.


lyn said:

I am devastated that Hayim Aszes has passed away. His brother Yomtov was my teacher in London in the late 60s when he was the minister at Holland Park synagogue and is fondly remembered by the congregation there. This terrible blow comes on top of the death of Yomtov Asssis's wife Clara recently.

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This page contains a single entry by Shelomo Alfassa published on November 22, 2007 3:50 PM.

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