Jews Thought to Control Politics at University of Michigan

Nothing like some good old fashioned anti-Semitism to start the day!

From Today’s Michigan Daily newspaper:

Ethnic remarks stir MSA elections

By Donn M. Fresard, Daily News Editor
March 17, 2005

Students reacted with varying degrees of concern after the campaign manager of a party running in next week’s Michigan Student Assembly elections questioned whether it is appropriate that the leading presidential candidates for MSA and LSA Student Government are both Jewish.

Carl Pogoncheff, campaign manager for the Maize Rage Party, brought up as a concern during an endorsement interview on Monday with The Michigan Daily’s editorial board that Jesse Levine and Andrew Yahkind, the Students 4 Michigan Party presidential candidates for MSA and LSA-SG respectively, were “from the same fraternity and ethnic background.”

When asked to clarify, Pogoncheff said Levine and Yahkind are both “white and Jewish.”

All six of the Maize Rage Party’s candidates for MSA are white.

The Maize Rage Party is an offshoot of the Maize Rage basketball fan group, composed of some of the fan group’s members but not directly controlled by its leadership.

Ryan Shinska, head of the Maize Rage fan group, said he does not support Pogoncheff’s comments but continues to support the Maize Rage Party’s campaign.“Carl shouldn’t have said that,” Shinska said. “He let his emotions get the best of him in that situation, and obviously I don’t support that, but I support Carl, and I support what the guy does and what kind of person he is.”

“Obviously I don’t agree that what he said was a classy and dignified thing to say, but people make mistakes,” Shinska added.

Monica Woll, chair of Hillel’s governing board, called Pogoncheff’s comments “absurd.”“If the two presidential candidates were of any other background, I don’t know if questions would arise,” Woll said.

Levine took issue with Pogoncheff’s comments.“Making judgments about people solely based on their ethnic backgrounds shows a lack of understanding and character, and insults the entire University of Michigan campus,” Levine said.

Brian Chrzanowski, MSA presidential candidate for the Maize Rage Party, said Pogoncheff did not intend to specifically target Levine and Yahkind for their religion.

Defend Affirmative Action Party MSA presidential candidate Kate Stenvig could not be reached for comment.Although the Athletic Department has ties with the Maize Rage fan group — students receive free Maize Rage T-shirts when they buy men’s basketball season tickets — the department does not support any political party in student elections, said Athletic Department spokesman Bruce Madej.

“This is the first I’ve even heard that they have a political group,” Madej said.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

So much for the Michigan Daily’s prediction that the vote would be FOR Divestment from Israel!

By Jeremy Davidson, Daily Staff Reporter
March 16, 2005

Hundreds of anxious students and local community members filled an emotionally charged Michigan Union Ballroom last night, when the Michigan Student Assembly soundly defeated a proposal advocating the creation of a committee to examine University investments in companies that do business with Israel.

The overwhelming margin against the resolution — 11 representatives voted in favor, while 25 voted no — came as a surprise to many MSA officials and observers, who had said in the lead up to the vote that they expected a close outcome.

“I felt good with the outcome of the resolution especially given the recent developments in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” said MSA General Counsel Jesse Levine

Although MSA expected a high turnout, scheduling the meeting in the Kuenzel Room of the Union instead of MSA chambers, the turnout was so high that the meeting had to be relocated a second time to the larger ballroom and began an hour and half late.

The animosity and nervous energy in the room was palpable, leading to spontaneous altercations throughout the ballroom and cramped hallways of the Union and causing the Department of Public Safety to remove a heckler during an address by former MSA Vice President Jennifer Nathan. Raucous cheers and applause, as well as numerous parliamentary questions, punctuated the meeting, making it difficult at times for MSA President Jason Mironov to control the large crowd.

Proceedings involved a speaker’s list, with advocates of both sides taking turns voicing their opinion. Speakers included students, University professors and community members.

If passed, the resolution would have instructed the MSA External Relations Committee to send a letter urging the University Board of Regents to create an advisory committee to investigate the moral and ethical implications of the University’s investments in companies that directly support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Opponents of the resolution argued that its effect and intent went beyond merely forming a committee, instead targeting Israel and ultimately seeking divestment from the country. They cited language in the proposal that condemned the state of Israel and pointed to human rights abuses and violations of international law.

