Remembering Sam Fisher – this was a man

April 30, 2012 by  
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A Shloshim service has been held in Sydney to honour the memory of Sam Fisher, the former president of both Moriah College and Central Synagogue.

Sam Fisher

In his address at the service held at Moriah College, Robert Goot, himself a past president said:

“There could be no more fitting location for this shloshim service in memory of our dear Sam Fisher, than Moriah College. While Sam Fisher’s leadership, his conviction, character and his gentle manner, touched many organizations within the Jewish community, it was his leadership of Moriah College that, in a real sense, represented his greatest achievement and his strongest legacy.

As the Australian Jewish Times editorialised on 31 May 1984, after Sam had signed the lease of the Queens Park site for Moriah College:

Not just Moriah College but the entire Jewish day school movement and the community itself, owes Mr Fisher gratitude…Moriah’s qualities as one of the most vital centres of Jewish life in Sydney, perhaps drew from Mr Fisher some of his qualities of leadership. Yet ultimately it will be Sam Fisher who leaves his stamp on Moriah and, in his own way, on Sydney’s future.

Sam Fisher’s contribution was indeed “extraordinary” – that is the word that appears on the plaque adjacent to the Sam Fisher Walk over which we passed on our way here this afternoon, dedicated in 2002 on the welcome initiative of Carl Reid.

It must be said at the outset that Sam’s extraordinary achievements in so many areas of our community, were also the achievements of Joan his wife of 62 years and his total and wholehearted partner in every aspect of his endeavours. As Sam himself publicly acknowledged it was “Joan’s tireless efforts, devotion and encouragement that enabled me to devote my time and energies” and to succeed as he did. Our thoughts are with Joan in Yerushalayim now.

Sam Fisher’s Moriah years spanned more than five decades, commencing with his election to the Board in 1952, with amongst others Max Naumberger. They joined another Moriah veteran Shya Redelman, who had been elected to the Board in 1947. And it is wonderful to see Sam’s fellow Moriah pioneers, Max and Shya, here this afternoon.  Sam was an Honorary Treasurer, Honorary  Secretary and Vice President of the College. He became a Trustee of the College in 1974 and from 1979 to 1984 was its 2nd longest serving President, a term exceeded only by Abraham Rabinovitz. Sam remained active in Moriah until his retirement as a Trustee of the College in 2005.

Moriah in 1952, was a vastly different institution to the Moriah we know today. And whilst many people contributed to making it the great school that Moriah has become, I doubt that any one individual’s contribution can match that of Sam’s.

Sam was totally dedicated to Chinuch in its fullest sense and he wanted Moriah to excel as a school of Jewish education and Jewish and Zionist life. He wanted pupils and went to unusual lengths to get them. Suzanne Rutland in “The Moriah Story”, describes the Sam Fisher car pool of the 1950s which consisted of Sam sending a black hire car to collect pupils (including one Willy Lederman), from North Bondi, to bring them to Vivian Street.

He wanted a strong  “cap and gown orthodox Jewish principal” and in 1964, with Shya Redelman who was then the President of the College, he was instrumental in employing Harold Nagley; in 1979, under Sam’s Presidency the College employed a local “capped and gowned” orthodox Jewish principal – Lionel Link who was to preside with great accomplishment over the significant expansion of the College for the next 10 years; he wanted strong Jewish studies staff and in 1966 he persuaded Harold Nagley to employ Max Lemberg; he wanted a school song and in 1982 the Moriah College song was performed for the first time at the opening of the rebuilt KDPS; and he wanted the College to have its own Rabbi and again under Sam’s Presidency, in 1984, the College employed Rabbi Ayre Leib Solomon, who most unfortunately is unwell and to whom we wish a speedy refuah shelemach.

Sam Fisher presided over a 50% increase in enrolments, one of the greatest expansions in Moriah’s history – from 600 pupils when he became President in 1975 to about 980 pupils, when he resigned from the Presidency in 1984.

He was responsible for the massive expansion of the land the College occupied – the acquisition of the Nolan properties in Vivian Street, Foster Avenue and Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill in 1977, leading to major additions to the Vivian Street campus; the acquisition of 70-72 Dover Road, Rose Bay in the late 1970s and the subsequent rebuilding of KDPS and, in 1983, obtaining a lease for 40 years from the NSW Government, of the TAFE site in Blake Street, Dover Heights.

The signing of the Dover Heights lease was the culmination of a quiet, confidential and consistent campaign that Sam commenced in 1979 and with the help of others both within and outside his Executive, skillfully and tenaciously masterminded, until the decision of the Government was announced in November 1982 culminating in the signing of the lease in March 1983.

The grant to Moriah of the lease of the Dover Heights TAFE site, unleashed an unprecedented and concerted public campaign against Moriah and the NSW Government, orchestrated by the Teachers Federation led by its President Max Taylor. Sam met with Taylor on a number of occasions and notwithstanding their complete antithesis to each other’s stance on the TAFE site issue, after meeting him, Max Taylor forever sang Sam’s praises as an honourable and decent man.

