Itzhak Perlman named winner of 2016 Genesis Prize


Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-born violin virtuoso, was named the third winner of the Genesis Prize.

Perlman was named the winner on Monday of the annual $1 million prize that has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel.” He joins former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the actor-director Michael Douglas as recipients.

“I was totally dumbfounded,” Perlman told JTA about learning he had been selected as this year’s winner. “I’m a musician. I play the fiddle. So I was so totally taken aback and I was obviously so incredibly honored they would even consider me. It was very exciting.”

Perlman, 70, said he was mostly unfamiliar with the prize when he first learned he was being considered. Established in 2012 by a consortium of Russian Jewish philanthropists, the prize is presented annually to someone who has achieved international renown in their professional field and serves as a role model through their commitment to Jewish values.

“I just know who I am,” Perlman said. “In other words, in our family, we are traditional Jews. My entire family is involved in one way or another, whether we go to shul, celebrate Shabbos or whatever it is. We are always in touch … That’s one of the things this prize will bring forth. I don’t have a problem with who I am. I live it. And my family lives it.”

Past winners have taken an ecumenical approach to disbursing the prize money. Douglas, the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, pledged to use the funds to promote outreach to the intermarried. Bloomberg initially said he wanted to promote Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation, but later backed away from that at the urging of the prize committee, instead funding nine projects “guided by Jewish values to address the world’s pressing issues.” More than half the recipients were nonprofit organizations based outside the United States and Israel.

Perlman said he is unsure how he plans to use the funds, though he indicated it would likely have some connection to music and helping those with disabilities. Perlman was diagnosed with polio at age 4 and gets around with a motorized cart.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s what this prize is all about — the opportunity to do good in the world, to do good as a Jew, to do as they say tikkun olam – to make things better for people,” Perlman said. “My involvement obviously, first, is as a musician, and second, or even first, as a person who has a disability. So these two aspects of what I’m interested in is something that I’m thinking about.”

Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, Perlman has achieved a level of celebrity rarely seen in the classical music world. Identified as a musical prodigy from a young age, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as a teenager in 1958, and went on to study at New York’s Juilliard School. He has won 16 Grammy Awards, played for multiple heads of state and appeared in commercials and television shows.

Perlman also performed the haunting violin solo on the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack, which won both a Grammy and an Oscar. Less heralded is his violin solo in the Billy Joel hit “Downeaster Alexa,” which went uncredited on the 1989 album “Storm Front” and only came to light earlier this year. The two performed the song together at Madison Square Garden in March after Perlman wheeled himself onstage and was greeted with a kiss from Joel.

In November, Perlman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

In addition to maintaining a global performance schedule, Perlman teaches young musicians through the Perlman Music Program, an initiative founded by his wife, Toby, to provide instruction and community for players of rare talent. The Perlmans have five children.

“Itzhak Perlman is the embodiment of everything an ideal Genesis Prize Laureate should be,” said Stan Polovets, the chairman and co-founder of the Genesis Prize, in a statement. “Itzhak has achieved unparalleled professional success, and through his music brings joy to millions of people around the world. He has been an incredible source of inspiration for individuals with special needs by overcoming tremendous personal challenges after having been severely disabled by polio at age four. And he has given back to society by dedicating virtually all of his free time and significant resources to teaching young talented musicians and to serving as an advocate for individuals with disabilities.”

Perlman will received the prize at a ceremony in Jerusalem in June. The prize is endowed by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which endeavors to build Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.

Music Banned by Nazis Finds New Life With L.A. Chamber Orchestra


If you ask 35-year-old violinist Daniel Hope about his Jewish heritage, make sure you have time. It’s a complicated question.

“On my mother’s side was an incredibly Orthodox Jewish family that goes back to the first rabbi of Potsdam,” he said during a recent late-night cell phone call while in transit to Hamburg, Germany, for a concert the next day.

“They gradually became more assimilated into German society until they converted,” he said, citing a similarity to Mendelssohn’s family in the 19th century.

Hope, widely regarded as one of the finest violinists of his generation, performs the original 1844 version of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, along with Erwin Schulhoff’s Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, arranged by Hope from the original for flute and piano, this weekend with conductor Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

The program, which also offers a Kahane favorite, Kurt Weill’s Symphony No. 2, is linked by the fact that the music of all three composers was banned by the Nazis. Schulhoff died in Wülzburg concentration camp in 1942, and Weill, who was already a prominent Jewish composer (his father was a cantor), fled Germany in March 1933.