After hearing these concerns from Mironov and other members of MSA, MSA representative Matt Hollerbach and other authors of the resolution made a motion to strike every clause but the last three from the resolution, in hopes to find more support for the formation of a committee. With this move, the resolution was eliminated of any direct condemnation of Israel and called for an “advisory committee consisting of members of the University Senate, students, administration and alumni.”

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality president Carmel Salhi emphasized that the resolution called for the formation of a committee to investigate University investments.

“There are investments that many students on this campus find morally and ethnically questionable,” Salhi said.

RC junior Ashwini Hardikar explained that the resolution was not to encourage the University to immediately divest from Israel, but called for an investigation into potential human rights violations.

“It’s not an issue of whether or not you’re pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. It’s a question of whether or not human rights violations have been committed,” Hardikar said.

Other proponents of the resolution echoed these sentiments.

“This resolution is about academic freedom, and the right to know whether the businesses that the University invests in realize international human rights principles and business ethics,” said Nadine Naber, professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies.

But Mironov said that the language of the resolution proposed a verdict before the trial.

“If it were simply a resolution to create a committee, it wouldn’t have 14 clauses condemning the state of Israel,” Mironov said prior to the elimination of 12 clauses.

Opponents of the resolution also complained that it unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation.

While the audience seemed evenly split between both sides, opponents of the resolution were noticeably not sporting their “Stand with Israel” T-shirts, which have generated some controversy. In addition, supporters of the resolution asked Blaine Coleman, a sharp critic of the state of Israel, not to attend the meeting out of a fear that his strong opinions could damage their chances of success.

The result of the vote invoked even more emotion from both supporters and opponents of the resolution.

“You can’t silence this issue any more. We know that this occupation is immoral and unethical, and we won’t be silenced any longer,” said LSA freshman and member of Amnesty International Nafisah Ula.

Vice-chair and co founder of the Israeli Students Organization Ziv Ragowski said he hoped the debates would open up talk between Palestinians and Israelis.

“People are recognizing the (desire) of both nations to move towards peace and to end the bloodshed,” Ragowski said.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Divestment: Here we go again!

Divestment resolution likely to pass

By Donn M. Fresard and Justin Miller, Daily Staff Reporters
March 15, 2005

A resolution supporting divestment from Israel appears to havea reasonable chance of passing in tonight’s Michigan Student Assembly meeting, several top MSA officials said yesterday.

The resolution, which attacks the Israeli military’s practices toward the Palestinians as “reprehensible” and “unjustifiable” in 14 paragraphs leading up to its conclusion, would urge the University Board of Regents to create an “advisory committee to investigate the moral and ethical implications” of the University’s $11,000,000 worth of investments in companies that do business with Israel.

As of 3 a.m. this morning, a vote count by The Michigan Daily found that MSA representatives who knew how they would vote were almost evenly divided between supporting and opposing the resolution. MSA officials said a similar late-night tally, conducted by assembly officials, yielded roughly the same results.

The student government at the University’s Dearborn campus passed a similar resolution last month, and the student government at the Flint campus is also expected to take up the issue tomorrow.

In an unusual move last night, MSA President Jason Mironov came out against the resolution before the vote. While its supporters claim the resolution merely suggests that a committee explore the issue, Mironov condemned it as disingenuous, saying it presents only the anti-Israel side of the argument.

“Ninety-five percent of the document condemns the state of Israel, and 5 percent calls for the creation of a committee,” Mironov said. “The resolution puts the verdict before the trial.”

Jesse Levine, student general counsel of MSA and the Students 4 Michigan presidential candidate for next week’s MSA elections, echoed Mironov’s statements, saying the timing of the resolution ignores the recent progress made in the peace process and that such a resolution “doesn’t necessarily make sense right now.”

Today’s vote is expected to draw the largest turnout of MSA representatives and constituents of any MSA meeting this year. The meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., has been relocated from the MSA chambers to the Michigan Union’s Kuenzel Room to accommodate the anticipated crowd.

A resolution supporting divestment from Israel was last brought before MSA in April 2003, but that resolution was pulled by its sponsors before it could be voted on because of an apparent lack of support in the general assembly.

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality President Carmel Salhi said the resolution to be presented today will have a better chance of success.

“If the proper information is given and the resolution is presented in its true light, I think it has a very good chance at succeeding,” Salhi said.

