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My late father-in-law, Shalom Baruch, Sam Fisher

My father-in-law, Shalom Baruch, Sam Fisher, passed away this Sunday, 9th Nisan 5772, 1st April 2012. He was a well known communal personality in Australia where he lived for many years until returning to Israel in 1991. Though he was involved in the community, and loved by all who knew him, here in Yerushalayim, most who knew him did not know his and my mother-in-law's, story.

Last week, Rabbi Berel Wein honoured my parents-in-law at a dinner to launch his latest film. For the dinner brochure, we wrote the following piece.

He is already sorely missed by his family and friends and we are consoled in the fulfilling communal life he lived.

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Joan Marks was born in Sydney, in 1927, to first generation Australian-born parents. Her father's family had arrived to Sydney in the 1890's from Poland, via a short stay in England. Her mother's family came to Melbourne from Eretz Yisrael in 1900. They originated in Russia, coming on aliya to Rishon Letzion, where they spent some ten years. Life in Israel during the last decade of the 19th century was fraught with difficulties, and after much travail, including the loss of a child to disease, they moved on to Australia. In an ironic twist of fate, today, a vast majority of their descendants, numbering in excess of eighty souls including many sabras, again live in Israel, fulfilling the original ideological vision to leave Russia and to live a vibrant Jewish life in the land of their forefathers.

Sam Fisher was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1924, to parents who were members of local Hassidic families, Ger and Yablin. In order to avoid Polish army service, his father left Poland six months after his wedding, making his way to Australia. Sam was born in Warsaw a few months later, his father not being present at his first-born son's brit. It took his father some three years to accumulate sufficient funds to bring his wife and son, whom he had not yet met, to Australia.

Just before his tenth birthday, Sam and his family made aliya to Israel, joining members of his father's family, who together with their rebbe, had come to found a new yishuv, which became Kfar Hassidim. Sam tells many funny stories of the city hassidim learning to farm the earth of the holy land.

Unfortunately the family's sojourn in Israel was not successful. The thirties were very difficult economically and, experiencing financial difficulties, Sam's father again took leave of his wife, now with two sons, to once more try his luck in Australia. As before, it took him some two years to earn enough money to bring his family. As a result, Sam's father was not present at his bar mitzvah in Kfar Hassidim. Sam was fifteen when he arrived back in Sydney.

In May 1950 Joan and Sam were married at Sydney's Great Synagogue. Finally Sam's father was able to attend one of his son's smachot, but sadly this was short-lived as he passed away prematurely six months later, aged 45.

Shortly after their marriage, Joan and Sam heard about a move to start a local Jewish school. At that time there were not yet any Jewish Day Schools in Sydney, just after-school classes. Joan suggested to Sam that they should work towards this important project, proposing that he join the board of management.

The rest is history. The new school was called Moriah College. At the brit of their first born son, Jeffrey, money was collected towards this endeavour. The school opened in 1953, soon after, with 26 pupils mostly the children of newly arrived holocaust survivors.

The school was a great success. Today its student body numbers over 1,800. The project also spawned the founding of other Jewish day schools in Sydney.

Sam held many different positions on the school's Board, including Honorary Treasurer, Honorary Secretary, Vice-President and in 1975, he was elected President. By that time the school had grown to almost 600 pupils. Over the following nine years, as the school's president, Sam dedicated himself to its expansion, including the acquisition of properties adjacent to the school's campus, and in building up the Jewish religious content in the curriculum.

In early 1980, in the presence of Lord Rabbi Jacobowitz, Sam announced that the school's enrollment had passed the 1,000th student, and that no Jewish child in Sydney would now be denied a Jewish education.

The school continued to grow during Sam's record presidency. He successfully negotiated with the N.S.W. State Government to acquire a former government hospital site for building a new school campus. This was a coup of immense proportions and enabled the school to expand, now housing all grades from pre-school to matriculation, on the one site. Sam ended his presidency with a before unheard of Capital Appeal to fund the new buildings.

In December 1990 Sam was key in setting up a new organisation, the N.S.W. Kashrut Authority. Using his superlative negotiating skills, he succeeded in bringing together Rabbinic and lay leaders into the new organisation, combining the Sydney Beth Din with the kashrut authorities. And Sam became the inaugural chairman.

In 1970 Sam joined the Chevra Kadisha, being elected its vice-president a year later. He served in this position for 21 years.

Sam also served on the board of management of Sydney's Central Synagogue. He was elected president in 1989 and served in that position for two years.

In addition to his rich communal life, Sam ran a very successful manufacturing business, employing some fifty people, some of whom remained with him for over thirty years. He was continually recognised by the trade unions as a true friend of his employees, applying some very innovative ideas which enhanced the workplace for the workers and at the same time maintaining a successful enterprise.

In the 1982 Queens Birthday Honours List, Sam was awarded the very prestigious Membership of the Order of Australia (AM), granted for years of service to the Jewish and general communities. It is interesting to note that the person who recommended Sam for this honour was none other than the premier of the State.

Once in Israel, as could be expected, Sam joined the board of Beit Knesset haNasi. For a period of time he served as its treasurer. Currently he is the gabbai of the daily early minyan.

In all the years of Sam's communal work, Joan was his ideal partner in every ideological aspect. She was his research assistant, adviser and secretary. In the early years, she was also his speech writer. Joan was very involved in the "Parents & Friends Association" of Moriah College as well as in other communal organizations. Their residence was a home away from home for many overseas visitors to the Sydney Jewish community, from rabbis to seminar counselors.

To Sam and Joan, their four children are a delight and infallible in their eyes† - they are caring, hardworking, ethical, shomer shabbat - what more could parents want. They, together with their spouses, have given them many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Their oldest son, Jeffrey, came on aliya in 1980 with his late wife, Louise. In 2003 he married Shlomith Harris, whose parents had come on aliya in 1951.

In 1983, the Fisher's only daughter, Jillian and her husband, Menachem Kuchar, made aliya with their two sons aged three and one. Subsequently four sabras were added to their family.

In 1985 Warren made aliya. In the same year he married Noga Brachman, originally from Fort Worth, Texas.

Lindsay, the youngest Fisher son, made aliya in 1991, marrying Rachel Landau, who made aliya from New York at around the same time.

In 1991, Joan and Sam followed their four children in also settling in Israel. They were missed by their Australian family, especially at Rosh haShana and Pesach when both sets of families would join the Fishers for the yom tov meals.

In 1993, Joan joined the wonderful volunteers of Yad Sarah. The traffic jam on Rechov Hanevi'im was her work place until Yad Sarah moved to its new premises on Herzl Boulevard. For many years, Joan drove people to and from the Yad Sarah moadon a number of times a week. She still drives needing people on an ad hoc basis.

In 1994, she started volunteering at the Audiology Department of Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem. She still works there on a weekly basis. Every newborn baby at the hospital is given a hearing test. It is Joan's job to enter this data into the hospital computer.

For the last 15 years, Joan has been driving for Melabev and for the last 8 years, she has also been driving a deaf and blind lady across Jerusalem to the swimming for the blind in Kiryat Moshe.

3rd April, 2012    

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