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Ady Assabi, rabbi: born Tel Aviv 29 March 1947; ordained rabbi 1971; married 1967 Yael Marcus (died 1983; two sons); died Netanya, Israel 15 June 2003. When George Steiner accepted the Börne Prize last month in Frankfurt, he gave a vivid picture of the Jew as a guest, a wandering voice of conscience in today's world. "I am convinced that this quasi-absurd survival and the continuance of living on of the Jews has a meaning," he said: Because the Jew was always driven away, because he was nowhere at home, because his only true home was a text, the Torah, the Jewper definitionem is a guest upon this earth, a guest among all the people. It is his task to serve humanity as an example, as a model of this situation. As a rabbi, Ady Assabi lived in the Bible. It was his homeland and, as he was born in Israel, it was his language. Why, then, did he wander the world, driven from land to land? Perhaps it was his family heritage. He was the last of a family very much involved in the life of German Jewry. Much of his family did not survive the Holocaust. His grandmother, aunt and other relations died in the death camps. His father had moved to Israel, where Ady was born in 1947. He was shocked when his father returned to Germany after Ady's 14th birthday. Rebelling against that decision, he moved back to Israel and attended school there. Something brought him back to Germany, to study. He wanted to be a witness, to speak to the few Jews, the many Germans. Throughout his life, he possessed an almost child-like innocence, blending a powerful charismatic personality with the awareness of being an outsider. He believed in the possibility of change within others, within a world which would not accept him on his own terms. He made too many demands upon that world and also upon himself. When he came to London to study for the Rabbinate at the Leo Baeck College, he was its youngest student. Viewed as "a brand plucked from the fire", he was sent back to Germany after his ordination in 1971. Even as a student, his rabbinic work at the Middlesex New Synagogue in London had convinced teenagers to strive for the rabbinate (Rabbi Jonathan Romain still thinks of him as an abiding influence in his life). And he became a guest in a world that was not ready for his sometimes discordant message. Assabi had felt a sense of obligation to return to the Jewish community in Germany. It proved too difficult for his fiery temper. Nevertheless, as the Landesrabbiner of Nordrhein-Westfalen, he served seven small congregations until he and his wife, Yael, could return to Israel. Yael, a beautiful and rare woman, had a career as an attorney in Israel; but their ways parted; she died of cancer, still young. His wanderings continued, and he went to South Africa, to Johannesburg, where, once again, he played a charismatic, often controversial role as the rabbi of a community under siege in that troubled land. In the process, he first enlarged and then divided the Reform community. Again, torn between his various worlds, he decided to return to Berlin, where his father had been a bar mitzvah in the Rykestrasse Synagogue. It was a renewed assertion of his German roots. His new Israeli partner was Shoshana Breiner, a gifted artist. They built a house in Israel. Ill with a brain tumour and undergoing radiation therapy, Assabi forced himself to serve as a Liberal rabbi within the Berlin Oranienburger Synagogue. But he died in Israel (where he had returned in search of a nursing home for his aged father), still a guest in the eyes of the establishment, but a legend to those who had come to see the hidden aspects of greatness. Rabbi Assabi participated in the writings of liturgies within the various communities in which he served (the Shalom Independent Synagogue in Johannesburg still uses the prayer book, Chadesh Yamenu, which he wrote in 1995), and had almost completed a PhD dissertation on the topic of Judaism and thanatology. However, it is likely that his true impact will be as a troubled, wandering and often lonely voice in the world. He made those he encountered uncomfortable and could turn a community from friends into enemies - in part because they could not follow his visions. He never changed. During that same address in Frankfurt, George Steiner reminded his German audience: The Baal Shem, the founder and master of Hassidism, was right when he taught that "truth is always in exile", that "the truth must continually wander on". It is the duty of the Jew to fight against the barbarism of nationalism, against chauvinism, against racial persecution. It is the duty of the Jew to prove that it is interesting to live anywhere in this world, to work and, above all, to learn.