Rachel Snyder, co-chair of American Movement for Israel, said the resolution would damage the relationship between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups on campus.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t pass, and I know there’s a big constituency of students that hope it won’t pass,” Snyder said. “Right now the peace process is going really well, and I know there’s a great amount of support for Israel and Palestine to reach a peaceful resolution on campus. This is not the time to bring up a resolution that brings down one side of the conflict.”

The resolution is supported by SAFE, Muslim Students’ Association, Pakistani Students’ Association, Native American Student Association and several other student groups and faculty members.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Mazel Tov Rabbi Roston!


Large Conservative synagogue names
female rabbi in ‘groundbreaking’ move

By Chanan Tigay

NEW YORK, March 10 (JTA) — Twenty years after the Conservative movement began ordaining women as rabbis, a large New Jersey congregation has chosen a woman to fill its top rabbinic post, a development movement leaders are hailing as “groundbreaking.”
The board of Congregation Beth El in South Orange voted on March 7 to appoint Rabbi Francine Roston, 36, as the synagogue’s spiritual leader.

The shul boasts 575 families.

Once it becomes official — the contract has not yet been finalized — Roston’s appointment as senior rabbi will be the first of a woman to such a post at a Conservative synagogue with more than 500 families.

“We see this as groundbreaking,” said Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s rabbinical arm.

“It’s groundbreaking from the perspective that we have been talking about a glass ceiling, and she has broken that glass ceiling and risen to a much larger congregation than women have risen to until this point,” said, Rank, who is the spiritual leader of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, N.Y.

Roston, who since 1999 has been rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah in New Milford, N.J., will be replacing the synagogue’s longtime rabbi, Jehiel Orenstein, who held the pulpit for some 35 years.

Roston is married and has two children.

“Our feeling was, all things being equal, we would probably have hired a male rabbi — but all things weren’t equal,” said Aaron Nierenberg, co-chair of Beth El’s search committee.

“Rabbi Roston impressed us with her knowledge, sense of energy, sense of humor, warmth. Most specifically, she has a record of achievement. When she sets her mind to doing something, she makes it happen.”

Asked whether the committee views itself as having done something pioneering in hiring Roston, Nierenberg said, “We really don’t see it that way. We really don’t.”

Beth El received 20 applications for the position, and offered 10 of the initial applicants telephone interviews. Of this group, three were women. The list was then narrowed to three finalists, each of whom visited the synagogue for a weekend to lead services, lecture and meet the congregation. Of the final three, only Roston was female.

Women now constitute roughly 11 percent of the nearly 1,600 members of the Rabbinical Assembly.

According to a Conservative movement survey released over the summer, 83 percent of the assembly’s 177 women pulpit rabbis lead congregations of fewer than 250 families, while 17 percent lead shuls of between 250 and 499 families.

By contrast, 27 percent of men lead congregations of less than 250 families, 48 percent lead mid-size congregations and 25 percent lead congregations of more than 500 families.

In 1994, after she served as its assistant rabbi for some four years, Chicago’s Am Yisrael synagogue — which has 500 member families — appointed Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin as its sole rabbi.

At that time, Am Yisrael was the first congregation in the Chicago metropolitan area to be headed by a woman, and, until now, was the largest Conservative congregation in the country to have a woman rabbi at its helm.

“It’s been 20 years now that we’ve had women ordained as rabbis from within our movement and they’ve proven themselves to be extremely capable,” said Rabbi Reuven Hammer, immediate past president of the International Rabbinical Assembly.

“I think we’re reaching a new period of time now when congregations are no longer looking at women rabbis as strange and something that they’re not interested in.”

Still, Roston’s appointment comes as questions about gender equality in the Conservative rabbinate linger.

According to the movement survey released over the summer, Conservative women rabbis are paid less, occupy fewer senior positions and are more likely to be unmarried than their male counterparts.

The Reform movement, which began ordaining women in 1972, has at least 15 women serving in senior rabbinic positions at congregations with 500 or more households as members.

Since 2001, for example, Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman has been senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, a congregation of over 1,900 families.

Rabbi Janet Marder, president of Reform’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, has been the top rabbi at Congregation Beth Am is Los Altos Hills, Calif., a congregation of almost 1,300 households, since 1999. In 1988, Rabbi Emily Lipof was appointed senior rabbi at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, Mass., a congregation of more than 600 families.

