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The Jewish violinist who saved Carnegie Hall from the brink of destruction

(New York Jewish Week) — Violinist Isaac Stern made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1943, but it would hardly be his last performance at the famed concert venue: He performed there more than 200 times between then and his death in 2001 at the age of 81.

Carnegie Hall was “part of his DNA,” his daughter, Rabbi Shira Stern, told the New York Jewish Week.

The opposite is likely true as well: As the person who fought to save the famed concert hall from demolition in the 1950s, and then served as the president of Carnegie Hall Corporation for 41 years, Stern’s “DNA,” if you will, is all over the iconic institution at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 57th Street. 

Carnegie Hall, built by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, isn’t just the punchline of an old joke (“practice, practice, practice”). It’s a bonafide cultural colossus, having hosted performances by musicians as varied and famous as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and The Beatles. 

And though it seems inconceivable today, by the late 1950s the hall had fallen into disrepair and was set to be demolished. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was being built and Carnegie Hall’s primary tenant, the New York Philharmonic, had plans to make Lincoln Center its new home. It declined an offer to buy Carnegie Hall for $4 million. 

Stern, however —  who, beginning in 1944,  had performed with the New York Philharmonic more than 100 times —  could not allow Carnegie Hall to simply disappear. He organized the Citizens’ Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, a group of musicians and philanthropists — and his efforts led to legislation that allowed the City of New York to purchase the venue and save it from the wrecking ball. 

The young people of this country are demanding more and more music and producing more and more first-rate musicians,” Stern was quoted as saying in his New York Times obituary. “How dare we take away from them, the music, and the audiences of the future, one of the great music rooms of the world?” 

Stern was elected the first president of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, the entity that was formed to operate the venue, at its founding in 1960. It was a positions he held until his death in 2001. As president, Stern pursued a vision that Carnegie Hall could become a major center for music education and training. Under his leadership, the hall underwent major renovations in 1986 and celebrated its centennial in 1991, according to the Carnegie Hall’s Rose Archives.

Additionally, under Stern’s leadership, Carnegie Hall began to establish itself as a global cultural institution, bringing in various international ensembles and branching out into other genres of music besides classical. In 1997, the main hall was named the Isaac Stern Hall in his honor.

For all of these reasons, on May 16, 2003 —  two years after he died and exactly 43 years after the founding of The Carnegie Hall Corporation — the corner of West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue was renamed “Isaac Stern Place.”

“To me Carnegie Hall is nothing less than an affirmation of the human spirit,” the violinist was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story about the street co-naming.  

Stern had undying support for the Hall and for what it could do for others, specifically “opening it up to young musicians so that they would be able to have access to consummate musicians,” Shira Stern said. She told the New York Jewish Week about “the red phone” — a direct line to Carnegie Hall that rang in her father’s study in case of an emergency.

“There was a certain idealism in Isaac Stern that had to do with music, with art, with politics, with culture, with not accepting when someone would say this is impossible,” violinist Philip Setzer of the Emerson String Quartet told JTA in 2001.  

“He was grounded in music before he was born,” his daughter said.

Isaac Stern in 1979. (Bogaerts, Rob/Anefo; Dutch National Archives)

The family immigrated to San Francisco when Stern was an infant, and at a young age it “was clear that he was gifted” in music, according to his daughter. Stern dropped out of public school after second grade and began a life dedicated to violin. He enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory at 8, where he studied under Naoum Blinder — who he later regarded as his main influence — and played his first concert at age 15 with the San Francisco Symphony. 

In 1949, under impresario Sol Hurok, Stern played 120 concerts over a seven-month tour of the United States, Europe and South America. “By 1950, Mr. Stern had established himself as one of the best young violinists on the concert circuit, and the first American-trained violinist to gain so great a measure of international respect,” having performed with every major orchestra by that point, Stern’s New York Times obituary noted. 

Stern was also known for helping to establish young talent, particularly cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Israeli-born violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman. “He found people who had talent, he nurtured them, he mentored them,” said Shira Stern. “Teaching was his delight.” 

“He wasn’t religiously Jewish, but he was extraordinarily spiritual,” said Shira Stern about her father. “[He] realized that his spiritual language wasn’t Hebrew, his spiritual language was music.”

She recalled the time Stern was supposed to play a concert right after former President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. “He asked that the orchestra not play, and he played 45 minutes to an hour of unaccompanied Bach, because he said that this was the highest form of prayer for him.”

Though he may not have been religious, Stern was a Zionist who regularly performed in Israel. He rushed there during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 in order to play at the bedsides of wounded soldiers and for troops in the Negev. Shira Stern said her father would weave “Hatikva,” Israel’s national anthem, into these performances, because he knew “that it was a comfort to people,” she said. 

That same year, Stern founded the Jerusalem Music Center, “which still is vibrant and continues to provide masterclasses and training for young musicians in Israel,” said Shira Stern, adding that her father was the chairman of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation alongside his second wife, Vera. 

In 1991, Stern was playing a concert in Jerusalem when a Scud missile attack interrupted his performance. While other musicians left the stage, he donned a gas mask and continued playing. 

Shira Stern described her father as an “activist.” Beyond his role in saving Carnegie Hall, Stern was passionate that the U.S. government play a role in funding the arts and held an advisory role in the creation of the National Endowment of the Arts in the 1960s. He organized a musicians’ boycott in 1974 when UNESCO suspended its programs in Israel, and would not perform in Germany because of the Holocaust, although he did urge Israeli artists to perform there in order to establish an artistic presence. 