FORMER JOHANNESBURG RABBI DIES IN ISRAEL SAPA (South African Press Association) (Note his dissertation topic towards the bottom of the obit-- doubly on-topic)
Rabbi Ady Assabi, formerly of the Shalom Independent Congregation and the Imanu-Shalom Congregation in Johannesburg, has died in Israel at the age of 56. Assabi is remembered in the South African Jewish community as a religious leader marked by controversy. Even now, he remains highly controversial, particularly in Reformed congregations, and talk of his role here continues to elicit great emotion. Dana Kaplan, a United States Jewish studies academic, has described Assabi as the central figure in the "terribly destructive" split in what was the country's largest Progressive congregation, Imanu-Shalom in Johannesburg, about 10 years ago. Assabi's move at the time from the Reform movement to an affiliation with the Conservative movement, had precipitated a struggle within the congregation which ended in a bitter battle and a civil court case. Much of this did not feature in non-Jewish public life, except for the court case, though it has been rekindled with news of his early death, of cancer, as former members of his congregations again try to assess the life and work of a teacher and scholar who featured large in Jewish Reformed community life. Assabi was also a member of the South African Law Commission, vice-president of the South African Zionist Federation, and president of the Democratic Zionist Federation. His curriculum vitae of the time describes him as an anti-apartheid activist. In the early 1980s, in Israel, he was a peace movement activist -- with Shalom Achshav and Yesh G'vul, among others -- when he worked as a journalist and editor of Kol Natanyah and Rechov Rashi, a chain of local newspapers. It was when he was at Temple Shalom that the newly-released Nelson Mandela was invited to a Friday night service -- an event which senior research fellow Steve Friedman of the Centre for Policy Studies, described on Thursday as "highly unusual". Approached for comment, Friedman said: "At the time, Rabbi Assabi was politically unorthodox. He taught a form of Judaism which was consistent with the values of the new South Africa, and enabled us to engage constructively with the transition in the country." Unattributed -- by request -- remarks about Assabi after his death are of him being remembered as "progressive and humane", and as a "brilliant teacher" of the traditions of Judaism to modern Jews. On the controversy surrounding Assabi even after his death, it was said that it had "less to do with the question of Madiba (Nelson Mandela) and Assabi's role in the period of transition in the country than with his role in internal progressive politics". At the time of his death, Assabi was working in Berlin, Germany, but his home was in Israel, where he spent two weeks a month. His younger son, Yaron Assabi, the CEO of Digital Mall Holding in Johannesburg, said on Thursday his father died on June 15 after a diagnosis of brain tumours were made in January. Yaron Assabi said his father worked at a Progressive Jewish congregation in Berlin, the Berlin Oranienburger Synagogue, where he had established a number of initiatives and was preparing to lecture on anti-semitism at a university when he died. Assabi was born in Israel in March 1947, but his life had its origins in German Jewry, in Berlin, and much of his family died in the Holocaust. His wife, Yael Marcus, died in 1983. In an obituary on Thursday (June 26) in London's The Independent, Rabbi Albert Friedlander described Assabi as having played a "charismatic, often controversial role as the rabbi of a community under siege in that troubled land. In the process, he first enlarged and then divided the Reform community". Friedlander described Assabi as having been a troubled, wandering, often lonely voice in the world, who was a legend to those who had come to see the hidden aspects of greatness, but with the ability to make "those he encountered uncomfortable, and (he) could turn a community from friends into enemies". Assabi also wrote liturgies, and the Shalom Independent Synagogue still uses the prayer book, Chadesh Yamenu, which he wrote in 1995, Friedlander wrote. At the time of his death, Assabi had almost completed a PhD dissertation on the topic of Judaism and thanatology (the scientific study of death, and practices related to it). (Ady Assabi, rabbi: born Tel Aviv 29 March 1947; ordained rabbi 1971; married 1967 Yael Marcus (died 1983; two sons); died Netanya, Israel 15 June 2003.) Sapa 06/26/03 21-16 C=100