Of the twelve largest Reconstructionist congregations in the United States, four have women as their senior rabbis, and one has a female assistant rabbi. These shuls range in size from 1,000 member units at the high end down to 237 members on the smaller side. Twenty-four of the movement’s 106 total synagogues have women as either senior or assistant rabbis.

Roston, for her part, told the New Jersey Jewish News that as a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the 1990s, she did not consider herself a pioneer.

“In rabbinical school, my classmates and I saw ourselves as the second generation,” she said. “We weren’t among the first who broke the doors down in ’84 and ’85, who had been there fighting the battles.”

Still, she added, once she had graduated from JTS in 1998, “we realized that in the Conservative movement, we were the first generation.”

That, she said, was because, though the heated clash over whether or not to ordain women as rabbis roiled the seminary, it hadn’t very deeply affected the movement’s congregations.

But today, Hammer said, women rabbis have left their mark on the movement.

“Once it’s demonstrated that it can work, the opposition to it becomes much lees than it was before — and I think we’ve reached that point,” he said.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

State of Conservative Judaism – Miami Herald

From the Miami Herald

Conservative Jews fleeing to other movements

Associated Press

The branch of American Judaism that occupies the middle ground between those who buck tradition and those who fully embrace it have been confronting the dwindling appeal of their movement in a meeting this week in Houston.

Members of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, at their annual convention, say their seminaries and day schools have been educating more and more Jews, only to see them flee to other Jewish movements.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the leading Conservative school, said the exodus of young Conservative Jews with strong religious educations is a key reason the movement is floundering. “I deem that to be the most critical loss,” he said, in a phone interview from the meeting, titled “Reinventing Conservative Judaism.”

Schorsch partly blames the trend on the poor quality of worship in Conservative synagogues, which he says are so geared toward “entry-level Jews” that those with more religious knowledge leave for the stricter Orthodox congregations. Schorsch says he often worships at an Orthodox synagogue on Friday nights, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, because of the beauty of the service.

“There is really a fatal disconnect,” he said. “There is not enough attention being paid to advanced Jews.”

The Conservative movement teaches a traditional Judaism that is moderately flexible. For example, Conservatives allow members to drive on the Jewish Sabbath if necessary and let men and women sit together during services. However, unlike clergy in the more liberal Reform stream, most Conservative rabbis will not officiate at interfaith weddings. The Orthodox movement has the strictest adherence to Jewish law and tradition.

Conservatives have resisted pressure to liberalize core teachings to prevent less observant Jews from leaving for Reform synagogues, which generally give a greater role to gays and to Gentile spouses of congregants.

Although exact numbers are hard to calculate, Jewish leaders now agree that the Reform movement has overtaken Conservative Judaism as the largest North American branch – in members and in number of synagogues. The total number of Jews in the United States is estimated at between 5 million and 6 million.

However, these are not the losses that preoccupy most Conservative thinkers. Instead, many want to retain the more observant congregants – a strategy they believe will revitalize synagogues.

“If a person decides that they are really not interested in observance, then the Conservative movement is really not the place for them,” said Rabbi Reuven Hammer, a Conservative leader from Israel who attended the Texas meeting. “But sometimes we lose people who become very observant. If we don’t have enough observant people in our congregations, then they will look for a place they will feel more comfortable.”

Jonathan Sarna, an expert on American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the Conservative branch began faltering when it decided to more rigorously define itself, narrowing its appeal. Synagogues that once felt welcome, believed they didn’t fit in anymore and broke away.

Among the issues that drove some out: The movement’s decisions over the last two decades to ordain women and to not ordain gays, although the role of homosexuals is once again under review by the movement’s Law Committee. The Reform movement ordains gays and women, while the Orthodox do not.

“Some left because the Conservative movement wasn’t liberal enough and some left because it was too liberal,” said Sarna, who spoke at the assembly. “The tent has become smaller and smaller.”

Sarna said the Reform and Orthodox movements have succeeded partly because they are tolerant of a spectrum of practices in a way that the Conservative branch is not.

Reform leaders have recently encouraged their members to embrace traditions they once deemed meaningless, such as learning Hebrew and keeping kosher. As a result, a wide range of worship styles can be found in Reform congregations.

The Orthodox stream, which encompasses a small percentage of North American Jews, have successfully played down internal differences, between the more adaptable modern Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox, for example – and have focused on what unites them instead, Sarna said.

