Remembering Sam Fisher

April 3, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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R
abbi Jeremy Lawrence spoke at the minyan for Sam Fisher…a legendary leader within Sydney’s Jewish community who recently passed away in Jerusalem…

Sam Fisher

Rabbi Lawrence told J-Wire that although he had never met Sam Fisher his brother Jack, president of the Jewish Cemetery Trust, is one of his congregants whom he has known for seven years. He said that Jack Fisher continually spoke of his brother “with reverence and admiration”.

Rabbi Lawrence said:

“Sam Fisher was born in Warsaw on 24 May 1924. His mother was Feige Gittel and his father Israel Joseph. They were part of the poor strictly orthodox community from Lask which was not far from Lodz.

His father came ahead to Australia, a land of greater opportunity with Sam and his mother following when he was three years old. When he was 10 they moved to Kfar Chassidim in old Palestine, to join his grandmother after his grandfather passed away.

They arrived in January 1935 after a four-week voyage by sea to Colombo, through the Suez Canal to port side and train to Haifa. He had to master Hebrew to manage at school and became adept at the study of Mishna and Gomorrah as well as secular studies. Everyone worked hard on the religious farm, really a world away from the stetl where so many of them had started their lives. He was one of the earliest members of the Bnei Akiva movement, enjoying Shabbat afternoons as a break from study and manual work. At the age of 15 he was well aware of the tensions in Europe and the increasing unrest in Palestine. He learned to operate a Morse code machine for the Haggana. He would remember the hardship of having only one shirt, washed each week for Shabbat; no refrigerators or electricity; food cooked on a primus stove.

It was into this environment that Jack was born. After three years, unable to see a future in Kfar Chassidim, their father returned to Australia, leaving Feige, Sam and Jack behind. They followed in 1939. It was in Australia that their youngest brother, Mark was born. Sam had to relearn his English and return to night school. He worked as a sales assistant in a second hand store selling suitcases while studying for an accountancy certificate. He progressed to a position in Warn and Josephson, which he kept through the war. In 1945 he became production manager in a company producing the first metal torches in Australia and in 1948 he set up a business with his Uncle – remaining in partnership with him all the way through to his passing in 1970. He was married to Joan Marks at The Great Synagogue on 30th May 1950. Their children are Jeffrey, Warren, Jillian and Lindsay. His interest in their Jewish education led Sam to become involved in the embryonic Moriah College. He became very close to its founder, Abraham Isaac Rabinovitch, joining the board in 1953. Over the decades he held the key offices of Honorary Treasurer, Honorary Secretary, Vice President in 1973 and President in 1975. He noted the irony that he was the President of a high school but had never attended one himself. Sam devoted his time to the school, with Joan, an active partner. Her involvement was the parents and friends association.

Sam’s initiative saw, inter alia, the acquisition of the Queens Park Campus. As well as Moriah Sam was committed to the education committee and Board of Central Synagogue in the 60s – which he left to focus on Moriah, returning by request as President in 1987 and serving with great distinction. He also went on to follow his uncle’s footsteps as Vice President of the Chevra Kadisha. He presided over the JCA, he was a JP, a long standing Mason of high rank.

His unification and rationalisation of NSW Kashrut is a lasting and cherished legacy that remains to the benefit of us all. In 1982 he was awarded an AM for services rendered to the community, particularly in the field of education. When he finally returned to Israel 20 years ago, in fulfilment of his destiny and a dream he had come a very long way from the stetl or the one shirt farmboy on Kfar Chassidim. Sam was like a father to Jack – who has always spoken of him with admiration and as the backbone of their family. “I can’t find enough accolades” he says. Their father died when Jack was only 14 so Sam was the father figure. It was Sam who gave him away at his wedding to Ros. Jack describes him as a highly professional, a conscientious and successful man who was always community minded. He was loved by everybody. He commanded respect but people sought him out. They would come to Sam with a bottle of scotch and he would give them advice – hoping that they were not too pie eyed to remember it in the morning. Family Yom Tov celebrations were memorable, says Pam. They would all dine together on 2nd night Yom Tov. With Sam as an officer in Central, Jack at the Great and Mark at the North Shore they were able to compare and dissect all the droshas. Both in Australia and in Israel he would be a keen and hospitable uncle, keeping up with all the family and their news.

With acknowledgement to Craig Levy whose Hans Kimmel project provided a great deal of historical information

He was also always able to enjoy a giggle and a laugh. He had insight and wisdom, says Richard, and though a true leader, he didn’t seek the limelight. He was a religious man in the true sense, committed to Jewish living, education and Israel. His commitment to Jewish learning never wavered – he attended shiurim with regularity till a couple of weeks ago. He was a valued regular at the President shul in Jerusalem and the recently held a dinner in honour of his contribution. He was a man of faith. Jack is certain that it has been Sam’s prayers that have sustained him and other family members through illnesses and hard times. We extend our condolences to Joan, Jeffrey, Warren, Jillian and Lindsay, his 21 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren; also to Jack and Mark and their families. May we cherish his memory by incorporating Torah into all our conversations – recognising the chance to teach and learn from everyone. That is how communities are built and nurtured. And Sam showed us the way. ”

John Hamey, the acting college prinicpal of Moriah College added: “Benjamin E Mays, a civil activist in the US in the early 20th century, says the following of goals: ‘the tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no real goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach.’

With the passing of Mr Sam Fisher AM on Sunday, the College remembers and celebrates a man who, as Moriah College President for nine years (1975-1984), Life Patron and Trustee, gave the College ‘stars’ to reach for, an ‘ideal to capture’ and a vision. Mr Fisher oversaw one of the most significant periods of growth in the College as well as serving on the Board of Central Synagogue and in 1971 and 1972 was Chairman of the Education Committee of its Hebrew Education Centre. As President of Moriah, he also served on the Council of Presidents of the New South Wales Jewish Communal Appeal. In 1970, he joined the Chevra Kadisha and in 1971 was elected as its Vice-President, serving in this position for the ensuing 21 years. In 1987 he was elected President of Central Synagogue and served for two terms. In December 1990, Sam Fisher became the inaugural chairman of the New South Wales Kashrut Authority, having played a major role in its formation which combined for the first time the Beth Din and Yeshiva Kashrut Authorities. He served in this position until he and his wife Joan settled in Israel in August 1992. In the 1982 Queen’s Birthday Honours List he was awarded the Australia Medal for Services to the Jewish Community.

However, he must also be remembered for the fine man he was. As noted in ‘The Moriah Story’ by Dr Suzanne Rutland;

‘Apart from his hard work and dedication, he had a warm and caring nature and in all his dealings he demonstrated both tact and compassion. His quiet but firm approach won him great respect.’

Iconic figures such as Sam Fisher need to be remembered and acknowledged by us for what we participate in and enjoy today is very much part of their legacy. Such men and women have shaped and influenced what we stand for as a College and give rise to what it is we hope to achieve in the future. In the coming weeks the College community will commemorate Sam Fisher’s legacy in a manner befitting of his status and significant contribution to the success of Moriah College.

May his family and friends find comfort amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

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