The London-raised Hope said he was “an enormous mixture.” He was born in South Africa, but his parents, who criticized that regime’s policy of apartheid, were living under surveillance. After his Irish-Catholic father’s books were banned, the family was forced to leave; Hope was 6 months old.

Hope speaks eloquently of having a “Jewish soul,” and given that he’s spent the past 15 years researching, performing, recording and writing about music banned by the Nazis, that soul must run very deep.

His most recent discs for Deutsche Grammophon include “Air: A Baroque Journey,” the Mendelssohn Concerto and “Terezín/Theresienstadt,”with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, and he said his connection to composers like Schulhoff started “completely by chance,” when he was driving home after a concert.

“A string trio came on the radio that sounded a bit like Bartók, Stravinsky and a bit of Janácek,” he recalled. “I pulled over and waited to hear who it was: Gideon Klein. “He was the young motor behind Theresienstadt, who encouraged composers not to give up hope, but to write. And that’s what got me going. The music is what grabbed me. The story behind it is extraordinary, but I didn’t need the story to appreciate the music. The music speaks for itself.”

Klein died in 1945 at the Fürstengrube concentration camp soon after finishing his trio. He was 26.

Hope, on tour recently with von Otter performing Schulhoff’s solo and chamber music, said he was “longing for a piece of his that had an orchestral accompaniment.” Since Schulhoff didn’t live to compose a violin concerto, Hope arranged his score for flute and piano.

Kahane shares with Hope a personal connection to this music (one of Kahane’s relatives died in Theresienstadt, another in Auschwitz), and he first heard Schulhoff’s work a few summers ago. “I was flabbergasted by the depth and profundity of his music,” Kahane said. “Schulhoff left an important and wonderfully diverse legacy.” He called the Double Concerto “evocative and very likable” with a “joyous” last movement. And he places Weill’s “stunningly orchestrated” Symphony No. 2 with the best music being written during the late 1920s and early ’30s.

Hope said he was looking forward to performing the original version of the Mendelssohn concerto with Kahane’s band. Mendelssohn, whose father, Abraham, was responsible for the family converting to Christianity, speaks to Hope on a very personal level. “I’ve always found that Mendelssohn goes back to his Jewish roots,” he said. “I hear that in his music, and that’s what I love about it. My Jewish side is extremely important to me. I feel very much in touch with it in every piece I play, and in the violin itself.”

Hope came to the violin in what he called a “weird and wild coincidence,” when his mother became secretary (and later a manager) to the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin had an immediate impact on his family, and by the age of 4, Hope was hooked on the violin.

“It was one of those small moments in life that changes everything,” he said, citing the “sheer originality of Menuhin’s musical expression.”

“Menuhin was able to look at a phrase and tell you a whole chapter about a piece,” Hope recalled. “I was on tour with him, and he was conducting the Mendelssohn Concerto, and there’s this beautiful song that happens between the violin and orchestra in the introduction to the last movement. And Menuhin likened it to a young man talking to his rabbi — the consoler. The young man asks the question [Hope sings it as Menuhin once did for him], and the rabbi answers [he sings again]. The way he sung and portrayed that … every time I play the piece, I think of him.

“The greatest victory as far as all these composers are concerned is that we’re playing them today,” Hope continued. “The fact that most of them were killed means their music was still stronger — it survived the terrible behavior of human beings. For me, that’s the greatest possible victory.”

Violinist Daniel Hope and pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane perform selected pieces by composers Schulhoff,  Mendelssohn and Weill on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and Sunday at 7 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Westwood. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

Virtuoso violinist Gil Shaham brings passion and prowess to Hollywood Bowl


Classical virtuosos, like golden-age movie stars, are often thought to lead charmed lives in which the sundry benefits of celebrity accrue without cost.

Lives of endless glamour are a fantasy, of course, yet the suggestion persists, in part because of musicians like Gil Shaham, the American Israeli violinist who comes to the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday, July 10, to perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and guest conductor Leonard Slatkin.

Shaham, 36, built his reputation as a violinist of singular warmth, lyricism and technical prowess on warhorses like the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Yet though he’s often played this work and others like it — including concertos by Brahms, Mendelssohn and Bruch — he insists that he never tires of them. Nor does he seem to tire of the Bowl, where he has been a frequent visitor for the last decade and a half.

