Ayala Zacks Abramov, z"l, Remembered

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rabbi Michael Marmur, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs, writes:

Ayala Zacks Abramov, the grande dame of Israeli art and one of the College-Institute's Israeli benefactors, has died at the age of 99. The Jerusalem where she was born was still part of the Ottoman Empire, and it is remarkable to consider how much has happened in the century which followed, and what remarkable roles Ayala played in the course of her life.

After her childhood in Jerusalem, Ayala Ben Tovim found her way to Europe, studying in London and Paris. In 1938 she married Maurice Fleg, son of one of the great Jewish figures of modern French history, Edmond Fleg. Maurice died action in the first phase of the Second World War. After a traumatic period including the loss of a baby in childbirth, the newly widowed Ayala Fleg made her way to the French Resistance, and thence to British Intelligence. At her funeral we learned that in 1943 she had been undercover in Munich posing as a French woman.

In the years between the end of the war and the establishment of the State, Ayala played a key role in the clandestine efforts to allow refugees from Europe to come to Palestine. The next phase of her life brought Ayala to Canada, where together with her second husband Sam Zacks she became one of the outstanding art collectors of the twentieth century.

Widowed for a second time, Ayala Zacks returned to Israel in the early 1970s, and a few years later married S. Zalman Abramov, a leading lawyer and politician. It was at this time that the Abramovs became highly active in a number of cultural institutions in Israel: she has had an immense impact on the culture of modern Israel. This was also the time when they became involved in the Jerusalem school of HUC-JIR. Zalman was to become the Chair of the Jerusalem Board of Overseers, and following his death in 1997 Ayala maintained her enthusiastic support for the College-Institute. For several years many of the most eminent intellectuals and political figures addressed an annual symposium in Zalman Abramov's memory in our Abramov Library on the Jerusalem school. As Ayala's health failed in latter years, S. Zalman Abramov's grandson Edli Dollar continued to represent the family in its connection with the College-Institute.

Ayala Ben Tovim – Fleg – Zacks – Abramov was a truly remarkable woman by any criterion. She had impeccable taste, enormous generosity of spirit and a strong will. Her hospitality and gracious support of the College-Institute has set a benchmark for Israeli support. The late HUC-JIR President Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, z”l,  and HUC-JIR Vice President Dr. Paul Steinberg, z”l, would often visit with her, as did Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman and Rabbi David Ellenson,. My own family was privileged to spend time with Ayala over several years.

The Zacks-Abramov residence on Diskin Street is a fabulous penthouse apartment with a 360 degree view of Jerusalem, housing a stupendous collection of modern art. My wife Sarah and I visited her at the apartment when our children were very young, and I have a strong recollection of them dodging between works by Picasso, Delaunay, Dufy and Brancusi. Ayala maintained her extraordinary calm and poise throughout the experience, although we parents were less calm!

We mourn the passing and celebrate the life of one of Israel's most outstanding cultural figures, and a great friend of the College-Institute. And we celebrate one of the great lives of the twentieth century. She is interred next to her parents and siblings, and also next to her third husband, on the Mount of Olives. Appropriately, having lived at an address with a stunning view of the city, her body rests on a mountain overlooking eternity. We will miss her.

Please click here for the Jerusalem Post’s obituary for Ayala Zacks Abramov.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu