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April 08, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-08

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Sam and Ofra Fisher are the
innovators behind two local agencies


Special to The Jewish News


painting of Lake Kin-
neret hangs above the
fireplace in Sam and
Ofra Fisher's West
Bloomfield con-
dominium. Ofra says she thinks of
home often — Israel, that is — and
worries about a nephew who is doing
army service on the West Bank.
But if home is where the heart is,
it is also where one's husband is. And
for Ofra Fisher, her husband Sam's
appointment as executive director of
the Fresh Air Society means putting
a busy life in Israel on hold for at least
the next few years.
And though Ofra may have blown
into Detroit on the winds of her hus-
band's successful career, it looks as if
she'll head back to Israel on the crest
of her own. The 49-year-old sabra who,
just a few short months ago was hit-
ting the pavement in search of work,
today is putting her education and ad-
ministrative background to use as ac-
ting director of the United Hebrew
When Dr. Gerald Teller left his
position as director of UHS last
August after an eight-year tenure, the
school system was plagued by declin-
ing enrollment and staff morale
According to Ofra Fisher, who
took over as acting director in
November, UHS's problems were
caused by a lack of leadership and the
trend of Jewish families to move to
the northwest suburbs. She is confi-
dent, however, that UHS can over-
come these trends.
In January, the UHS Board
unanimously approved a new cur-
riculum developed by Fisher and to be
implemented in September. "The
most changes will be made in the
high school," she explains, "because
that is what I feel has been the
weakest link."
The UHS system consists of a
nursery school, elementary branches,
the Community Jewish High School
and the Midrasha College for adult


Emmy APRII R 1988

years to produce. It contains actual
footage taken from newsreels, inter-
views and narration.
Fisher purchased all 19 segments,
and has worked with her staff to
create teaching aids for use with the
program. The additional material ex-
plains names, dates and events that
American students may not
"The main idea here is to make
it relevant to today's world," says
Fisher. The first segment deals with
anti-Semitism in French newspapers.
"You can look in the paper today, with
the coverage of the Arab-Israeli situa-
tion, and see the same thing?'
Other planned changes include a
community service elective where
students will study the history of the
American Jewish community and do
social service work, a Sunday class for
families who want to study Judaism
together, and a senior-year study pro-
. gram in Israel. Fisher also wants to
add a Hebrew ulpan for students who
want to improve their conversational
Hebrew, and a class conducted entire-
ly in Hebrew for those who already
speak well.
"Nobody is pretending to be a
magician here — hocus-pocus, next
year everyone will be an expert in
Judaism. But I believe that students
who go through the four-year pro-
gram will have a lot of knowledge,
and that's what I want."
Fisher is proud that all UHS
teachers must be certified In educa-
tion, something which is not required
at all area religious schools. And UHS
is also considering a name-change, to
something more reflective of its func-
tion as a community resource for
other Jewish schools and for students
of all ages.
"My job as director and the job of
the board of directors is to make sure
that we go forward and not dwell on
what was," she says. "No one promis-
ed that education is easy, but I think
we prepare them for life, and life is
not easy?'
At the same time, she believes
— Pillars of Fire.
Originally created for Israeli that Jewish education must leave an
television, the program took five emotional impression on the minds of

There are 135 students registered
in the high school, but it has been
plagued by declining attendance. The
merger of Beth Shalom's high school
program with the UHS high school
this year has not reversed the
"In the curriculum now;' says
Fisher, "they're being taught a little
bit of many things and they're walk-
ing away with nothing. I would prefer
to give them less subjects on a more
serious level."
Fisher's plan involves implemen-
ting a set curriculum for each grade
which builds on itself each year.
Students would then use the previous
year's lessons as background for
learning the current year's material.
One thing about which UHS'
greatly disturbed Fisher is the lack of
special programming. "Last year,
there were only two special programs
the entire year. So this year already
we've brought in (Natan) Sharansky,
Leonid Feldman, Yael Dyan and the
Rev. James Lyons (who is active in
teaching Holocaust awareness). What
we're trying to do is to bring every
Jewish personality, writer, leader or
politician who comes to Detroit to the
high school.
"I am a great believer in role
models," she says, "and experiences
the kids have listening to role models
in all areas of life create the emotions
that will remain with them. These
are the people who I want them to
look up to, and I think this is what we
have to do in order to build future
Jewish leadership.
"I really think that at this age
you have to combine formal education
with informal — not to have fun all
the time, because that's not getting a
serious Jewish education, but to show
them that learning can be enjoyable?'
One of Fisher's pet projects is
teaching the history of Zionism and
the rise of the modern state of Israel.
She is utilizing an Israeli-made
documentary translated into English

students in order for it to be truly ef-
fective. "It's our job to give them the
taste (of Judaism). The sweeter we
make it, the better off we'll be."
hen Detroit's Fresh Air
Society was founded in
1903, it declared its pur-
pose to be "to provide happy vacations
in wholesome, outdoor surroundings
for as many campers as possible . . ."
"My feeling when I came here:'
says Sam Fisher, "was that the agen-
cy was very strong when you talk
about camping and camping skills,
but very weak from a Judaic stand-
point. Our goal is to integrate both
camping and Judaism in a way that
is non-threatening, positive, and in a
way which the staff and the clientele
can feel comfortable?'
One example of the Judaically-
oriented approach to camping was the
now-closed Tamarack Adventure
Center. Housed in the old Chatham
supermarket next to the Tel-Twelve
Mall in Southfield, it was created to
bring outdoor programming indoors
during the winter.
"There was nothing Judaic about
it," says Fisher. But in December, "it
was decorated for Chanukah, the kids
made driedels and menorahs, and
there were Jewish quiz activities. So
it shows that you can integrate
Judaism in a non-threatening way."
For Tu b'Shevat, the Fresh Air
Society sent its full-time naturalists
to local Jewish schools to present an
audio-visual program based on Dr.
Suess' story The Lorax. Designed to
educate children about the impor-
tance of trees both here and in Israel
and about what the Torah has to say
about trees, the program also includ-
ed a presentation about Tamarack
Camps. "The program established
something very important in the
agency and sent a message to the
community. That is, we're not only a
place where Jewish kids can come
and have fun, we are an institute for
information Jewish education as
well;' Fisher says.
The FAS recently hired three Or-
thodox mashgichim to supervise the


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