Part of an interview with Robert D. "Bob" Fisher on January 08, 2015. In this clip, Fisher discusses his time in Las Vegas and his involvement with Temple Beth Sholom.
Bob Fisher oral history interview, 2015 January 08. OH-02221. [Audio recording]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d14x57748
When I came to Las Vegas, I had the opportunity, or the privilege, to have some wonderful, at that time twenty year, friends who [were the] result of Las Vegas [being] was one of the cities in Far West Region. And so I loved bringing busloads of USY-ers to Las Vegas. They were real friends. They were really real friends and that helped. That gave me a foundation. And I think because of reputation I got a few calls; would you like to work in our religious school? Would you like to do this? Would you like to do that? It was more important to me that my friends were involved in?first that they were all members of Temple Beth Sholom. And Temple Beth Sholom...I actually did High Holiday services, the second service, I think I did it two years. When you say you did it, what does that mean? I was the chazzan, and Rabbi (Marvin Lavinjer), who at that time was the head of United Synagogue on the West Coast, we did the overflow service; we did the secondary service in the church across the street from Temple Beth. And it was located where at that time? On Oakey. I knew Temple Beth Sholom because of the fact that I would come in and attend Youth Commission meetings and I would be at Friday night services when I was in town; that kind of thing. The second year that we had our High Holiday service that I was the chazzan at, because I think it was twice, they were announcing that Temple Beth was moving to the west side and all of my friends were living on the east side and I myself was living on the east side. One of the lessons I learned from (INSA) Region is...you can look at St. Louis, but you really can look at Winnipeg because, when I was involved so long ago, Winnipeg had a community on the north side and they had a community on the south side. So I was involved in the early meetings. There were seven families who made the decision that they would start a synagogue in Henderson. I attended some meetings, small meetings, and I led the first service that Midbar Kodesh did and that was a Friday night service at...I think Thurman White School in Henderson. I actually served as the founding clergy of Midbar Kodesh. Midbar Kodesh was meeting at a school in Henderson for Friday night and continued to grow and moved into a little office area on Eastern Avenue not too far from the airport. It was very, very exciting that first day when all the volunteers, because Midbar was built on voluntarism. I used to call it the People's Synagogue. All these people are there wiping down the floors and wiping down the walls and wiping down the chairs. We started to have our little Friday night service and eventually a Saturday morning service. And there was a small religious school and Hebrew school that was encased in this little area on Eastern Avenue by the airport. Now, one of the things, which is part of the legacy of Midbar Kodesh?I don't know whose idea it was, but they had it and they did it?the ner tamid, the eternal light was red. What happened is there started to be some complaints because as people who were driving down Eastern Avenue at the night and looked in at the synagogue, they saw the red light and that had a different connotation in Las Vegas. [Laughing] Oh, sure. But that was one of the fun things. I'm very proud of the services that I led. I led the first?for a number of years the High Holiday services, serving really as the rabbi and the cantor, but involving a lot of people in the services. For non Jewish people trying to understand, how can you serve as a rabbi or even a cantor without that official certification, education? Do you need that? Well, I wasn't called rabbi ever. I was Cantor Bob. Did I have smicha? Did I have ordination? Absolutely not. But what I brought was about, I don't know, thirty years, forty years of experience. When there was a bar mitzvah, there was a wonderful rabbi from Summerlin who would come over and do the actual bar mitzvah and that. But you would train the bar mitzvah? Oh, I ended up?yes, when I was serving as the part time cantor I would train certain things, but there would be volunteers or possibly paid volunteers who would teach the haftorah and teach the Torah reading and that kind of stuff. It was very exciting in those days. Did you ever wish you had become a rabbi? No. When I was very, very young, I thought for maybe about a year of becoming a rabbi. And I don't want this to come out wrong, but it's going to come out wrong. I didn't ever want to follow the money. I didn't ever want to serve a board of directors. I didn't ever want to...well, going back to I felt that a girl who wanted to have a non Jewish date for her prom and a boy who wanted to referee a major American tennis tournament, I was maybe too liberal, but felt most comfortable in the Conservative Movement as opposed to the Reform Movement and certainly not the Orthodox Movement because one of the leaders of the right wing...I remember and in fact, I actually told the story without names in one of the sermons I gave, because I gave some pretty powerful sermons. One of the sermons I gave, for example, was when are we going to recognize the husbands or the wives who their child is Jewish, their child is being raised Jewish, but we treat their spouse as a second class citizen? Well, that was pretty controversial. But my philosophy with giving sermons, just like my philosophy with my radio and TV shows, has always been give them something to talk about, give them something to discuss, and I've always tried to do that. But, no, I'm riding down the elevator at the Jewish Federation, which at the time was on Maryland Parkway, with an ultra-right wing rabbi. As we're riding down, he says, ?I understand you're going to be leading High Holiday services for Midbar Kodesh? What makes you qualified?? And I turned to him as the elevator door opened up and said, ?I was davening and leading High Holiday services before you were born.? Well, that's a little bit of my philosophy. Midbar Kodesh was the people's synagogue. It was volunteer and it was wonderful. The early years were very, very exciting. Eventually, they hired an educational director and a rabbi who served not as the rabbi but like as educational director. And who was that? I don't remember. That's okay. We'll get that later. I sort of have forgotten him. And then Jeremy Wiederhorn became the first official rabbi of Midbar Kodesh. He was my USY regional president. He was my USY international leader. When he went off to rabbi school, I said, ?You know what? You're going to end up in Las Vegas.? He was, I believe, the first rabbi in his class on the day that the rabbis could make the move.