“I love the Bowl, the whole atmosphere,” Shaham said on the telephone from Aspen, Colo., where he was teaching and performing last month. “There’s a different audience that goes to the Bowl than to typical classical concerts, and that’s great. There’s a more casual feeling about it. Sometimes it gets a little bit schwitzy. There have been a couple of times when it felt like it was 100 degrees on stage. But mostly it’s very comfortable, with a nice breeze, and you can look up at the stars.”

Though Shaham’s musical interests are wide-ranging — he’s equally comfortable performing Mozart and Beethoven or Stravinsky and Prokofiev — he is at the moment in the thrall of a piece little known to Western audiences, the “Butterfly Lovers” concerto, a throbbing, romantic work of relatively recent vintage by two Chinese students who were later persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. If you don’t know it, you’re not alone, though Shaham hopes to change that with his recording of it, intended for release in the foreseeable but not immediate future. He also hopes to play it at the Bowl someday. He first encountered the work about 15 years ago, when a friend in Hong Kong played it for him on a record. “He played about five minutes of it,” the violinist recalls. “And then he started welling up with tears. And I thought that any music that affects people in this way, I want to learn more about.”

The concerto is especially popular in Asia, in part because it evokes a famous legend. The story, a sort of Chinese “Romeo and Juliet,” according to Shaham, tells of the doomed love of Zhu Ying-Tai for Liang Shan-Po. He said the work is called “Liang-Zhu” for short.

“I always say I’m a young Jew playing Liang-Zhu,” Shaham joked.

Unlike in Shakespeare, though, where the tragedy is permanent, the deceased young lovers in this tale are resurrected as a pair of butterflies.

Shaham, whose mother-in-law is Cantonese, has performed the concerto several times now, including at the Blossom Music Center, summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

When the CD is released, it will appear on the Canary Classics label, which Shaham established in 2003 as a bulwark against the fickle fortunes of today’s classical recording industry. The name is a pun, invoking both the songbird and canar, the Hebrew word for violinist.

For years a prolific artist on the Deutsche Grammophon label, Shaham is now able to release just what he wants, rather than what marketing mavens insist is right.

“Freedom is invaluable,” he said. “And I always had a problem with authority. I tell all my friends, if you can own your own music, it’s always better.”

That freedom led him to release an album of chamber music by the restrained French master Gabriel Fauré and then albums featuring Shaham in musical partnership with his sister, Orli, a pianist. As for what the future holds, Shaham, though slightly cagey, hints at expansion.

“It’s kind of like a family business, like a restaurant or a food stall,” he said, “and hopefully people like the food and will come back. Technology has really set us free. You can make the highest quality recording pretty much on your laptop now. When I first started, you had huge walls of equipment. You still need a great engineer and producer, but it’s relatively inexpensive now.”

The opportunity to work with his sister has certainly been welcomed by the violinist, who said that a concert artist’s busy life makes it tough to find time for friends and family. That Orli is not just a performer, but also married to the conductor David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, only further complicates their schedules. So when opportunities do present themselves, both Shahams seize them.

“We’re very comfortable with each other, which also means we’re very abrasive, very short, with each other,” he said. “I always say: The family that plays together, well, at least we don’t have to talk to each other. That’s my take on family harmony. But really it’s almost the only time we see each other, so it’s really, really nice.”

In fact, Shaham has the luxury of performing, and thus traveling, far less than many other successful concert artists. Having begun his international career while in his late teens and achieving fame soon afterward, he is now enjoying the fruits of those labors.

“I play only 50 concerts a year,” he said, citing a number that’s shockingly low for an artist of his stature.

His flexible schedule might also provide more time for him to visit Israel, where he has close relatives, if no immediate family members. Born to Israeli parents in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., in 1971, he moved to Israel at the age of 7, when his parents returned there. He has since resettled in the United States but has dual citizenship and travels to Israel pretty much annually, regularly performing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

But the primary reason for the paucity of concert dates is so that he can spend more time with his wife, Adele Anthony, who is also a violinist, and his two children, Elijah, 4, and Ella, 1.

Violinist Joshua Bell walks in the footsteps of masters




Although he doesn’t exactly think of it this way, Joshua Bell is the latest in a long line of Jewish violin-playing aristocracy.

His teacher was Joseph Gingold, and as Bell fondly recalled him, “He was a Russian Jewish violinist. He had an incredible joy for the violin that rubbed off. He introduced me to the older generation — Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman — and they became my idols.”

Those giants had been contemporaries of Gingold and, like him, were all Jews, too. Now Bell, who is generally acclaimed as America’s greatest living violinist, is the latest to be passed the scepter, even though he is only 38.

