There is one anecdote about Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman zt'l that perhaps embodies his entire character. After serving as a pulpit rabbi in Tulsa, Okla., for 10 years, he accepted a position in Ottawa, Canada, as the spiritual leader of five congregations. When a congregant was hesitant to let him go, he offered Fasman a share in his oil reserve that today has proved to be worth more than $1 million. Fasman refused the offer saying, "I studied those years in yeshiva because I wanted to serve the Jewish community. In Tulsa, I served 180 families. In Ottawa, I would be serving 800 families."
"In the long run, he became the richest man because of what he has done with the Yeshiva and his family," says Rabbi Dr. Jerold Isenberg, chancellor of the Hebrew Theological College (HTC), a partnership agency of JUF/JF. "How many can claim the depth and impact he has had?"
When Fasman died on Nov. 24 at age 95, he left behind a legacy of community contributions, leadership positions and generations of descendents. At the time of his retirement in 1998, his career in the rabbinate spanned 69 years and included 16 years as a pulpit rabbi in Tulsa and Ottawa, 18 years as the head of HTC and nearly 3 1/2 decades as the spiritual leader of Congregation Yehuda Moshe in Lincolnwood. He was 90 years old when he stepped down from his last position.
Fasman first came to the Yeshiva as a student and was in the college's third graduating class in 1929. After receiving ordination, he remained for a year to learn Torah. He liked to say he was the first kollel member in America because before he went to Tulsa, he sat and learned when there was no such thing in America, says Isenberg.
When Fasman returned to the Yeshiva as its second president, he oversaw the move to its current location in Skokie from the West Side, the conversion to a full day program and the creation of the high school and kollel programs. In 1981 HTC permanently linked Fasman's name to the high school.
After leaving his post at HTC, Fasman founded Congregation Yehuda Moshe by knocking on people's doors in the surrounding area. He worked tirelessly for the synagogue he started from scratch as he attracted some 100 families, oversaw two building renovations and built a community mikvah. He put the shul on the map, says current rabbi, Joel Gutstein.
Fasman additionally contributed to the Chicago Jewish community as a leader in the Chicago Rabbinical Council, the Associated Talmud Torahs, the Chicago Zionist Federation, the Religious Zionists of Chicago and the Jewish Federation.
Among all of his colleagues in his many roles, Fasman was known as a unifying force.
Harvey Well, superintendent of Associated Talmud Torahs, says, He believed in the concept of loving and relating to all Jews, and even though he was firm in his religious convictions he was able to cross boundaries. He was a cohesive voice for our board because everyone held him in the highest esteem. His stature demanded that everybody came together.
Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says, The depth of his knowledge about all matters Jewish and his love of the Jewish people will be deeply missed. His scholarly achievements only begin to describe all that he accomplished during his lifetime and the lasting impact he had on our Chicago Jewish community. He was a gentle man with strong convictions who was able to be inclusive in enabling others to achieve their goals.
For those who knew Fasman well, it was evident that among all of his accomplishments, his family was his utmost source of pride. His greatest joy was the fact that he and his wife raised four outstanding bnai Torah who are devoted educators and communal leaders," says Isenberg.
In an interview with a JUF News reporter at the time of Fasman's retirement, his oldest son, Rabbi Chaim Fasman, explained the reason all of the elder's descendents are so dedicated to Torah values. "We grew up in a house where both my father and mother, of blessed memory, were dedicated to community service. That was the concern, talk, and goal of our household."
It was in order to be closer to his family that Fasman spent his last years in Los Angeles after his retirement. His wife, Jeanette, died in 1985. He is survived by four children, 15 grandchildren, 52 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.