Sarna noted that many Conservative-trained leaders have started creative programs that have enjoyed great success – such as small prayer groups that are popular among young people. However, he said these leaders do not affiliate with the movement and he urged the Rabbinical Assembly to honestly consider why.

Said Sarna: “The Conservative movement needs to keep people with those new ideas in the tent, rather than believe in order to make those innovative ideas happen, they need to go outside the tent.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

More energy to Conservative Synagogues – that’s the Ikar!

Written from the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Houston Texas

Below is an article from JTA. I was literally exhausted after listening to Rabbi Sharon Brous speak in a session yesterday here at the convention about her new endeavor called Ikar. She is a talented, dynamic and super-energetic rabbi who is transforming this new spiritual community in Los Angeles. Hadar in NYC and now Ikar in LA… if only we could create such kehillot (communities) between the two coasts!

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 towards ‘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.


(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Kol Hakavod to Dani Wohl

When I helped coach my little brother Jake’s little league baseball team many many years ago, I knew that Dani Wohl was a good athlete, but I just didn’t realize how good!

He’s much older now and has done what very few Jewish kids from West Bloomfield, Michigan get to do in college — start as the point guard for the University of Michigan varsity basketball team.

The Michigan Daily published a great article about Dani today that even quotes his dad Milt (my CPA!). With Rabbi Danny Nevins in the crowd during one of his final games in a U-M jersey, Dani had 6 steals almost tying the all-time Michigan record (the most for a Wolverine in the past 10 years).

Now Dani will play for the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel. I’m very proud of Dani.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Max will be missed in Michigan and throughout the world

Max Fisher, ‘dean’ of Jewish life,
dies at 96 as community mourns

By Rachel Pomerance

NEW YORK, March 8 (JTA) — A defining moment in the life of Max Fisher, the son of immigrants who became a Jewish icon, came in a meeting with former President Eisenhower in 1965.

As head of the United Jewish Appeal 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.

Fisher, about whom superlatives are routinely used to describe his power and leadership in the American Jewish community, died March 3 at his home in Detroit. He was 96.

He was buried in Detroit on Sunday, with a reported 1,300 people attending the funeral.

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.

“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.

“I dubbed him the ‘dean’ of the community, and he certainly was until his last day,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Howard Rieger, president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, called Fisher a “quintessential Jewish leader and visionary who dominated American Jewish philanthropy for half a century.”

Fisher had been honorary chair of the UJC.

In the world of Jewish volunteer leaders, Max Fisher was a “giant,” Rieger said.

For Jane Sherman, one Fisher’s five children, the outpouring was overwhelming.

“I got a call from Israel. They wanted to bury him on Mt. Herzl,” the site reserved for Israel’s most celebrated heroes, she said. The family declined.

Many Israeli dignitaries called to offer condolences, along with Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Gerald Ford.

“We didn’t only lose a father,” said Sherman, co-chairwoman of the Israel Department of the Jewish Agency. Fisher was the founding chairman of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors.

“He was a role model for us as well as the rest of the world,” she said.

“It’s the end of an era, but he leaves a legacy for everyone and not only Jews,” she said. “The city of Detroit is in mourning.”

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.

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.

“He was the ultimate leader,” said Robert Aronson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, where Fisher served several years as president.

“He taught people that the most important thing you could do, no matter how wealthy or influential you were, was to give back to your community,” Aronson said. “That was his spiritual belief.”

Noting that “people listened to Max,” Aronson said, “I would call him the 800-pound gorilla of the Jewish world. There won’t be another one like him.”

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 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.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres issued a statement on Fisher’s death.

“Max Fisher was living proof that the American Dream was the continent’s reality. From humble beginnings, he created an empire. And as soon as he built his wealth, he began to share it. He lived by the dictum that wealth created should be wealth given away,” Peres said.

The organized Jewish world was never the same after Fisher spearheaded UJA efforts, Peres said.

“Max Fisher was the best sort of leader. He was a leader that nurtured leaders,” he said. “If the Jewish people and Israel are enjoying the commitment of an excellent group of lay leaders, it is thanks to the example of a life of commitment that has been the life of Max Fisher.”

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which Fisher founded in 1985, echoed those sentiments.

“The reason we are here today and the success we are seeing has a direct lineage to the vision he saw many decades ago. When he gave advice, people knew not only that the advice was correct, but there were no other hidden agendas,” Brooks said, noting that Fisher never took an ambassadorship or other government perk.

