Jaime Achequenze Azkenazy, a beloved member of a Mexico City synagogue, was among the hundreds of victims of the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that devastated Mexico last week.
Azkenazy, 76, was a gabbai (sexton) and community assistant at Maguen David, an Orthodox synagogue in Mexico City. (Previous news reports, which listed his name with an alternate spelling of Haim (Jaime) Ashkenazi, had identified him as a rabbi.) He was also the owner of a textile business located in the city center. He died when that building collapsed in the earthquake on September 19 — one of three deadly and destructive earthquakes in Mexico this month.
At the time of Azkenazy’s death, he was trying to help the less fortunate during the impending High Holidays. Volunteers for the Mexico branch of the emergency response organization ZAKA found his body on Sunday.
“He had just come back with money for the poor for Rosh Hashanah,” said Benjamin Shachnazi, a volunteer for the Israeli rescue and recovery organization ZAKA, in a phone interview in Spanish.
Although an Argentine native and citizen, Azkenazy lived in Mexico for 40 years. He had endured the similarly destructive earthquake in 1985, which resulted in thousands of lives lost and left his business in ruins. However, with help from the community, he was able to reestablish it.
He also founded a family in Mexico, with seven daughters and one son, all of whom are married with children. He is the father-in-law of Mexico’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Tawil, and his son is a rabbi and instructor at Yeshiva Ateret Yosef elementary school.
The volunteers worked through the Jewish new year on Wednesday night and Thursday after receiving religious guidance from Tawil. Jewish law prohibits any form of labor on this and other Jewish festivals, except when lives are endangered. An attempt to contact Tawil by email was unsuccessful, and the Argentine embassy did not return a phone call.
Maguen David is the main synagogue for descendants of Syrian Jews from Aleppo, Shachnazi said. A Yizkor service was held for Azkenazy last Wednesday afternoon. His daughters had initially gathered at his house that same day to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
“There are no words — in the local [Mexican] community, and among Argentinians also,” Shachnazi said.
Azkenazy grew up in the Jewish neighborhood of Once in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. He left Argentina because of deteriorating economic conditions, Shachnazi said. But he never forgot his favorite soccer club, Boca Juniors.
“We would talk about the games and whether they had won,” Shachnazi recalled. “Whoever saw him smile knew that they would continue to be happy in life.”
Daniel Chuburu, the Argentinian ambassador to Mexico, initially announced Azkenazy’s death on Saturday.
But Chuburu withheld Azkenazy’s name at first, as officials had not been able to contact his family due to the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
The Argentine embassy confirmed his identity later that day.
“He lived his life completely for his family and yeshiva,” Shachnazi said.