Sanctuary at synagogue in Israel will memorialize Rabbi Haim Asa
Rabbi Haim Asa, zl, who served for more than thirty years as the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton, embodied a Judaism that went beyond labels and categories. Reaching out to Jews of all backgrounds, Rabbi Asa took pride in building bridges between individuals who would not typically have the opportunity to interact with one another.
It is a fitting tribute that Rabbi Asa’s memory will be honored by dedicating a synagogue building for the Zemer HaZayit Congregation in Efrat, Israel. The effort is being spearheaded by his daughter, Aviva Zahavi-Asa, who lives in Efrat.
As Zahavi-Asa explained, “Zemer HaZayit was the first congregation in Efrat to fully integrate women into the tefillot (prayers) in a way that also abides by Halacha (Jewish law). Since Zemer HaZayit’s establishment, there are several more congregations in Efrat that have followed in our footsteps and have integrated women into the tefillot in ways that aren’t typical for most modern orthodox synagogues in Israel, so our congregation has served as a model that has been replicated in other local congregations.”
She added, “Since we had full backing from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Efrat’s Chief Rabbi and a founding member of the city of Efrat (his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren have been involved in our congregation from its inception), there were no objective obstacles in our way. However, similar to any changes within traditional communities, parts of the Efrat community initially had a difficult time understanding and accepting what we were doing. Today, this is less the case and, especially among younger residents, our tefillot are very appealing and inviting.”
The congregation began as a Friday night-only minyan that met once a month for Shabbat morning services. As Zemer HaZayit’s popularity grew, it was necessary to expand the programming and space to include more families and offer more activities. Regular weekly services were added, as well as Yom Tov and holiday services. The congregation moved from an elementary school to the gym of a community center.
On an average Shabbat morning, Zemer HaZayit has 100 attendees at shul (with many, many children, according to Zahavi-Asa). When there is a special occasion, such as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or holidays, there may be 150 or more attendees. Once there is a permanent building, the congregation expects attendance to double, since many people are unaware of it now because of its current location.
Finally, Zemer HaZayit’s is building a permanent synagogue building that will meet its present needs and allow for future expansion. The synagogue will be wheelchair-accessible and will include space for children’s activities during prayer services, a study hall and library, a kitchen for use during kiddushim and social events, a central lobby for social and cultural activities, a prayer hall that will be divided equally into two side-by-side sections with a movable Mechitza partition, and an Ark at the front of the two sections with easy access from both sides. The bima will be at the center of the prayer hall.
Construction on the building has recently begun. Each day brings significant progress towards a permanent home for the community. The foundations have been poured, and the ground floor is almost completed. The current goal is to finish the first phase of the building within a year, which will allow the congregation to begin holding tefillot (prayer services) in the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is one way in which Rabbi Asa’s legacy will be honored. An additional endeavor has been initiated as a way of way of continuing his life’s work. This initiative involves building a new bridge between Jews of different backgrounds. This bridge is being created between members of Temple Beth Tikvah and members of Zemer HaZayit. This relationship will likely be the first of its kind between a reform temple in the United States and a modern orthodox synagogue in Israel. It will establish a bond between two wonderful Jewish communities that are religiously diverse and located on opposite ends of the globe.
Temple Beth Tikvah has already dedicated a building in honor of Rabbi Asa—the Asa Center for Lifelong Jewish Learning—while Zemer HaZayit is constructing and dedicating a synagogue building in Rabbi Asa’s memory. These two congregations have chosen to honor Rabbi Haim Asa not only through a physical building, but by forging a relationship that will embody the values which he cherished.
This relationship was spearheaded by the first Rabbi Haim Asa Memorial Lecture which took place on April 26, 2015, at Temple Beth Tikvah. This lecture was titled, “Building Bridges: Moving Beyond Denominational Judaism” and was presented by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat. Rabbi Riskin is wholeheartedly supportive of this initiative and also works to create links between Jews of different backgrounds.
Additional plans are underway to strengthen the relationship between these two communities. Zemer HaZayit Congregation has already made people-to-people connections with several members of Temple Beth Tikvah by hosting them for Shabbat and holidays during their visits to Israel. Zemer HaZayit looks forward to welcoming many more visitors from Temple Beth Tikvah to its vibrant community.
As Gary Steinberg, a member of Temple Beth Tikvah, summarized, “From the moment we walked into the sanctuary of Zemer HaZayit on Shabbat morning, the welcome and warmth from the congregation was simply amazing. The entire congregation made us feel like we belonged and were part of the community and not just visitors from California. We were ‘Mishpocheh.’ My wife Beverly and I were overwhelmed with such a fulfilling Jewish experience. We can’t wait to return to see the progress of the new synagogue. Rabbi Haim Asa would be so proud.”
To learn more about Zemer HaZayit and to contribute toward Rabbi Asa’s legacy, visit www.buildzemerhazayit.org.