“He would have been 103 this year and people are still talking about what he has done for them,” Shira Stern. In addition to the musically inclined rabbi, both of Stern’s sons, Michael and David, are composers, helping to realize their father’s long held dream. “He just wanted to make sure that there was a solid next generation of musicians and music lovers,” she said. 


The post The Jewish violinist who saved Carnegie Hall from the brink of destruction appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Hamas Leader Haniyeh Set to Meet Turkish President Erdogan

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2024. Photo: Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

i24 News — Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas, is scheduled to visit Turkey for talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, according to reports from broadcaster NTV.

Erdogan had earlier confirmed the upcoming meeting while addressing lawmakers from his AK Party in parliament, reaffirming Turkey’s stance on Hamas as a “liberation movement.”

The meeting comes in the wake of a phone call last Wednesday, during which Erdogan offered condolences to Haniyeh after three of his sons were reportedly killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to the AFP news agency.

Confirming the fatalities, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated that the three operatives killed in the strike were indeed the sons of Haniyeh, the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau. One of Haniyeh’s sons was allegedly involved in holding Israeli hostages. The IDF described all three as terrorist operatives in Hamas’ armed wing.

Erdogan’s support for Hamas has been evident amid renewed tensions between Turkey and Israel. Although the two countries announced the normalization of relations in August 2022, Erdogan has resumed his verbal attacks on Israel since the onset of the war in Gaza.

In one of his speeches, Erdogan harshly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of committing atrocities in Gaza and dubbing him as the “butcher of Gaza.”

The post Hamas Leader Haniyeh Set to Meet Turkish President Erdogan first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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CAIR Accuses ADL of Spreading Hate, Despite Controversial Oct. 7 Comments

Nihad Awad, co-founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Photo: Screenshot

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has accused the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of fanning the flames of hate and called for the firing of its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, for a recent comment he made that it was unacceptable for someone wearing a keffiyeh to chant “death to the Zionists.”

The accusation against one of America’s most prominent Jewish civil rights groups came after CAIR, another well known nonprofit, received widespread criticism late last year when its executive director said was “happy” to see Gazans “break the siege” during the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

CAIR on Monday released a letter with more than 60 other organizations, labeling Greenblatt, who is widely perceived as politically liberal, as an “extreme [supporter] of the Israeli government” who has “smear[ed] Palestinian human rights advocates.”

The letter alleged that Greenblatt “analogiz[ed] the Palestinian keffiyeh to the Nazi swastika” during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe television program late last month.

On the show, Greenblatt said that people should be concerned about the tactics of anti-Israel activists on college campuses because when they graduate they would be joining “your board rooms, they’re going to editorial boards, they’re going to the assignment desk of news networks.”

He argued that “if you wouldn’t tolerate” someone saying “death to the Zionists, I wish for that and worse” while they were “wearing a swastika on their arm, I’m sorry, you should not tolerate it if you’re wearing a keffiyeh on their head.” He further noted it was wrong to call for “death to” anyone.

CAIR’s letter did not directly quote Greenblatt’s comment, instead only opting to include the group’s  interpretation of it. 

The letter also alleged that the ADL chief has refused to clarify what he said.

Greenblatt responded to CAIR’s claims in a statement to The Algemeiner.

“Comments I made weeks ago are unsurprisingly being taken entirely out of context by CAIR, an organization that seems to specialize in fiction rather than fact,” he said. “To be crystal clear: hate speech calling for the death of people should not be tolerated whether the person is wearing a Nazi armband or a keffiyeh, a kippah or a cross, or anything else for that matter.”

“I’m not comparing the garb,” Greenblatt emphasized. “I’m comparing the hate speech and how it shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, period.”

This week’s spat between the two organizations came after the head of CAIR said he was “happy” to witness Hamas’ rampage across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group invaded the Jewish state from neighboring Gaza, murdered 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages.

“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege — the walls of the concentration camp — on Oct. 7,” CAIR co-founder and executive director Nihad Awad said in a speech during the American Muslims for Palestine convention in Chicago in November. “And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, which they were not allowed to walk in.”

Awad was referring to the blockade that Israel and Egypt enforced on Gaza after Hamas took control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, to prevent the terror group from importing weapons and other materials and equipment for attacks.

About a week later, the executive director of CAIR’s Los Angeles office, Hussam Ayloush, said that Israel “does not have the right” to defend itself from Palestinian violence. He added in his sermon at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City that for the Palestinians, “every single day” since the Jewish state’s establishment has been comparable to Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught.

CAIR has long been a controversial organization. In the 2000s, it was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case. Politico noted in 2010 that “US District Court Judge Jorge Solis found that the government presented ‘ample evidence to establish the association’” of CAIR with Hamas.

According to the ADL, “some of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas.” CAIR has disputed the accuracy of the ADL’s claim and asserted that CAIR “unequivocally condemn[s] all acts of terrorism, whether carried out by al-Qa’ida, the Real IRA, FARC, Hamas, ETA, or any other group designated by the US Department of State as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization.’”

The post CAIR Accuses ADL of Spreading Hate, Despite Controversial Oct. 7 Comments first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Spring magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

With reflections on reporting about the war from Ellin Bessner and more.

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Spring magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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