Memory Lane: Reb Hershel (Hashy) Fisher’s Mesirus Nefesh
In the Nitra Kehillah of Boro Park, there was a legendary
ba’al tefillah by the name of R’ ‘Hashy’ Fischer. His incredible heart, and
legendary voice, still resonates within generations of Nitra mispalelim to this
A product of a Torah home in Vienna—closely associated with the Oberlander philosophy—he would go on to be mekadesh Sheim Shamayim in the most remarkable way, displaying courage and conviction for what was right.
His father, Reb Shimshon Fisher owned a butcher shop in Vienna, and their home regularly hosted many guests—including many Gedolim, especially during the Knessiah Gedolah in 1923. Oberlanders have a special bittul to Rabbanim, thus, Reb Shimshon took his son Hashy to see the Chofetz Chaim, and other great tzaddikim of that time.
Hashy entered the Nitra Yeshiva—of which he would remain a talmid all his life—at the age of 11 (!), and was accepted into Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, after mastering 200 blatt by heart, at a similarly young age.
In 1938 the Fisher’s understood that they needed to escape Europe. They obtained visas, but were detained in England, where they were held in Canada, then a British colony, and Hashy made it to America in 1948, and settled in Boro Park on 52nd street.
And this is when a nisayon came to him that would draw on his unwavering character, and his chinuch in those great Torah centers—forever elevate him into the annals of mekadshei Sheim Shamayim b’rabim.
We will leave it to the pen of the unforgettable Rabbi Moshe Sherer who was a frequent contributor to Dos Yiddishe Vort—alongside fellow Boro Parkers and prominent yiddish writers; Harav Simcha Elberg, Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Boro Park, and Rav Dr. Hillel Seidman—writes in an editorial entitled an example for the spiritually needy:
“Hershel Fischer is a chaver min hashurah, an ordinary member of Agudas Yisroel of Boro Park, he doesn’t jostle for a place up front, and he works as a salesman, and he davens in a corner and tends to mind his own business.
“But Hershel Fischer served as a shining example of mesirus nefesh that served as a great Kiddush Hashem, and if more Jews in America would behave like Hershel—uncompromising and unwavering—not paying allegiance to the almighty dollar… American Jewry would look differently.
In 1950 Reb Hershel drew most of his livelihood from serving as a chazzan. A survivor, he was new in this land, and his talent as a chazzan for the Yamim Nora’im which in those days could pay the princely sum of $1,200! This salary could support an entire family for most of the year in those days.
He signed a contract with an orthodox congregation in Philadelphia in July of 1950. But in August, the congregation caved to the pressure of the times, and decided to allow davening with no mechitzah, R”l.
“Hershel Fisher didn’t go looking for heterim to daven there… when he saw that his efforts to convince them are falling on deaf ears, he accepted a position locally for $100—in the face of an approaching winter, with a wife and child to feed. After they ignored three hazmanos for din Torah, Hashy, who felt that this was a matter of principle, and so he took them to court.
Two years later, Justice Smith, an Irishman, understood with simplicity what these wayward Jews refused to. Citing the Rambam and the shulchan Aruch which requires a mechitzah for prayer, the justice concluded that the congregation cheated Hashy out of the salary that he would have earned—culminating in a resounding victory for authentic Yiddishkeit in America of 1950.
Congregants of the Nitra shul in Boro Park over the decades—where Reb Hashy served as the longtime ba’al tefillah, inspiring so many hearts— cannot remove from their hearts the sheer sweetness that was expressed in those davenings. “His hinneni he’ani m’ma’as, his mi shebeirach on Shabbos…and so many other pieces… it’s really impossible to describe.
Is it any wonder… that such mesikus emanated from such a heart?
The Pennsylvania high court’s ruling remains on file, and is cited in case law—but Hershel Fisher’s heroic act of kiddush Hashem will continue to shine as an example of what it means to be a Torah Jew, as expressed by a Boro Park native in 1950.