‘Tehorah’ at Carnegie Hall
Real estate magnate Joseph Barry sponsors concert celebrating Israel at 75
By his own description, real estate magnate Joseph Barry of Peapack-Gladstone had a “peculiar upbringing.”
As he explained recently in a Zoom interview, Mr. Barry, who was born in 1940, spent many of his formative years living with his maternal grandparents in Newark through much of his early teens. It’s a little complicated, but his maternal grandparents were extremely religious Jews from Poland. On his father’s side, the family was made up of communists who “hated religion.”
“I actually never got a bar mitzvah because my parents didn’t care and I was playing football all the time,” he said. “So it was a very weird Jewish upbringing. Though my father was a long-time communist union organizer who dismissed Jewish culture, my mother would fill me in.”
Never underestimate the power of Jewish moms. On May 10, the football-playing son of commie Joseph Barry and his wife, Gail, will sponsor a Carnegie Hall concert celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.
It stars Adrienne Haan in a program she wrote and directed called “Tehorah,” which is Hebrew for pure. She describes it as “a heartbreaking, promising musical journey about love, loss, hope and forgiveness.”
Ms. Haan first performed it in 2015, also at Carnegie Hall, and has mounted it often since then at venues around the world, usually as a Holocaust remembrance concert.
It features songs written by Jewish composers and tells the story of Jewish life, as music, from Weimar Berlin to the Lodz ghetto and subsequently to the founding of the State of Israel.
Ironically, Ms. Haan is not Jewish. “But I have a Jewish soul,” she said. “I am German and am dedicating a lot of my performing life to Holocaust remembrance.”
She grew up with “German guilt,” she said, and her path to healing, in addition to these concerts, includes her work as a board member of the Survivor Mitzvah Project, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides financial aid to Holocaust survivors, mostly in Eastern Europe.
Ms. Haan sings in German, Yiddish, and Hebrew — “I learned Hebrew,” she added. She is backed by a string quartet — three violinists and a cellist — led by her musical director, who is on piano. “They’re all Jewish,” she said. “I’m the odd one out.”
Which kind of brings us back to Mr. Barry. “I’m not super-Joe religious,” he said. (Though, for the record, when they were growing up, his own kids celebrated becoming bar and bat mitzvah and marked the major holidays.) “But I believe in the State of Israel as the home for the Jewish people. I believe Israel is the land of the Jewish people from time immemorial.”
Mr. Barry’s connection to Ms. Haan is more recent. He saw her perform at a nightclub a number of years ago. “She was incredible,” he said. “I asked her after the show if she did private parties. She said yes. So I had a party, and she came over — and I was even more impressed.”
Mr. Barry became Ms. Haan’s patron, subsidizing her career as she developed an impressive international résumé. It was something he was able to do because of his success in the real estate market.
In the early 1970s, he started rehabilitating and creating affordable housing in Newark, North Bergen, and Bayonne under the federal Section Eight programs, which provided rent subsidies for low-income families.
A decade later, he successfully refocused the company toward market rate — and luxury — construction. He was so successful, in fact, that during one of the periodic real-estate recessions, he was able to sweep up large swaths of valuable waterfront properties in Hoboken and Jersey City at bargain rates. Once broken-down docks and seedy neighborhoods became the Shipyard Development Project (more than 1,100 units) in Hoboken, Port Liberté (more than 1,600 units in Jersey City), and the 42-story Palisades, a rental building in Fort Lee.
But this is New Jersey, and anyone who’s watched “The Sopranos” knows if you dance to the music, sometimes you have to pay the strong-armed piper. I broach the subject cautiously at the end of the interview, in case he hangs up, so I still have enough for a story.
“I saw your Wikipedia page, and it talks about that unfortunate time,” I ask. “You know what I’m talking about, right?”
“Yeah, I went to jail,” he said. He was convicted for bribing a county executive, ordered to pay a hefty fine, and sentenced to 25 months in a federal prison. “I practiced omerta,” — the Mafia demand of silence — “so I went to jail.”
I asked if it was possible to do what he did without payoffs. “At the time, it was pretty impossible not to get involved,” he said. “But I should have realized things were changing. Big companies were coming in, and they wouldn’t deal with the mob and politicians the way I had to do business in the ’70s.”
I ask if programs such as the 75th anniversary celebration, which he says loses money, are kind of a payback to sort of even out the cosmic universe.
“I wouldn’t phrase it that way,” he said. “I always felt that what I was doing was for the good of the community — whether it was low-income or moderate-income housing or major projects that give the cities a good tax base.
“When you say giving back, I felt I was always giving back.”
“Tehorah” will be performed May 10 at 8 p.m. at Carnegie Hall. Tickets are $65 and $75 and can be ordered at carnegiehall.org, at Carnegie Charge (212-247-7800), or at the box office.