A Patriarch of Mexico City’s Jewish Community Models Commitment to Lifelong Learning

In May, Don Alfredo Achar Tussie, a significant business leader and lifelong advocate for the Mexican Jewish community, received one of the country’s highest academic honors.
August 31, 2023
Don Alfredo Achar Tussie stands atop a high rise in Mexico City, where he has served as an advocate for the local Jewish community for decades. Photo courtesy of Joseph Harari.

When discussing his education, Don Alfredo Achar Tussie likes to tell his friends and family, “I studied at the university of life.”

In May, Achar, a significant business leader and lifelong advocate for the Mexican Jewish community, received one of the country’s highest academic honors.

This time, it wasn’t from the university of life.

Achar, 82, was awarded an honorary doctorate from Anáhuac University. The university recognized Achar for promoting socially responsible business practices, advocating for the end of poverty and supporting the Mexican Jewish population.

During a ceremony at the university’s campus, Achar received a standing ovation as he approached the stage. He used his moment in the spotlight to impart onto the audience some of the many lessons he’s learned across his decades of experience in business and philanthropy.

Surrounded by his family, Don Alfredo Achar Tussie is awarded an honorary doctorate degree at Anáhuac University in recognition of his work as a business leader and philanthropist. Photo courtesy of Marcos Achar.

“I need to send a message to young people…The most important thing is education,” he said. “An education provides us with the tools to face the challenges that we will find in life. Remember that education represents the greatest value and is the key to personal and professional growth.”

For Achar, learning has been a lifelong process. Educational opportunities were scarce during his childhood. He attended only a few years of elementary school; at age 13, he went to work. He cleaned shelves and swept floors but had a vision of something greater.

In 1953, Achar’s older brothers established the company COMEX, a painting and hardware brand based in Mexico City. Achar would spend decades growing COMEX, establishing locations around Mexico and employing nearly 3,000 people. He served as the head of several departments and eventually as chief executive and executive president. COMEX operates a concession model that now has some 750 store owners across the country—employing approximately 13,000 individuals.

Even as COMEX grew into one of Mexico’s largest companies, Achar remained focused on more than just the bottom line. “For me, owning a successful business would not make sense if it were not accompanied by social justice,” said Achar in his acceptance speech.

Committed to advancing social development in Mexico and Latin America, Achar formed social programs that incentivized the creation of small businesses and supported young people in continuing their studies. In 1995, Achar led a group of entrepreneurs to found PRO Empleo Productive Foundation to combat unemployment in Mexico. The Foundation has helped more than 18,000 people with finding employment.

“I have always thought that Mexico has such a diversity of problems that it is impossible for the government alone to solve them. To find solutions, it is essential that organized civil society participate alongside the government in solving the country’s greatest shortcomings,” he said.

Throughout his distinguished career, Achar and his wife Paz Levy have also been advocates for Mexico’s Jewish community.

Mexico contains the 14th largest Jewish population in the world. An estimated 45,000 Jews live across the country, and Mexico City—the largest city in North America—is home to a thriving Jewish community. Visitors can come across synagogues and Jewish community centers while strolling the antique streets of the city’s Polanco and Colonia Roma neighborhoods. In fact, Mexico City voters recently elected the city’s first Jewish mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

Achar and his family have played a significant role—across generations—in the development of this community.

In the early 20th century, Achar’s family immigrated to Mexico City from Syria as part of a wave of Jewish migration from the tumult of the late Ottoman Empire to safety in Latin America. The Mexican Jewish community today includes Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Levantine Jews. Achar, who is Sephardic, is among the first generation of 20th-century Jewish immigrants to be born in Mexico.

As the youngest of 11 siblings, Achar is called “the glue that keeps the whole family together,” by his grandson, Alfredo Amkie. He is also the glue, said Amkie, of Mexico City’s Jewish community.

For decades, Achar has served in leadership positions within Jewish organizations and sought ways to advocate for Jews across Mexico. In the 1990s, Achar served as the president of the Central Committee of the Jewish Community of Mexico.  In 1997, he founded Activa A.C. Foundation in the wake of Mexico’s economic crisis. The foundation advised members of the Jewish community on how to find jobs and improve their careers.

Achar’s family has taken inspiration from his service to his community and to the Jewish people.

Achar travels often to Los Angeles, which is where his grandson, filmmaker Alfredo Achar, now lives.

“My grandfather is a force of nature, one of my biggest inspirations,” said Achar’s grandson. “At 82, he still has that spark and boundless energy, and so much to share and teach others. He has always given me and his whole family his utmost and unconditional support.”

“Mr. Achar’s extensive knowledge is priceless,” said his nephew, Joseph Harari, in an interview with the Jewish Journal. “He communicates this with simplicity and humility. His remarkable and unexpected sense of humor makes the time spent with him an absolute pleasure, so does his gratitude towards life.”

Gratitude was a theme Achar emphasized repeatedly in his acceptance speech at Anáhuac University.

“Always remember that success is not only about money and fame, but also about finding happiness,” said Achar in his speech. “That is something only you can define for yourself. So, follow your dreams and study everything you can. Work very hard and remember that everything is possible if you dream it.”

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