At the height of the campaign in November 2003, the Premier Neville Wran told Sam and his colleagues that the Government had 3 options:  break the lease; persuade Moriah to withdraw; or fulfill its obligations. Sam was resolute that the Government should fulfill its obligations and that Moriah would “tough it out”, even if that meant crossing union picket lines to get staff and students onto the site.

 

Given that Moriah and the union were implacably opposed, Neville Wran had to find a way out. There were more meetings but no progress. Sam was not going to let the Government off the hook and did not back down. He was adamant  and persistent.

His persistence and tenacity paid off when, on 17 November 1983, without any prior notice, Sam was summonsed to a meeting with Premier Neville Wran. He went alone and once ushered into Wran’s office was shown a map of the Eastern Suburbs Hospital site at Queens Park and told that if Moriah agreed to surrender its 40 year lease of the Dover Heights TAFE site, the Government would grant Moriah an 80 year lease of 6 acres at Queens Park.

As Suzanne Rutland records, Sam was “overwhelmed and elated”, but wanted to consult his Executive.  The Premier told Sam that there was no time because he was going to announce the decision publicly at 6.00 pm that day. Sam had no alternative but to agree and heard the public announcement on his car radio as he drove home to attend a meeting of his Executive and others, who wisely and wholeheartedly endorsed his momentous decision.

It is difficult to appreciate the enormity of the challenge that the Moriah Board, its Executive and in particular Sam, faced over the Dover Heights saga and the Government’s testing of the College’s resolve.

In its editorial – “Moriah’s Man of the Moment”, published on 31 May 1984, the Australian Jewish Times observed, with absolute accuracy, that the enormous achievement for Moriah and Sydney Jewry

“…owed much to Sam Fisher’s style of leadership as the quiet achiever “who was a master of dealing with people, motivating them and encouraging them. His calm warm manner, absolute integrity, determination, commitment to the Moriah vision and the ability to draw on the counsel of others …were without doubt the factors which led to the successful conclusion of the Queens Park saga.”

For Sam Fisher the signing of the Queens Park lease was the culmination of his hard work  and signal service to Moriah College. He noted at the 1984 Moriah AGM, that: “In the long term the Queens Park site would prove much more suited to the needs of Moriah College and the Jewish community of which the College is a major part.” How true those words turned out to be. Sam achieved a consolation prize that was better than the original prize. Small wonder that the Australian Jewish Times headlined: “Moriah reaps the fruit of One Man’s Dedication.”

 

Sam Fisher resigned the Presidency of Moriah College in May 1984 to be succeeded by his Vice President Robert Simons. Sam was elected as a Life Patron in May 1989. He was a trusted mentor to those who followed him as President, giving sage and considered advice whenever it was sought.

 

However, Moriah was not the only Jewish organization which reaped the fruit of Sam’s dedication and on which he left his mark. Sam served: as a trustee of Mt Zion Preschool; as a Board member of Central Synagogue from 1956-7 and again from  1967-1972; as the Chair of the Education Committee of Central Synagogue’s Hebrew Education Centre; and as the President of Central Synagogue from 1987-8.

Sam joined   the Sydney Chevra Kadisha in 1970 and served as its Vice President for 21 years from 1971.

In 1990, Sam became the inaugural Chairman of the NSW Kashruth Association having earlier played a pivotal role in its formation, through  the amalgamation of the Beth Din and the Yeshiva kashruth bodies.

Sam was awarded membership of the Order of Australia in 1982 for services to the Jewish community. In 1992 Sam and Joan made aliyah, setting up home in Yerushalayim on Rehov Diskin. Their apartment became a well traveled and much loved destination for family, friends and large numbers of visiting Australians.

While for Sam, Moriah College was out of sight in Yerushaylim, it was never out of mind.  He would always enquire about the College, its progress, the difficulties that it faced and its plans for the future. I well recall his and Joan’s great pride when in December last year just a few short months ago, they attended, as honoured guests, the Jerusalem concert  of the Moriah College Touring Band.

Sam Fisher’s achievements for the Sydney Jewish community are more than any one person could be expected to achieve in a lifetime.

But it is not just his achievements that we respect and honour today.

It is equally the manner in which he made his indelible mark on our community and his qualities as a man, of great love for his dear wife Joan, their children and grandchildren and his brothers Jack and Mark and their families.

It is also the caring, compassionate, charitable, humble and decent man of warmth, kindness and, above all, integrity, who new his responsibilities and encouraged others to play their part.

Indeed, William Shakespeare may have had Sam Fisher in mind when he wrote:

 

His life was gentle

And the elements so mixed in him

That nature might stand up and say

This was a man.”

Robert Goot was president of Moriah College between 1989 and 1996.

Comments

2 Responses to “Remembering Sam Fisher – this was a man”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    How wonderful to publicly acknowledge the achievements of his wife of 62years.
    What is the saying?
    Behind every good man is a good woman.

  2. Benseon Apple says:

    A brilliant eulogy for a brilliant man.

    Tehi Zichro Baruch – may his memory be a blessing.

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