Searching for truth

Bernard Fisher went to great lengths to correct historical inaccuracies and is currently a sought-after lecturer.

Bernard Fisher 311 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Bernard Fisher 311
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
In a life spanning 96 years, one is sure to have had some more than interesting experiences.But Dr. Bernard Fisher, who describes himself first and foremost as an educator, feels that his greatest achievement took place here in Israel a few years ago, long after his official retirement.
“When I settled in Netanya, I began working at the Wingate Institute, editing their newsletter and later working part-time in their public relations department,” he recalls. “I began to investigate [Maj.-Gen.Orde Charles] Wingate’s life with a view to writing his biography, and I discovered that this great man had been maliciously slandered in the history books about something that took place during the war against Japan. I made it my mission to get this slander rectified.”
Wingate led a special Allied force, the Chindit Expedition, in the attack on the Japanese in WWII in 1943. They operated deep behind enemy lines and fought in the jungles of Japanese-occupied Burma. The official history records that the campaign was a failure, that Wingate didn’t know the art of war and didn’t know how to lead men. The second Chindit campaign, in 1944 was successful although there were many casualties. Wingate was killed soon after the second campaign, known as Operation Thursday.
In 2007 Fisher published his book, Vindicating “The Friend” – a sequel to Brig. Peter Mead’s Orde Wingate and the Historians – in which he recounts the enormous lengths to which he went to achieve a reversal of official history. He contacted the British ambassador and the prime minister (Tony Blair), wrote letters to the press, the cabinet office and the Ministry of Defense. He pushed on, undeterred by unhelpful and sometimes hostile replies from faceless British civil servants. For him, it was a story comparable to the Dreyfus affair, and in several of his appeals to the press, he asked rhetorically who would be the Emile Zola for Orde Wingate.
In 2006 he received a letter from the Ministry of Defense, acknowledging that Wingate was “one of Britain’s most distinguished generals in the Far East” and pointing out that the ministry had organized a memorial service and tribute to Wingate six months earlier, proving the importance of his activities in the war. Fisher was finally satisfied that Wingate had been vindicated.
For Fisher, who rose from the poverty of Jewish provincial life in prewar England to become one of the foremost educators in the country, the story epitomizes what education is really about – the search for truth.
LIFE IN ENGLAND  Born in Gateshead in 1915, he always knew he would be a teacher. In spite of the poverty, he was able to get a university education – for which he credits his father – and begin his teaching career, though that was soon interrupted by the outbreak of war.
He first served in Gibraltar in the Intelligence Corps, was later accepted for officer training at Sandhurst Military Academy and rose to the rank of captain. When the War Office held a course for learning Japanese, he was one of 15 applicants to be accepted and spent five months learning the language before he was sent to Burma and then India. He remained in charge of the demobilization center in Bombay until he was demobbed himself at the end of the war, never having had much chance to use his Japanese.
He married his wife, Zelda, in 1947, and their daughter, Linda, was born soon after. Fisher taught in various schools in the south, and in 1957, he was appointed the first headmaster of the new King David School in Liverpool, which became the jewel in the crown of the Jewish community.
“It was the first inter-faith school in Britain,” he says. Although predominantly Jewish, it took in Muslims, who liked it because the children could eat the food, and gentiles who were drawn to the school’s high academic reputation.
It was while in Liverpool that he gained his PhD from Sheffield University, and his professor there suggested that he aim for a post in higher education. He subsequently became principal of Leicester College of Education from 1966 to 1977, when he retired.
MAKING ALIYAH  In 1982 the Fishers followed their daughter to Israel, settling in Netanya. The actual journey was a nightmare that took more than 24 hours due to a strike at Ben-Gurion Airport, where they were not able to land; a diversion first to Jerusalem and then to Eilat; a night bus ride to Tel Aviv; and finally arrival at their daughter’s apartment in Ra’anana.
“It was a long way home to the Promised Land,” he says ruefully now.
But soon they were happily ensconced in their rented apartment in Netanya and have not looked back.
The first thing he did was volunteer for the army, but it rejected him, as he was by then 67 years old.
Nonetheless, he was accepted to teach English to IDF officers who were going abroad. He then got his appointment at Wingate and stayed there for 29 years, three-quarters of the time as a volunteer.
He quickly established himself as a lecturer on all Jewish subjects and is now much in demand. His lectures are well-attended, and the people who come to listen are amazed that he can speak for an hour without using any notes.
He keeps busy, having always been involved in adult Jewish education, especially in the synagogues to which he has belonged. Having learned Hebrew while working in Liverpool, he never needed to attend an ulpan and could devote himself to what he does best – imparting knowledge to anyone who wants to receive it.
He is also active in Laniado Medical Center as a member of the Friends of Laniado, and is heavily involved in fundraising. Being close to his family, which now includes children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, is a source of joy for him and his wife.
“Coming to live here was the best thing I ever did,” he says