"I think everyone in this room wants to do something to help Israel," Stanley Fischer said Wednesday, surveying a dining room packed with Jewish Agency board members and staff. "I was in a fortunate position of being granted an opportunity to do that, and these opportunities don't come by every day."
Certainly not the opportunity to become the governor of the Bank of Israel, a position Fischer assumed this spring after he and his wife made aliya.
Since taking the post, Fischer has had to learn how to live in a new country and speak a foreign tongue, but the experience has been "significantly more pleasant than we expected."
He praised Israel for being "extraordinarily welcoming" and offering "warmth," even in work-based relationships, that is generally "much stronger" than that found in the US.
At first, the suggestion to relocate to Israel stuck Fischer as somewhat improbable.
"Almost exactly a year ago, my wife and I were very happily sitting in the Caribbean. It was late afternoon after a hard day at the beach," he told the audience. "My cell phone rang and it was the Finance Minister of Israel saying he'd like me to be the head of the central bank."
Fischer observed that he didn't reject the offer out of hand. Born in southern Africa, Fischer was living in the US and serving as the vice chairman of Citigroup.
So every day for two weeks, Binyamin Netanyahu called back. "He's a very, very persuasive man," Fischer acknowledged. "He wouldn't let up. He dealt with every obstacle I had."
In the end, Netanyahu succeeded in convincing Fischer to become an Israeli. He wasn't entirely successful in convincing Israelis that they should accept the foreigner, however.
While Fischer noted that many people here were pleased by the choice, others lamented that a local hadn't been selected.
Both opinions might persist, he said, but now "at least I don't hear the second one directly."
More seriously, he stated, "on average this is a great place to be ... It's occasionally frustrating, but it has enormous compensations."
Fischer encouraged those in the room to consider emulating him. Noting the healthy number of white-haired heads before him, he stressed, "It can be done even relatively late."
Board of Governors Chairwoman Carole Solomon afterwards thanked him for his speech, and for "helping us enormously by pushing our aliya stats up."
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