Those who had the chance to work with Fisher valued his loyalty, his access and his personal philosophy — patience and persistence.

For example, when Tauber chaired the original committee for the rocky merger of the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal, Fisher stood by him when others attempted to derail it, he said.

“He’s just very tenacious,” Tauber said.

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.

“Every pore of him was constructive,” Shultz told JTA. “He could criticize things but was always looking for something positive, to make it better.”

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.”

Fisher always made his agenda clear, and made room for those who could further it.

Shoshana Cardin of Baltimore is a veteran Jewish leader whose politics usually were Democratic.

Still, Fisher would invite Cardin to State Department dinners because he thought she could advance their common cause.

Cardin marveled at Fisher’s dedication and access, noting that presidents took his calls immediately.

Yet Cardin said she was surprised to learn from his assistant that when Fisher was in Israel for business he often ate dinner by himself in his hotel room. He didn’t get many dinner invitations, she was told, so she invited him to join a group of friends one night, and he joined them with pleasure.

Cardin surmised that others were intimidated by Fisher, or simply assumed he would be busy with loftier engagements.

In his absence, the Jewish community will experience the loss of a colossal mentor and father figure, she said.

No other senior adviser is as respected as Fisher by so many people, both in the United States and in Israel, she said. If someone had a problem, he or she “could go to Max, and Max could help straighten it out.

“There is no Max who can do that now. There is no one who could take his place,” Cardin said.

Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Fisher was the consummate networker, always making sure people got in touch with the people Fisher thought they should know.

“If you look over the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship, it’s hard to find a single private individual who had a greater role on behalf of the State of Israel than Max,” Kohr said.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker called Fisher an “extraordinary friend” who was a major force in the Republican Party.

“Back in the day when Max started, there were not a lot of prominent Jews supporting the Republican Party,” Baker said. “And he built it up really darn good.”

Fisher was “plugged in,” Baker said.

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.

The relationships also were personal. When Fisher fell and broke his hip a year ago, he received phone calls from three presidents — Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

When Fisher entered a room, the head table became wherever he sat, said Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress.

“He spoke very softly,” said Singer, one of Ford’s campaign advisers. “They had to lean over to hear what he was saying, but it resonated.”

Singer described Fisher as “supra-organizational” and a “born chairman.”

“Most guys push their way to the front,” he said. But not Max Fisher. Instead, “the front came to him.”

Fisher, whose first wife, Sylvia Fisher, died from rheumatic heat fever, is survived by his wife, Marjorie Fisher.

He is also survived by Jane Sherman, the only child of his first marriage; his second wife’s children, Mary Fisher and Phillip Fisher, who he adopted; and Marjorie Fisher and Julie Cummings, daughters of his second marriage. He is survived by 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.


(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Michigan Man admits role in aiding Hizballah

From the Detroit Free Press

Dearborn resident faces prison term

March 2, 2005

A 33-year-old Dearborn man pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Mahmoud Youssef Kourani hosted meetings in his home in the 6000 block of Argyle in late 2002 where a guest speaker from Lebanon solicited donations for Hizballah, which has been designated by the United States as a Lebanese terrorist group. The meetings happened between Nov. 6 and Dec. 6, during Ramadan.

The government didn’t identify the speaker at the meetings. It said the money was intended for Hizballah’s orphans of martyrs program to benefit the families of those killed in Hizballah operations or by the group’s enemies.

The plea came in a deal worked out by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Chadwell and Kourani’s lawyer, William Swor of Detroit, neither of whom would comment.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Kourani is to be sentenced June 14 by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland.

When Kourani was indicted in November 2003, prosecutors said he was a member, fighter, recruiter and fund-raiser for Hizballah and continued his fund-raising activities in the United States after entering the country illegally from Mexico in 2001. The original terrorism charge carried a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, upon conviction.

The government said his brother was the group’s chief of military security in southern Lebanon.

Kourani has been in custody since May 2003 when he was arrested on a count of harboring an illegal immigrant. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and was ordered deported in that case.

He’s the second person in 14 months to plead guilty to terrorism charges in federal court in Detroit.

In December 2003, Hassan M. Makki, then 42, of Dearborn, was sentenced to 57 months in prison for providing more than $2,000 to Hizballah from proceeds of a North Carolina-to-Detroit cigarette smuggling scheme.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |