On October 20, the Kansai area lost a faithful friend. Leslie Brezak, professor of English at Nishinomiya's Shukugawa Gakuin University, was a native of Brooklyn, New York, who lived in Japan for "thurdy two yiz," A dedicated and flamboyant educator, Leslie discarded theory "and taught from the heart." I once stood in awe and envy as his students acclaimed him "the greatest teacher of all time."
We will remember Leslie for his kindness as well as his endurance. Shortly after marriage, his wife Kyoko became sick, and began a lifelong struggle with the ups and downs of cancer. An uncompromising nurse, Leslie was constantly at her side. When Kyoko finally succumbed in 2003, Leslie talked of visiting Lhasa, Tibet. Six weeks later, the travel plans were abruptly thwarted when he himself was diagnosed with advanced abdominal cancer. He underwent surgery, began chemotherapy, and with indomitable strength, struggled and fought each and every day.
Apart from teaching, Leslie's other love was the Jewish Community of Kansai and its synagogue, Ohel Shelomo--of which he was always the shadow president. He left his Kyoto home and beloved Japan for the last time in early September, and passed away at his sister's home in New Jersey, surrounded by his mother, sons Jun and Ryoji, and companion Tomoko. Leslie's devotion and professionalism will continue to inspire his friends and colleagues, and his star will perpetually shine in the thousands of students touched by his enthusiasm, his love.
Michael H. Fox
Expatriates in Japan have to balance their native identities with the demands of a different culture, shedding and retaining parts of themselves while absorbing aspects of a new society. It is a demanding task, carried out succesfully by relatively few people. Leslie Brezak, a long-time resident of Kyoto who passed away on October 19 at the age of 60, navigated this route with rare style and grace.
Leslie had spent the last seventeen years in a dual struggle with cancer. His wife Kyoko succumbed after fourteen years of fighting breast-cancer and less than three months after she died, Leslie was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and immediately hospitalized. It was a cruel twist of fate but as usual, Leslie acted in a manner that only garnered admiration.
Leslie, "from the great state of Brooklyn New York, "was an avid Dodger fan during his youth. He loved maps, and throughout the 1960s and 1970s he traveled extensively throughout the world, especially Asia. He developed a love of people, stories, languages, jokes, and adventure. Not only could Leslie tell a great story, but he was also a great listener.
He settled in Kyoto in 1974, at age 29, living in front of the mountain Daimonji. Later, asked why he stayed in Japan, came the answer "I met a pretty girl and that’s all she wrote."
Professor of English at Shukugawa Women’s College in Nishinomiya for 27 years, his real specialty was communication. His main concern was students’ well being and there was no one who had a finer touch at bringing out the best in each and every one.
Blessed with an ability to make everybody feel important and loved, he drew admiration for the love and devotion he showered upon his wife Kyoko during the many years of her various illnesses. Those who knew Leslie were always in awe of the great compassion, patience, and care he gave to Kyoko.
Apart from his work, Leslie's other love was the Jewish Community of Kansai, and its synagogue Ohel Shlomo. His favorite biblical quote was the prophet Micha (6:8): Act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly in the shadow of the lord.” He lived his life according to these simple precepts, and touched everyone he met with love and kindness.
A truly fine man has moved on. He will be greatly missed by all who had the great fortune to know him.