He may seem young, but he has been playing professionally since he was 14, so, as he admitted with a certain amusement, “I’ve been playing violin professionally longer than I was not playing before. And when you consider that I had my first public performance when I was 7…..”

But he is always aware of those Jewish ghosts at his back.
“A lot of the things that I do when I play are not things I picked up from them consciously, but by growing up with their language, through their music, I internalized it,” he said. “For example, the way they use rubato, something that’s very hard to teach. Kreisler would play incredibly rhythmically but around the beat. He did it very tastefully, it was never overdone.”

Bell is, by his own admission, more of a cultural Jew than a religious one.
“My mother is Jewish, a very typical Jewish mother,” he said. “She was very involved in my practicing. Both my parents were behind me and loved music. But for me, Jewishness was very much a cultural tie. I feel very close to the Jewish side of the family. I grew up with my Jewish cousins, going to all the bar mitzvahs, so I feel very close to that side, and I identify myself as being Jewish.”

He feels that identification with particular acuteness when he performs in Israel.

“My mother lived there; my grandfather was a Sabra,” he explained. “I have family there, and last year, I saw some of them for the first time since I was 4. Even my violin [a famous 1713 Stradivarius] has a connection to Israel. It was owned by Bronislaw Hubermann, who founded the Israel Phil, and when Israelis hear that it’s ‘the Hubermann,’ they get very excited.”

What is it about Jews and classical music? If you ask Bell he is, understandably, a bit guarded
“That’s something you’d have to ask a Jewish sociologist, which my uncle happens to be,” he said, laughing. “I guess it’s a cultural thing. To be successful in music, you need to grow up with cultural influences; in the Jewish households, culture and music are valued. It’s also about role models. Fifty years ago, a Jewish child would be told, ‘You’re going to be the next Heifetz.’ You have to be careful when you say things like this not to be misunderstood.”

Certainly Bell grew up with music all around him.

“Music was very important in my family,” he said. “All the cousins would come over for family musicales, and everybody would play. Nobody was a professional, so there wasn’t a family member to get me started. For me it was Joseph Gingold.”

Bell enjoys one of the busiest schedules a musician could dream of. The three weeks he will spend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October represent the longest stretch that he will be in one place all fall and winter. But someday, when his schedule slows down, he would like to do for some young would-be Joshua Bell what Gingold did for him.

 
“I had such a great relationship with my teacher,” he said. “Gingold told me stories about Ysaye, who was one of the greatest violinists of the 19th century and his teacher, and I’d like to pass these things on at some point in my life. I can’t imagine not doing that.”

 
Joshua Bell will perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Oct. 19-22 and in an open rehearsal and question-and-answer session with the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra on Oct. 27, followed the next night by a concert with the Colburn. He will appear in a chamber music recital Nov. 1 and again with the Philharmonic Nov. 3-5. All these events will take place at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, except for the concert on Nov. 4, which will be in Santa Barbara.

 
Bell’s newest CD, “Voice of the Violin,” is available on the Sony label.


 
For more information, call (323) 850-2000 or go to wdch.laphil.com.

Versatile Israeli Violinist Gains ‘Dream’ Hip-Hop Hit


Perusing the hot R & B/Rap Billboard charts, one does not expect to see a red-headed Israeli artist — replete with a classic “Jewfro” mop of curls — represented by the No. 3 song. ” TARGET=”_blank”>Miri Ben-Ari, however, doing the unexpected is standard fodder; so it should come as no surprise that her new single, “Symphony of Brotherhood” (featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo) topped the charts just one month after its radio release.

Given the violin diva’s penchant for multitasking high-profile projects, it also should come as no surprise that topping the charts is just a drop in the bucket for Ben-Ari. Since April, she has been featured on billboards internationally as the poster girl for Reebok’s “I Am What I Am” campaign; in May, she and Israeli hip-hop mogul, Subliminal, recorded a video, “Classit VeParsi” (Classical and Persian) — which topped Israel’s video charts.

Next Ben-Ari went on national tour with the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, even as she was getting ready to release a hip-hop single about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, VH1 announced her as a new artist working with its Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to restore instrumental music education in U.S. public schools.

For many, it’s exhausting just to read Ben-Ari’s list of accomplishments, but the artist is full of energy. She is, after all, on a mission: “I want to bring music back,” she said matter-of-factly. “In an era where everything is music samples, I’m representing a movement that’s turning to live music again.”

