An affirmation of life

Zara's Way preserves plant species and the memory of a special at the Botanical Gardens.

Zara Fisher 521 (photo credit: Courtesy/Fisher family)
Zara Fisher 521
(photo credit: Courtesy/Fisher family)
A newly developed section of Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens, planted with a variety of species – including some in danger of extinction – was dedicated last week. Some 200 relatives and friends gathered in the largest ceremony of its kind at the gardens to dedicate Zara’s Way in memory of Zara Fisher, who from 1989 to 2006 was the director of the Jerusalem branch of Enosh, the Israel Mental Health Association.
On a golden Friday morning, Zara’s Way was officially opened near the Sunlight Pool at the end of the gardens’ Mediterranean section and is sure to become popular among visitors. Pink cyclamens reflected in the water below. English oak trees whose green leaves had begun to turn yellow and red for autumn shaded the participants from the sun.
Zara’s Way was created by Zara’s husband Ya’acov Fisher and their two daughters, Gilya and Avital, together with friends and family, who contributed not only to upgrading the rather neglected far corner of the gardens but also committed themselves to its maintenance in the future.
During the ceremony, the guests listened to Hebrew and English songs Zara loved, which were performed by the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, and to reminiscences about Zara, who last March succumbed to cancer that had first appeared 18 years ago.
“Wipe the tears and smile; life goes on,” said Gilya. “And life is good. Here in the gardens we laughed and celebrated as a family. Good things will continue to happen. Bring a ball to play in the garden. Raise your head, look at the sky. It is a place of flowering, a place of remembrance for my mother.”
Zara’s grandchildren, her achievements and good deeds and Zara’s Way will preserve her memory and provide continuity to her life, other speakers said.
“We usually have sections dedicated by people from abroad, but this is an Israeli family, guaranteeing that they will come back again and again,” said Susan Surkiss, director of development at the Botanical Gardens. “This is one of my favorite corners, and it is one of the oldest here. The gardens came under new management three years ago. Thanks to improvement and expansion, the number of annual visitors grew from 80,000 a few years ago to 185,000 in 2010, and this year it is expected to top 200,000. The gardens’ motto is ‘Plants grow people,’ and it develops programs for children, the mentally ill, the secular and religious. Plants provide sanctuary,” said Surkiss. “They have an effect on the soul. Nature is an affirmation of life, a reflection of Creation – of the beautiful things God has given us.”
Surkiss noted that due to development and the loss of habitats, the gardens set as a prime target the preservation of species. “There are over 2,000 plant species in Israel, but 400 are endangered. The helmonit [yellow autumn crocus], for example, is today almost extinct in Jerusalem.”
The gardens cover 120 dunams divided into six geographical regions. According to Eli Decker, the chief gardener, some seeds from the Hermon were cultivated to plant in Zara’s Way.
Zara (Sarah) was born in Manchester, England. “She excelled in everything she did,” recalled her husband. They first met at the age of 18 and were married for 44 years. They made aliya in 1968 and lived in Jerusalem. “Zara brought me here; she had been here earlier in the 1960s and was determined to live in Israel,” he said.
Zara studied sociology and education at the Hebrew University and then earned a master’s degree in family studies, working afterwards at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Family Studies as a researcher. Later on, while director of Enosh Jerusalem, she completed a degree in social work while building the branch into the largest in the country.
After retiring from Enosh Jerusalem in 2006, Zara, always a caring volunteer, founded the Giving Circle, which donates funds collected by the Circle to worthy charities. She also established a Hebrew book club for English speakers, who learned to appreciate Hebrew literature. Her unbounded creativity led her to take up quilting as a major hobby in the last years of her life; her older daughter Gilya is now continuing this art form, while friends are creating a memory quilt in her name.
Sarah Meron, co-founder of the Giving Circle, noted at the ceremony that Zara was committed to the group and continued to volunteer in it almost until the end. Her sister-in-law Norma, who came from England for the ceremony, said, “She was always full of curiosity and a love of life and lived it in Zara’s way.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, Zara was treated and was in remission most of the time, but the disease returned at the end of 2008 and metastasized. Hospitalized frequently at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem during her last six months, she decided to stop all treatment when she realized it would not improve her situation.
The family quickly decided on the Botanical Gardens as a place suitable to memorialize her. “This is a place of love, calm and people. Visitors will continue to come to express their love for Zara,” her husband said.
Ahead is another memorial project – a February 14 fundraising concert for Enosh Jerusalem with Shlomo Gronich and his ensemble, which will take place at the Israel Center for Excellence through Education in the city’s Malha quarter.