DEAN OF AMERICAN JEWRY
Max Fisher subscribes to the notion that "Israel exists so Jews may exist."
Jewish Renaissance Media
were struggling to build a Jewish homeland, but also
about the moral requirement of charity, a lesson that
was not lost on her son. -
Yet in 1954, as Fisher toured Israel, he was horrified
by the living conditions. Across the arid hills, he saw
200,000 Jewish immigrants huddled under makeshift
tents, - reminding him of the shantytowns that had
sprung up across America in the Depression. There
were few jobs, scant medical care, food and water
always seemed in short supply, and there was no
peace for Israelis with their Arab neighbors.
The other members of the United Jewish Appeal
mission elected Fisher to represent their group at a
talk with Israeli leaders. At this point in his business
career, Fisher had become one of the most successful
independent oilmen in the United States, recognized
for his ability to find creative solutions to knotty
problems. So upon meeting Finance Minister Levi
Eshkol, Fisher suggested what he viewed as a logical
stopgap measure for solving some of the fledgling
country's economic woes.
"Because you're short on money," Fisher asked,
"wouldn't it make sense for Israel to shut down
immigration for a while?"
In retrospect, Fisher says that Eshkol, who would
later serve as prime minister, taught him "the great-
est lesson I would ever learn about Zionism."
Still, the overarching challenges faced by the
Jewish state went beyond the financial to the politi-
cal — the place Israel would have in the world.
Eleven years would pass before Fisher would figure
out how he could help with that problem.
ax M. Fisher has a wonderful collection
of photographs. There are thousands of
pictures, some dating back to the early
1900s, of family and friends, and of
course the presidents, prime ministers,
secretaries of state, senators, governors, mayors and
assorted industrialists, philanthropists and political
figures the Franklin resident has befriended over his
By 1965, Fisher had merged his Aurora Gasoline
Many of the photos are inscribed with greetings
Co. with Ohio Oil. With the freedom to pursue
and expressions of gratitude. Every Republican presi-
other interests, he had become a renowned philan-
dent since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and some
thropist supporting both Jewish and nonsectarian
Democratic occupants of the Oval Office are in the
causes, and entered Republican Party politics, help-
collection, and all of the Israeli prime ministers
ing George W. Romney win the governorship of
beginning with David Ben-Gurion, who, when
Michigan. In October of 1965, as general chairman
Fisher presented him with a gift for his 80th birth-
of the United Jewish Appeal, he traveled to
day, whispered, "You should come live here."
Gettysburg, Pa., to ask former President Eisenhower
Somewhere in this archive, you will find a black-
to attend a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary
and-white photograph that was taken in October of
of the liberation of the German concentration
1954, an informal shot of five men and one woman
camps and to accept an award for his part in rescu-
standing on a hill overgrown with scrub brush.
ing the remnants of Europe's Jews.
Fisher is standing to the
side, his eyes narrowed
against the sun, a tall man
dressed in a suit and tie
whose broad shoulders
recalled his service on the
gridiron at Ohio State
University in the 1920s.
Along the right edge of the
photo, there is a sign in
Hebrew and English that
reads: "Danger. Frontier
Ahead. No Passage."
The frontier was Jordan,
and this was Fisher's initial
visit to Israel. He had
Fisher with Israeli leader Golder Meir.
Fisher with Israeli leader Menachem Begin.
come on the first United
Max Fisher with Israeli children.
Jewish Appeal study mis-
sion, and though over the
next five decades he would
return countless times, the 1954 visit never left him.
Eshkol's reply was instantaneous. "Every Jew in
After leaving the presidency, Eisenhower retired to the
The founding of Israel was a stunning reality to
Israel remembers how Six Million fellow Jews died
bucolic joys of his farm and passed the hours on the
Fisher, but growing up in the small town of Salem,
under Hitler because they had no place to go. Even if glass-enclosed sun porch, where he could read or paint
Ohio, with few Jewish neighbors, his mother,
you don't give us another dime, no Jew is ever going
or, on occasion, receive visitors. Fisher, upon entering
Mollie, had seen to it that the dream was never far
to add to that Six Million. Israel may go under, but
the house, was directed to the porch. After Fisher pre-
one thing we'll never do: we will never close the
from his mind. An immigrant from a Russian shtetl
sented his proposal, Eisenhower promised that he
gates. _There -has to be an Israel so there can be one
(village), Mollie used to drop coins into her blue-
would make every effort to attend the ceremony.
place in the whole world where Jews may come in —
and-white Jewish National Fund box and encour-
Their talk turned to the Middle East, with
aged Max and his sisters to do the same, thus teach-
any Jew, in any condition — as a matter of right."
Eisenhower recalling the 1956 Suez Crisis. In July of
Then Eshkol added: "Israel exists so Jews may exist."
ing her children not only about the pioneers who
that year, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser