How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
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How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Award-winning Israeli youth orchestra practices in Ma’aleh Adumim

Members of the Ma’aleh Adumim Youth Symphony will perform at Carnegie Hall. (Photo by Daniel Santacruz)
Members of the Ma’aleh Adumim Youth Symphony will perform at Carnegie Hall. (Photo by Daniel Santacruz)

This letter is not about stabbings, shootings, or global jihad. This is a calm musical interlude that I am sure we all need. So sit back and relax as I tell you about my evening.

It is 9 p.m. on November 17. I just got home from a magnificent performance of the Ma’aleh Adumim Youth Symphony in an equally magnificent new concert hall five minutes’ drive from my home. The hall is part of the grand new George and Irina Schaeffer Cultural Center; it includes a music conservatory, performance halls, and a kosher café called Piano.

Under the baton of Binyamin Shapira, 49 extraordinarily talented teenage musicians played compositions by Mikhael Glinka, Jean Sibelius, Edvard Grieg, Johann Strauss, Antonin Dvorak, and Arturo Marquez to a full house of 500 patrons.

The program began, oddly enough, with the Star-Spangled Banner, which the performers played before they played Hatikva. That is because this performance really was a kind of dress rehearsal for the four-year-old Youth Symphony’s November 22 show at Carnegie Hall.

As the old joke goes: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! Clearly these young Israeli girls and boys practiced hard, because they took third place in the Bratislava International Competition for Youth Symphonies last July. They earned themselves the privilege of toting their violins, violas, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, French horns, trombones, tuba, and percussion instruments across the pond to the fabled Carnegie Hall.

For me (and several other New Jersey expats in the audience) there was an even-closer-to-home connection. The performance was preceded by a moving tribute to Mel Parness of Cliffside Park, who died earlier this month. He was executive vice president emeritus of the Bnai Zion Foundation, an American philanthropy whose generosity made possible many significant institutions throughout Israel, including the Ma’aleh Adumim Library of Peace and the Schaeffer Cultural Center.

Mr. Parness established his first Bnai Zion chapter when he was no older than the kids in the Youth Symphony. He was elected executive vice president in June 1983 and served until July 2006, though he continued to be a driving force within the national organization after his retirement.

At right, conductor Binyamin Shapira.
On the podium at right, conductor Binyamin Shapira.

Ma’aleh Adumim got onto the Bnai Zion radar in the early 1990s, when our mayor, Benny Kashriel, took Mr. Parness on a tour of this then-new suburb of Jerusalem. “The mayor told us they needed a real library,” related Mr. Parness several years ago. “They had a storefront library and there was virtually nothing for the kids. He told us how the city was growing, and we were very impressed with him and the city and decided we could help.”

Mayor Kashriel was not at the performance November 17 because he was paying his respects to the Parness family in New Jersey.

Another guiding light of Bnai Zion, Jack Grunspan, died last July. The prelude to tonight’s program, “Elegie Opus 24” by Gabriel Fauré, was performed in his memory with Shapira on the cello.

All in all, it was a proud evening for Ma’aleh Adumim and for our American patrons, many of whom were present for the cultural center’s dedication on October 11. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev were among the dignitaries in attendance at the dedication, despite an Arab woman’s attempted car bombing that very morning on the highway leading from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim.

I believe that the juxtaposition of events that day sends a strong message that despite the unfortunately constant threat of violence, we never will stop the music.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast; to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak,” wrote 18th century British playwright William Congreve.

May it be so.

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