March 10, 2005
Bringing Synagogue to Life
Conservative synagogues need to be reinvigorated, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary said. While Jewish education and teacher training are dynamic and strong, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch said, many of the movement's best and brightest are "often off at Orthodox shuls."
Schorsch made the comments in an address Sunday at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in Houston, a spokeswoman for the movement's rabbinic arm told JTA.
Much of the substance "in our shuls is geared toward 'entry-level' Jews and not 'advanced' Jews," he said. And while these "advanced" Jews remain intellectually Conservative, he added, they have trouble finding satisfaction at Conservative shuls. Schorsch suggested several remedies, among them that the movement must become more entrepreneurial and should reaffirm the validity of halachic boundaries. Citing both Chabad and the Reform movement, Schorsch said that American Jews are hungry for charismatic leadership and new ideas.
Pro-Israel Official Named to U.N. Post
President Bush nominated a tough U.N. critic with a strong pro-Israel record as its ambassador to the international organization. John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since 2001, has called on the United Nations to take tougher stances against Iranian and North Korean nuclear proliferation.
Nazi Scandal Helps Bring University President Down
The president of the University of Colorado resigned, in part over a scandal in which a professor compared Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi leader. Betsy Hoffman said Tuesday she would resign effective June 30. Hoffman has been embroiled in a controversy over Ward Churchill, the professor who has compared some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to Adolf Eichmann. Hoffman's announcement came as Colorado also faces ongoing pressure over the alleged use of sex, alcohol and drugs in recruiting football players.
Dean of Jewish Life Dies
Philanthropist, Zionist and fundraiser extraordinaire, Max Fisher devoted his life to those in need gave hope to millions of people around the world. Fisher died in his suburban Detroit home on March 3. He was 96. Nearly 1,300 people paid tribute to Fisher during a funeral service on Sunday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Mich.
Superlatives were routinely used to describe Fisher's power and leadership in the American Jewish community. Hours after his death, e-mail messages made the rounds of major Jewish organizations and activists to alert them of the death of a man who not only led many major Jewish organizations but also exercised enormous political power, personally advising Republican presidents for nearly half a century.
Fisher was born in Pittsburgh on July 15, 1908 to Russian immigrants. The family soon moved to Salem, Ohio, where Max was one of the few Jews in town. He attended Ohio State University on a football scholarship; he played linebacker. Fisher earned his wealth in oil and real estate. Last year, Forbes valued his fortune at $775 million. The magazine ranked him at 383 on its list of the 400 richest people in America. He was also the oldest.
Fisher helped finance the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Max M. Fisher Music Center, known as "The Max." But Jewish philanthropy was his main charitable mission.
Even as much of the Jewish community struggled to emerge from the shadow of an immigrant culture, and often was excluded from elite society, Fisher already had made it.
None other than the son of Henry Ford, known for his anti-Semitic beliefs, became one of Fisher's best friends – and eventually a major contributor to Detroit's Jewish federation, said Joel Tauber, a Detroit resident and friend of Fisher's for 40 years.
"He was the leading Jew in North America," said Tauber, noting that Fisher at different times led the Jewish Agency for Israel, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and the United Israel Appeal.
After the Holocaust and the storms surrounding Israel's creation, he, Fisher and others were hungry to rush to Israel's aid, Tauber said.
"When anything involved Israel or the safety of Jews, we were like fire horses. We heard the bell, and we ran," he said.
A defining moment in Fisher's life came in a meeting with former President Eisenhower in 1965. As head of the UJA at the time, Fisher met Eisenhower to ask him to address the UJA on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. But during that meeting, he learned he would change history.
Eisenhower told Fisher he regretted forcing Israel out of the Sinai when he was president during the 1956 Arab-Israeli War.
"Max, if I had a Jewish adviser working for me, I doubt I would have handled the situation the same way," Eisenhower is quoted as saying in Fisher's biography, "Quiet Diplomat," written by Peter Golden.
"That's the day that Max figured out what he was going to do. He wanted to be that adviser," Golden told JTA in a phone interview.
American presidents and secretaries of state wanted to talk to him because he was talking to the Israeli players, and Israeli prime ministers worked with him because he was speaking with American leaders.
Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said he met with Fisher frequently, and worked with him to help organize a "soft landing" for Israel's inflated economy in the 1980s.
Shultz remembered Fisher leading a delegation of 100 American entrepreneurs to Israel to consider buying Israeli products and locating factories there.
"Max could always get an audience because everyone respected him so much," Shultz said. "You didn't think of him as a guy who was lobbying for you, you thought of him as a guy who was helping you."
"The State of Israel has lost a true friend, who was one of its greatest supporters," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in his Cabinet meeting Sunday.
"To a large degree, it is due to Max Fisher's activism that approximately 1 million new immigrants came to Israel from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s," he said, referring to Fisher's work to prioritize aliyah for the Jewish Agency for Israel after the fall of the iron curtain.
Those close to Fisher speak in near-mythic terms of his humility and his ability to mentor and lead communities – essentially, to speak softly and carry a big stick.
Robert Aronson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, where Fisher served several years as president, said: "He was the ultimate leader."
Fisher is survived by his wife, Marjorie; 14 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.