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Amid a rift between American and Israeli factions of the Jewish Agency, the founding chairman of the organization's Board of Governors, Max Fisher, was praised Monday for his ability to build consensus among the agency's members.
Fisher, who died in 2005, was honored posthumously Monday morning as the square outside the Jerusalem International Convention Center was dedicated in his name.
His greatest accomplishment was his ability to bring together independent philanthropists and Jewish organizations, such as the World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod, and to make them understand that they were in it together, said Jane Sherman, Fisher's daughter and a current member of the board.
"There has to be trust. We're not two different groups," she said. "There should not be infighting."
Fisher became active in the Jewish Agency in the 1950s and played a crucial role in securing the American airlift of arms to Israel during the 1973 war. He was a top adviser to American Republican leaders.
"He had the ear of the president," Sherman said after the ceremony, referring to US presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Fisher was offered ambassadorial positions and other key government positions, but he declined them all.
"Instant contact [with the president] - that's all he wanted," Sherman said.
Robert Aronson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (where Fisher lived) said that Fisher had been unassuming about the power he had in the American government.
"He operated quietly in the corridors of power," Aronson said. "A man of great power, he never used it except for the state of Israelâ€¦ and even then under the radar."
President Shimon Peres praised Fisher repeatedly during the ceremony for his role in significantly strengthening the US-Israel relationship.
"He held the most important strategic asset: the relationship between the United States of America and Israel," Peres said. "He made Israel great in the eyes of American leaders."
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor vouched for the importance of Fisher's contribution to relations between the two countries, calling Fisher the absolute key leader of the relationship.
"He was the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the century," Meridor said.
The site of the fountain, outside the convention center, was chosen because it was "the entrance to Jerusalem," said former Board of Governors chairwoman Carole Solomon, who led the ceremonies Monday.
"[Jerusalem is] not just the capital, but the beating heart of the Jewish people. All who come to Jerusalem come through here," she said.
The support for the project, which included a fountain constructed in the square and a tree planted at its center, was so overwhelming that the entire project, from approval to Monday's ceremony, was finished in about a year, she said.
The dedication ceremony was one of many events being held this week while the agency's General Assembly and Board of Governors are meeting in Jerusalem. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, MK Ze'ev Bielski and current chairman of the board Richard Pearlstone also spoke at the ceremony.
Several of Monday's speakers expressed hope that Fisher's accomplishments would inspire those still working on behalf of the agency and Israel.
Fisher would have said that "the building of our Jewish nation is not yet over," Aronson said. "'What would Max say?' My greatest wish today is that people will continue to ask that question."