Hardly Maxed Out
he year hasn't been the best for Max Fisher, the
Jewish state — is not long.
patriarch of Detroit Jewry and a pillar of the
"I'll tell you what I once told George Schultz, the secretary
Jewish people. His beloved Israel is the target of a
of state under President Reagan: "You know, peace is like
Palestinian extermination plot and he's still recu-
entering a long tunnel. When you first get in the tunnel, it's
perating from a broken hip that developed a staph infection.
dark. And you move along and move along, and finally you
At age 95 — with 14 grandchildren and eight great-grand-
see a dim light. And at the end of that dim light, you start
children to dote on — he doesn't need aggravation. But the
seeing some hope — then a period of hope and peace."
father of five is up to the challenge.
He talked about how Iraq and Iran fought an eight-year
The son of Eastern European immigrants, Fisher made a
war in the 1980s but never signed a peace treaty. And he
fortune in oil refining en route to becoming a Zionist, busi-
talked about how Germany and Japan, bitter U.S. enemies
ness magnate, philanthropist, communal leader, diplomat and
during World War II, "turned out to be great friends of ours."
political force. He has advised U.S. presi-
"Israelis are tough," he said. "It may take five years, or 10
dents and Israeli prime ministers on Middle
years, but they'll fight this thing through. They have one
East affairs, helped rejuvenate Detroit and its
strong partner in the United States."
cultural jewels, and led American Jewry's top
He called President George W. Bush a great ally. I just wish
agencies. He was integral in reviving the
the president would unshackle Israel so it could use its superior
Jewish Agency for Israel.
might to stop the slaughter of innocent people caught in the
His fund-raising prowess is the stuff of leg-
crosshairs of terrorism just because they're Jewish.
end. He raised nearly $200 million in private
Max lamented the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe
for Israel within weeks of the last shot in and dismissed the European Union as an enigma for its
ROBERT A. the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
rebuke of Israel.
This week, he was in Washington on
With a wink and a nod, he rightly urged American Jews to
Tuesday to receive a
support Israelis more liberally, even if we disagree with aspects
leadership award from
of the Sharon administration.
the American Israel Public Affairs
"A strong Israel gives strength to the
Committee and in Ann Arbor on
Jewish people, it really does," Max said.
Thursday to visit with former President
"The future for all of us is helped by the
Gerald R. Ford, an old friend and for
alliance that we have and the mutual
whom the University of Michigan's new
support that we give."
public policy school is being named.
g Infighting haunts Israel. But the state
We spoke Sept. 12 in the den of the
remains a beacon for Jews in distress,
sprawling Franklin estate that Max and
especially Russian, Ethiopian and Iraqi
his wife, Marjorie, have called home
since 1957. His resolve is spirited. And
"That's why I say Israel is so neces-
he's still witty, current and engaging in
sary," said Max, who rises above Israel's
political and religious squabbles to
"Feeling OK?" I asked Max, who was
champion the plight of persecuted Jews.
settled in a cushy chair by the window
Ties That Bind
that overlooks Franklin Hills Country
Club. A telephone and a walker were
Max has been part of Israel's inner
within a hand's reach. He looked sporty
circle since the day the state was formed
"The day's not en ded," Max said,
in a blue sweater, gray slacks and a blue
in 1948. He can recite chapter and verse
quoting the close of Peter Golden's
and yellow striped shirt.
Fisher biography, "Quiet Diplomat." from the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars.
"For a young fella, I feel good," he
`As terrible as things are," he said, "we
responded, cracking a big smile before
can't give up. We have to continue the
we launched into a serious discussion.
struggle. The Jewish people have fought
He recounted how he fell in his Palm Beach winter home
for thousands of years for a homeland. Now we have one. It's
last December. Two operations later, he's on the mend. "I had
ours to sustain."
a tough time, but it's healing," he said.
Max had a meager Jewish education in the small, conserva-
"Can we talk a little bit about Israel?" I asked.
tive Qhio town where he grew up. But he was well aware of
"Sure, I know a little bit about that," he answered, grin-
his Jewish identity living in Salem, Ohio. And he has been an
unabashed Detroiter since coming here in 1930 to join his
A power broker yet humble, he came to know and consult
father William's oil recycling business.
with many of Israel's major political and military figures; in
Max is a secular Jew, but his love for Judaism is legion. As
Max, they saw the Diaspora's unofficial envoy.
we bounced from topics like Israel's security to day school
tuition to intermarriage, I figured he had to have a Rosh
Stand With Israel
Hashanah message worth sharing with Jewish Detroit.
With the Jewish state battling nearly 36 months of
And he did.
Palestinian-led terror that has killed at least 870 Israelis and
"We have to battle the problems that we have," he said. "It
foreigners, maimed or wounded thousands more and left the
won't be easy. But if we believe in Judaism, in our history as a
Israeli economy in tatters, I wondered if Max thought peace
people through all these years, we'll fight to preserve it
in the biblical heartland was possible.
because it means something."
"Oh, sure," he said with such certainty that it took me by
Without missing a beat, he added, "We'll fight to preserve
it to instill in our youth the feeling and the spirit and the joy
In the course of history, he said, 55 years — the age of the
of Judaism." H
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