Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has turned an unlikely tour guide for the day.
He’s standing in the middle of a Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue from Suriname, reconstructed in Jerusalem.
Fisher speaks not of economics but of history -- his own and that of the house of worship with a sand-covered floor.
“This is impressive and beautiful and it arouses memories,” Fischer says of the white synagogue, built in 1736 by Jews who fled from Spain and Portugal to Holland during the Inquisition and later settled in Suriname in South America. The sand-covered floor, Fischer adds, is a mystery.
“Every time I see a synagogue, I begin to think about this nation, wherever they go, the first thing they do is build themselves a community center, no matter where,” Fischer says, referring to the Jewish people.
The 69-year-old banker, who was born in Zambia, says that where he grew up there were 147 seats in the synagogue in the nearby city which his family travelled to for holidays, “which gives you an idea how many Jews there were there.”
In 2000, when he took his children for a “roots” visit, there were only five Jews left in the city, and to make up a prayer quorum of 10, the community would trawl the embassies, Fischer says.
Fischer is participating in Israel Museum’s gala as both a guest and guide, along with other prominent figures such as Osem Investment Ltd.’s Chairman Dan Propper and British Ambassador Matthew Gould. It’s a rare opportunity for a personal glimpse into the man who has modernized Israel’s central bank.
The rectangular Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue that Fischer is speaking about ceased to function as a place of worship in the 1990s when the Jewish community of Suriname agreed to let the museum transfer the interior to Jerusalem for restoration.
According to the museum, the community says the sand on the floor symbolizes the Diaspora, just as the people of Israel wandered in the desert sands before reaching the Promised Land, so do exiled Jews living outside Israel today.
A more practical explanation traces the sand’s origin to ancient customs prevalent in houses, churches and synagogues in Holland, where sand served the purpose of keeping floors clean and helping to prevent fire from spreading on the wooden flooring.
“Of all the synagogues I have been in during my life, the synagogue in my hometown, the synagogue where I married my wife, and a long list of others, this is among the most beautiful,” Fischer says.
Asked which is more fun, leading monetary policy or a standing in as a docent, Fischer quips: “The nice part of museum tours is that the press is friendly.”
Proceeds from the event, attended by about 500 people, will promote the museums’ educational activities.
“To have Stan Fischer take people through the galleries and to have our guests listen to him connect between his personal story and what you see in the collections in the museum is actually another way of reinforcing what we are all about,” Israel Museum Director James Snyder says. “Our point is that the whole history of material culture is a series of wondrous connections and resonances.”
Israel Museum, Jerusalem 91710. Information: +972-2-670-8811, http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/HTMLs/home.aspx
Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on theater, Stephanie Green’s Scene Last Night, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris arts and Daniel Akst on books.