Ben-Ari grew up as a classically trained violinist in Israel, and as a child prodigy, she caught the attention of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern. Though she bowed to the top of one music competition after another, Ben-Ari was convinced that the classical scene was not for her.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical violinist,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was really good with the violin. It was fun playing so fast on the instrument — almost like a sport. But I wasn’t feeling the orchestra thing.”

At 17, Ben-Ari won a scholarship to study music in Boston, where she was exposed to jazz for the first time. After hearing a Charlie Parker CD, she knew where her future lay.

“I had to study whatever it was that Parker was doing,” she said. “I had to be able to improvise like he did. I had to learn that language!”

Following obligatory service in the Israeli army, Ben-Ari packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple — where she hustled gigs every night. “If I walked into a club, and there was a stage,” she said, “I’d pull out my violin and play. If there was no stage, I’d still play. At first I’d get my ass kicked. But you go home, practice all day and go out and get your ass kicked again.”

Persistence and gutsy acts — which Ben-Ari attributes to Israeli chutzpah — got her noticed by jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and the late Betty Carter, as well as by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Wycleff Jean. Once the heavyweights got into her act, it was not long before Ben-Ari had played Carnegie Hall, The Apollo, and Jay Z’s Summer Jam — where she received a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming audience members.

“I was a nobody,” Ben-Ari chuckled, “but I had the second feature, after Missy Elliot.”

Since then, Ben-Ari has gone on to record and perform with pop icons like Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and she won a Grammy in 2004 for her violin chops on Kanye West’s smash-hit single, “Jesus Walks.”

It is heartening to know that someone so openly Jewish and Israeli can receive so much love from the non-Jewish world.

“Wycleff Jean and Jay Z put me on the map,” Ben-Ari said with passion. “They were not Jewish white people. I’ll never forget that. This is also why I relate to [African American] history. I’ve been working with them. I got embraced by the black community, more than any other community — including the Jewish community. They loved me like one of their own.”

The fact that she is Israeli, Ben-Ari continued, actually strengthens her connection to African Americans, whether Jewish or not. “Struggle relates to struggle,” she said. “They appreciate that I’m from Israel, because I’m coming from struggle.”

That mutual struggle, Ben-Ari continued, was in fact the inspiration for her recent hit single: “MLK is the hero for the black American struggle. Of course, if you’re coming from a struggle yourself, you can’t help comparing…. It always crosses my mind — if we had MLK in Nazi Germany, would it have helped?

Would it have affected the outcome of the Jewish Holocaust?”

These kinds of questions are what led Ben-Ari to work on the Holocaust hip-hop single, due to be released in the coming months.

“It’s almost like they say, ‘music is therapy,'” she explained. “It’s a way to deal. There is no other way for me.”

7 Days in the Arts


 

SATURDAY

The Workmen’s Circle focuses inward with the opening of its latest exhibit, “A Jewish Portrait Gallery.” The group show is filled with Jewish portraits with the intent of begging questions like, “How does a Jew look?” “How does a Jew see the world?” and “How does a Jewish artspace show its face to the world?” Get some answers at tonight’s artist reception.

7-10 p.m. 1525 S. Roberston Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

SUNDAY

Screenwriter Robert Avrech has launched a new young adult press for Jewish teens, in memory of his son, Ariel. The debut novel off Seraphic Press is his own, titled, “The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosts the book launch party this afternoon, at which Avrech will speak. A dramatic reading of selections from the book by high schoolers, as well as a panel discussion with high school newspaper editors moderated by The Journal’s Education Editor, Julie Gruenbaum Fax, is also scheduled.

3 p.m. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403.

MONDAY

Celebrity violinist Itzhak Perlman makes his debut at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with just one performance this evening. Playing pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak and Smetana, he is joined by collaborator Janet Goodman Guggenheim on piano.

8 p.m. 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000.

TUESDAY

Orthodox hottie rockstars Evan and Jaron may be best known for their 2001 Top 10 hit, “Crazy for This Girl,” but they’ve since abandoned their label in favor of doing things themselves. Perhaps that explains their appearances all month long at the intimate Molly Malones. Catch them there Tuesdays in January, up close and personal.

9 p.m. $5 (cover). 575 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 935-1577.

WEDNESDAY

A semi-staged musical production of classical Voltaire, “Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Candide’ with the New York Philharmonic,” airs this evening on PBS. Broadway actor-director Lonny Price stages the musical with Bernstein protÃ(c)gÃ(c) Marin Alsop leading the production. Kristin Chenoweth plays Cunegonde, with Paul Groves as Candide and Patti LuPone as the Old Lady.

