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The Dash Between: Abe Assily helped generations see the world

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Abe Assily, who founded A.B.E. Travel Agency in Elyria in 1981, earned a reputation for finding ideal trips for his clients, keeping them within budget and knowing more details about their destination than could be found in travel brochures.

“He himself traveled so much that he could give us firsthand information on questions we asked,” said Betty Bergman-Camp, who traveled the world under Abe’s guidance for more than 30 years.

African safaris, Australian fishing trips, Caribbean cruises, train trips through the Canadian Rockies, tours of Europe or Asia, excursions to Florida. Just name the destination of your choice, and Abe deftly created an itinerary.

More photos below.

The Elyria resident was still making travel arrangements until April 18, 2010, when he died of a heart attack at age 65.

“Maps and pictures of different foreign countries made you think, ‘Oh! I hope we can go there!' " Bergman-Camp said. “We got so close to Abe, we were like family. And we share the same birthday.”

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas.

Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between May 14, 1944, when Abe Assily was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and April 18, 2010, when the A.B.E. Travel Agency founder died of a heart attack at his home in Elyria at age 65.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Read more:

Both of them were in Egypt one year, celebrating their common birthday on a Nile River cruise ship, when Abe crossed the dining room to Bergman-Camp’s table and said, “Happy birthday. Come on. Let’s dance.”

He grabbed a white napkin, handed her another and waved his napkin, beckoning to the crowd to join them in a conga line. Within a few minutes, nearly everyone in the room followed the birthday pair as they snaked their way through the room to the music.

“We were all dancing and waving our napkins!” Bergman-Camp said.

Abe, a Catholic, was born Ibrahim Y. Assily in Jerusalem, Palestine, on May 14, 1944, four years before state of Israel was created.

His father, Yusuf, owned a hardware store in Jerusalem, helped invent molding for pipes used in residential plumbing and sold goods he acquired in the Philippines.

Yusuf and his brothers, who were wealthy for the times, built a 4-story house in Jerusalem. But the Assily family was forced to evacuate their home and their country in 1949.

The Assilys lived as refugees in Alexandria, Egypt, for a brief time before returning to their homeland, but they never got their house back.

“My dad, coming from the background he had, couldn’t understand why a group of people would dislocate people,” said Abe’s daughter Rania. “The people living there were Jews, Christians and Muslims. So many people were left homeless.”

Although Abe was an advocate for the rights of Palestinian people, he had lots of Jewish friends, including Harvey Gittler, who sought Abe’s travel services for corporations and for his own family.

“What really cemented our relationship: He was Palestinian, and I’m Jewish,” Gittler said. “We demonstrated to the Elyria community that Jews and Palestinians could work together.”

Local media contacted Abe for comments whenever attempts at making peace in the Middle East were in the news. During one such peace pact, Abe told a reporter, “There is nothing better than peace. (Even if) this is just one little drop in the bucket, at least it’s a start.”

He was around 12 when his father died of blood poisoning. His mother, Shafia, who finished raising Abe and his older sister, Diana, would later follow Abe to Elyria, where she died in 1986.

Abe attended St. John Baptiste-de-LaSalle High School in Jerusalem and what is now Birzeit University on the West Bank, Palestine.

He worked for Pan American Airlines in Beruit, Lebanon, and other travel agencies before coming to America. He immigrated to Boston in 1967 to work for the Thomas Cook travel agency.

In 1968, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. While there, he became an American citizen. After that, he was assigned to the 44th Medical Brigade and worked at military field hospitals in Vietnam.

He returned to Boston and the Thomas Cook agency after the war. Through that company, Abe met Chuck Lawson, who owned Travel Mart in Elyria. Lawson asked him to relocate to Elyria and manage his Elyria office in 1973.

The following year, “He wanted to visit his sister and mother in Jordan,” said Abe’s wife, Laila.

His mother told him, “While you’re here, let’s introduce you to some girls.”

About two weeks later on Oct. 13, 1974, Abe and Laila were married at a Greek Catholic church in Amman, Jordan, but Abe returned to Elyria alone. With the precision and care he used as a travel agent, he made arrangements to hasten the processing of Laila’s immigration papers.

Two months later, she joined him in Elyria where they went on to raise their four children: Lani, Rania, Lara and Joseph.

My father had the best sense of humor, and he loved telling jokes, too,” said daughter Lara. “Growing up, he would keep a list of them in his pocket. And after dinner, to keep the family at the table longer, he would slip his hand into his pocket and share his jokes. Even if we missed the punch line, it was his facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements that made the jokes hilarious!”

Abe often reminded his son, “I have not made one mistake in my life. I have zero regrets. Why? Because there is a reason for everything. Don't worry about your problems now. You are a mere dot in this universe. Life goes on.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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