In tune with the Israel Philharmonic

In tune with the Israel Philharmonic

Jim Ackerman of Demarest orchestrates philanthropy by its American Friends

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Photos Courtesy AFIP)
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Photos Courtesy AFIP)

After a year and a half without live international performances, a quartet of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra musicians will kick off a six-city tour on December 1 at the Morgan Library in Manhattan.

The return to in-person concerts — though cautiously modest in these covid times, with a string quartet rather than the nearly 100-person full orchestra — coincides with the 85th anniversary of the IPO and marks a deeply personal milestone for Jim Ackerman of Demarest.

Mr. Ackerman, 60, is the new president of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But his involvement goes back to his boyhood in Oradell.

“The story of the Israel Philharmonic is very intertwined with the story of my family,” Mr. Ackerman said. “I have been going to Israel Philharmonic performances since I was three or four, basically since I could walk and talk.

“My dad, Morty, was an accountant with his own firm. His major client was Fredric R. Mann, who was in the corrugated box business.

“In the 1950s, when the Israel Philharmonic needed a home to be built, they appealed to well-to-do Jewish people in the United States. Mr. Mann, a relatively young man from Philadelphia, had been a classical pianist as a child and he believed in Israel and the orchestra. So he decided to write a very large check and help raise additional funds to build them an auditorium in Tel Aviv.”

The IPO had been founded in 1936, as the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, by famed Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman.

In 1981, Maestro Zubin Mehta was appointed the IPO’s music director for life. He asked Mr. Mann to reactivate the moribund American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mr. Ackerman recalls being at his father’s office when Mr. Mann came to appoint the elder Mr. Ackerman as the renewed organization’s treasurer. Ever since Morty Ackerman’s death in 2011, the orchestra has given an annual concert in his memory.

“When I got older and started making my own money and could afford to write a check, I joined AFIPO as an associate member,” Mr. Ackerman said. “We have a very active associate membership for people between the ages of 22 and 40.”

Meanwhile, over the last 25 years Mr. Ackerman has served in leadership roles at the Thurnauer School of Music at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. He chaired the school for a decade, longer than anyone else. His work there came to the attention of the IPO, and he was invited to upgrade his involvement from associate membership to serving on the main board.

“At first, I said I wasn’t ready because it’s a very serious financial commitment,” Mr. Ackerman said. “AFIPO is based in New York City, and they have always tried to involve the wealthiest Jews in the United States and have been successful in doing so.”

From left, David Radzynski, Haran Meltzer, Polina Yehudin, and Yossi Gertner will play at the Morgan Library on December 1; at far right, James Ackerman of Demarest is the president of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic.

But he couldn’t resist for long. “I started realizing that what the Philharmonic Orchestra is really about is excellence in music. Zubin Mehta helped build the orchestra over the decades and they strive to be the finest orchestra in the world, bar none.”

In October 2019, Mr. Mehta retired and passed the conductor’s baton to Lahav Shani. Only a few months later, the covid epidemic brought the orchestra’s live performances to a halt, at home and abroad, until recently.

Mr. Ackerman said he considers the IPO “the greatest cultural ambassador of Israel. They not only do a home season at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv; every year, except during covid, they travel the globe. Why? Israel is a small country. Israel needs and wants friends, and there is nothing like sharing music with other people to make friends.”

During the pandemic, AFIPO “made a huge push online and it’s been a marvelous thing,” Mr. Ackerman said. “You see somebody from Des Moines, Iowa, logging on and giving money and getting involved in bringing the joy of music to others.”

After serving on various AFIPO committees, Mr. Ackerman was asked to become president about nine months ago.

“I was honestly stunned,” he said. “It is a huge compliment because the people who have gone before me are the rock stars of Jewish philanthropy and Jewish accomplishment in the United States. I had big shoes to fill.”

Mr. Ackerman, an attorney and CEO of Unified Brand Experience Lab in Jersey City, said he is “happy to report that interest in classical music is growing.”

Part of the orchestra’s mission is to bring music to children, he added. The IPO has two educational programs, Keynote and Sulamot — the latter means both “ladders” and “musical scales” in Hebrew — exposing some 30,000 Arab and Jewish Israeli children to classical music every year.

“This tour is about raising money for programs like that to keep spreading the word of Israel and music,” Mr. Ackerman said.

The string quartet is comprised of Israel Philharmonic concertmaster and violinist David Radzynski, who comes from San Diego, along with violinist Polina Yehudin, violist Yoni Gertner, and cellist Haran Meltzer.

They will perform works by Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, and Haydn at performances in New York, Miami, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Actress-singer-model Kat Graham will co-present the New York concert with supermodel Bar Refaeli, who will appear remotely from Israel. “Jeweler to the Stars” and philanthropist Lorraine Schwartz will receive an honor to be presented by Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States.

The night also will include a performance by Israeli musician Tamir Grinberg, the 2021 winner of Israel’s “Rising Star” reality TV singing competition.

“The return of the Israel Philharmonic to the stage reflects the resiliency of the Israeli people,” Mr. Ackerman said. “The orchestra comes in peace and understanding and love. That is its only mission. And I feel privileged to be part of that.”

For more information about the New York opening gala, go to

Proof of vaccination will be required, as well as a negative covid test within 36 hours of the performance; a rapid testing station will be available at the venue. “We are doing it as safely as we possibly can,” Mr. Ackerman said.

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