In Gratitude: Anita Fischer

​Santiago, Chile
Decades of generosity and vision

 

A  long-time KH leader and activist in Chile, Anita Fischer  is a role model for each and every KH member  wherever he or she lives. Anita, a Yakir Keren Hayesod Award recipient (2002), is a frequent traveler to Israel, where she has close family. We met her during one of her recent stays here, and learned more about her life, her involvements and her vision for Israel and the Jewish people.

"I was born in Santiago to parents who immigrated from their respective Ukrainian shtetls", she says. "They both had siblings and extended family who had already settled  in Chile, so their "landing" was somewhat easier. I believe to have been truly fortunate because I am not aware of any members of both my parents' families to have been victims of the Shoa. Everybody had left before the war and those who hadn't, survived to eventually leave the former Soviet Union after it disintegrated. I grew up in a very traditional Jewish and Zionist family; both my parents were active in the community and I myself became involved at an early age".
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International Women's Division Seminar in Budapest, June 2014 – from left to right: Mrs. Yona Pollak, from Chile; Israel Ambassador in Hungary, Ilan Mor; Anita Fischer and Mrs. Victoria Reimers, IWD Honorary President.


The family’s connection with Keren Hayesod didn't start with Anita. "My father was active in the Zionist Federation and was the liaison with Keren Hayesod”, she recalls, “and my mother was among the founders of the WIZO chapter in Chile and a member of its first Executive, so Zionist activism is really in my DNA".

“I grew up hearing about life in the Ukraine - which meant pogroms, discrimination and hardships of every kind", adds Anita. “Then World War II started. I still remember it vividly. We felt deeply connected to what was going on, but didn't have much information. Finally, when we learned what had happened and the scope of the tragedy, our commitment to Judaism and Zionism deepened even more".

The birth of the State of Israel in 1948 had a direct impact on her and all her fellow Jews in Chile: "The day of the Partition Plan vote at the UN, November 29, 1947, was dramatic. I clearly remember how we sat around the radio, counting the ‘yeas’. Then, on May 14, 1948, with the proclamation of independence, we had a huge party at the Jewish Community Center. One of my close friends got married at that time and came on aliyah with Hashomer Hatsair, and helped found Kibbutz Ramot Menashe. From day one, we all felt a personal debt to the newborn state. Israel gave us back a sense of security, of dignity, of future – a more positive outlook on the world".

Anita became involved in KH activities through a friend who had been approached by the wife of the Israeli ambassador to establish the KH Chile Women's Division. "I take things very seriously, so I decided to throw myself into it. We organized seminars and workshops and managed to become well known and  be included among the community institutions. It wasn’t an easy task, but we achieved good results, because people saw that we were sincere and serious", she says with a smile.

In the early '90s, Anita became Chair of the local Women's Division. She soon joined the KH Chile board and then became Vice President, and in 2000, she was elected President of the Campaign. In 2006, she was elected to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, of which she is still a member.

When asked about the local Jewish community, she says: "We have a vibrant of approximately 15.000 member strong community. Most of the Jews are not very observant, but we all have a sense of belonging. The first Jews to arrive in Chile were Sephardic families coming from Turkey, Greece and Macedonia at the end of the XIX century and beginning of the XXth. They settled in Southern cities and in one of them we can still visit the beautiful first synagogue built in Chile. Afterwards, immediately before and after WW I, came the Jews from Russia, Poland, Bessarabia and Ukraine and settled mostly in Santiago, the capital. In the '30s came the Jews from Germany and Austria (Chile was one of the few countries that allowed Jews in), and finally, after WW II came the survivors from Hungary. Eventually everybody mingled, except for the Orthodox, which are a growing community in our midst. We have two day schools, a Maccabi Sports Club, an integrated Community Center, a strong WIZO, two weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine and a community umbrella in which all institutions are represented."

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Anita Fischer, first from right on the sofa, at a KH event in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


"Every year for over 30 years now", she adds", the current President or a member of government chosen to represent him comes to synagogue on Rosh Hashana. There is a Hanukah celebration at the Government House, which has a permanent Jewish chaplain".

As we near  the end of our meeting, Anita speaks about KH activities and the future of our organization: "It is not always easy to create commitment to KH and to the centrality of Israel in Jewish life. We have to open the doors to young people and encourage them to become involved in KH in particular, and Zionist organizations in general. They have to take up the torch, to "re-found" the institutions. We are fortunate to have an excellent Young Leadership group in Chile, but that is not the case everywhere in Latin America. Maybe we could achieve greater success by promoting joint initiatives on the continent, the way the Consejo Chileno-Israeli (Chilean-Israeli Council) does with great effectiveness".

"The key to success", Anita emphasizes, "lies in strengthening next generation, who will take the Jewish community on the road to the future. There is something very particular about the Jewish people,  that cannot be fully explained logically: how we manage to be reborn again and again. Not all our youngsters feel the call. You have to find those who answer it, the way I did in my time".

As we leave this amazing woman, we feel proud to count her amongst Keren Hayesod leaders and thank her for decades of generosity, vision and dedication. We wish her many more years of good health and happiness with her loved ones, along with continued activity on behalf of Keren Hayesod, Israel and the Jewish people!