Veterans: Promoter of a spectacular world

Fisher was born in London, and attended Carmel College, Europe’s only Jewish boarding school, dubbed the “Jewish Eton,” where he excelled in economics.

Yaacov Jeffrey Fisher (photo credit: ALAN ROSENBAUM)
Yaacov Jeffrey Fisher
(photo credit: ALAN ROSENBAUM)
Making my way through the mid-afternoon lunch crowd at a trendy Jerusalem café, I have little difficulty identifying the subject of my interview, Yaacov Jeffrey Fisher. Distinguished-looking with a trimmed beard and gold-rimmed glasses, Fisher, 74, who speaks with a British accent that remains undimmed after 50 years in Israel, looks and sounds the part of a successful retired economist, which he is.
At age 70, Fisher, who holds degrees in economics from Cambridge and Harvard, embarked on an entirely new career as a Jewish music impresario. He is the founder and head of Spectacular World of Jewish Music, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to promote and present the entire spectrum of Jewish music, including hassidic, klezmer, Sephardic, piyut and others, via concerts and events.
Fisher cheerfully acknowledges his late career switch.
“I tell people that when I was in my 40s I didn’t go through a midlife crisis. Only when I reached the age of 70 did I decide that it was time to do something else.”
Fisher was born in London, and attended Carmel College, Europe’s only Jewish boarding school, dubbed the “Jewish Eton,” where he excelled in economics.
After studying at Cambridge, he moved to Boston in 1965, where he pursued advanced studies in economics at Harvard.
Fisher acknowledges that his move to Israel was prompted by his wife, who was an enthusiastic proponent of aliyah. In October 1968, he and his wife moved from Boston to Jerusalem, where Fisher, then 25, began his career as an economist in the Bank of Israel’s research department.
Describing life in Israel during the post-Six Day War era, he says, “It was wonderful. I always say, not entirely jokingly, that it’s been all downhill ever since. The atmosphere then was very electric.”
Fisher and his wife first lived in a Kiryat Hayovel absorption center, later moved to Har Nof, and in 2003 relocated to Ramot. After working in the Bank of Israel for 21 years, he joined the private sector, set up his own business, and represented Israel in numerous European Union projects.
“I had a good life,” he says simply. His wife died in 2011, and he remarried a year later. He and his second wife live in Baka, not far from the cafés of Emek Refaim Street, which serve as his informal offices.
Says Fisher, “Music is a huge love of mine, but I didn’t know that I would be involved in Jewish music.”
He attributes much of his interest in music to the influence of his sister, Norma Fisher, an internationally renowned concern pianist and music teacher. He grew up with a love for classical music, sings in the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, and reports that Mahler is his favorite composer.
FISHER TRACES his drive to create and enhance the Jewish musical experience in Israel to a conversation that he had with a friend, who said to him, “Are you aware of the fact that very little Jewish music is performed in this country? Maybe you’d like to do something about that.” Says Fisher, “When someone says to Yaacov Fisher, ‘Maybe you’d like to do something about that,’ that is a challenge.”
He began networking, meeting organizers, performers and others associated with the Israeli music scene.
Soon after, Spectacular World of Jewish Music was created, its mission being to bring Jewish music to the forefront of the stage in Israel.
While confessing that the name of his venture is “somewhat bombastic,” he says, “I really believe that it is a spectacular world.”
He explains that while a great deal of Jewish music is performed in Israel, from klezmer festivals to cantorial concerts, these events mostly focus on one specific genre. The musical events that he has organized, including a series of concerts held in Jerusalem synagogues in January 2018, a set of upcoming performances at the capital’s First Station (“The Sound of Jewish Music,” July 30-August 8), as well as a 15-concert series planned for the intermediate days of Sukkot in Jerusalem’s Old City, offer multiple genres of Jewish music, allowing the audience to experience different styles, all within the same event.
“This approach offers the public a choice,” Fisher explains.
“It says to them you can go hear the music that you know and like, but I am offering other things.”
Invoking his previous career, he says, “There is a famous economic rule that supply creates its own demand.
In other words, if you supply it, there will be some people who will demand it. If I am supplying concerts in different genres, there will be some who are interested in new genres. People are interested in trying out new things. I want to get people to think out of the box.”
Fisher’s concerts feature classical, hassidic, klezmer, cantorial, Yiddish, Spanish-Portuguese, jazz and many other musical varieties.
The concerts include performances by both male and female singers. “In the world of Jewish music, the music should be performed and sung by both male and female musicians and, equally, should be enjoyed by both men and women,” he says.
Interestingly, he feels that it is important to hold concerts in the main sanctuary of synagogues. “This model of doing Jewish music concerts in shuls is very interesting.” While there are certain logistical and acoustics issues, he says that the “arguments do not outweigh the atmosphere that is created in a concert held in the shul itself.”
What is Jewish music? Fisher is well prepared for this query, and replies, “The first answer that people give is almost always klezmer, and the second is almost always hazanut [cantorial music]. I say to them, ‘You are right that they are genres of Jewish music, but the world of Jewish music is 100 times larger than that.’” Even within one genre of music, he says, there are subgroups.
For example, within Mizrahi music, there is Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, Syrian, Iraqi and others, all of which have unique styles.
Fisher has two adult daughters and, together with his second wife, shares 19 grandchildren, all of whom live in Israel. Having lived in Israel for 50 years, he comments, “This is my home. People ask me who you are, and I describe myself as an Israeli who happens to have been born in London, rather than a Brit who happens to be living in Israel.”
Fisher says that while he loves traveling with his wife and attending a daily Talmud class, promoting and managing his musical venture has become all-consuming, in a positive sense. “I wake up every morning with ideas bubbling out of my head. There is so much to think about.”