8-10 p.m. KCET.

Under the Circumstances


The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman, suffered from polio as a child and ever since has been in a wheelchair. On one occasion, while performing a violin concerto, one of the strings broke. It occurred in the very first movement with an audible ping. Everyone waited to see what he would do. With astonishing virtuosity, he continued as if nothing had happened, playing through to the finale using only the remaining three strings.

The applause, as the concerto ended, was tumultuous, not only for his performance but for his composure in continuing, undaunted. As the noise subsided, Perlman, sitting in his wheelchair — a symbol of his courage — summarized his feat in a single sentence: "Our job is to make music with what remains."

Leadership comes in many guises. Sometimes it requires ingenuity, the ability to seize the moment, to rise above despair, to provide harmonious melody despite adverse circumstances.

In this week’s Torah reading God chooses Moses as the man to lead the Jews out of their despair in Egypt. What was there about Moses that caused God to choose him for the single most important mission ever assigned a human being?

A senior colleague once pointed out to me that the answer lies in the story of the Burning Bush. Quoting the Midrash, he noted that Moses was the only one who stopped to investigate why the fire did not consume the bush. Many people passed by this phenomenon, but everyone else was too busy to inquire. When God witnessed this, he chose Moses as the leader.

I wish, however, to suggest another moment in Moses’ life that I believe proved the defining moment.

The Torah recounts that one day Moses left the palace where he was raised and went for a stroll around town.

On his walk he noticed "an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man" (Exodus 2:11). So what did Moses do? "He turned this way and that way and he saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand" (Exodus 2:12).

The 19th-century biblical commentator, Rabbi Ya’akov Tzvei Mecklenburg, in his "Haketav Vehakabbalah," states that it is wrong to read this verse as if Moses simply took the law into his own hands; tried the man on his own, convicted him and killed him. Rather, Moses looked around to see if anyone else cared. The attack on the Jewish man took place in clear daylight in the midst of the community. Moses looked around to see if anyone of importance would stand up and protect the Jew. He looked everywhere but he couldn’t find an "ish," a man. Ish always is used in the Bible to refer to an important dignitary. But none came to save the Jew. Moses did what he had to do under the circumstances. He acted like a leader and he fought back.

It was at this moment, I believe, that God said, "That’s my man. He will be the leader of the Jewish people."

Moses won God’s approval because he didn’t stop leading when the circumstances were terrible. Rather, he used his ingenuity and responded accordingly.

Once again our people are ripe for such leadership. We need men and women who are willing to stand up and use their ingenuity on behalf of the Jewish people. With this type of leadership, we can provide a symphony of courage for Jewish life.


Elazar Muskin is rabbi at Young Israel of Century City.

Janet Williams


Janet Williams, a past president of City of Hope’s auxiliary division, Gems of Hope, died on Feb. 9, 2003. She was 84.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Williams attended the samegrammar school as her husband, Bernard. Her sister, Roslyn, and Bernie were inthe same class. However, Bernie and Janet did not get acquainted until theywere adults, even though he recalled with fondness that he noticed a littlegirl running across the school playground with a violin case tucked under herarm.

Following the couple’s inevitable first date, Williams camehome and confided in her sister that Bernard was the man she was going tomarry. Indeed, they did in 1948.

In 1951, the couple moved to Los Angeles. By the late 1960s,she became a lead teacher for LAUSD Children’s Centers. Even after retiringfrom Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima in 1984, she continued with theChildren’s Centers as a substitute teacher.

The violin remained a lifelong passion for her. She playedin the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Burbank Symphony, the DowneySymphony, as well as other orchestras and chamber groups in the Los Angelesarea. She performed frequently and taught violin for many years.

In the mid-1980s, Williams joined Gems of Hope, a volunteerorganization for City of Hope Hospital, and ultimately served as its presidentfrom 1988-89.

Janet and Bernie celebrated their 54th wedding anniversarylast September. They were active members of Temple Beth Torah of Arleta, livedin the San Fernando Valley for 50 years and enjoyed traveling to Europe, Hawaiiand the Caribbean.

“She had a high level of energy and was highly creative andhad so many interests in the world, especially music,” said her daughter, Lynn.

She is survived by her husband, Bernie; daughter, LynnSteinberg; son, Ron; grandchildren, Joshua, Nathan and Rachel; and sister,Roslyn Zaslow.

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