Orchestra of Exiles (film discussion)

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts and Temple Sinai, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, presents a Zoom discussion of Orchestra of Exiles, the little-known story of Jewish musicians who were transported to Palestine in the 1930s when Nazism was escalating in power.

This is a Holocaust story you don’t know, almost guaranteed. Orchestra of Exiles, a 2012 documentary, written, produced, and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Aronson, tells this wellhidden saga. It is the tale of the founding in 1936 of what would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and how its founder Bronislaw Huberman (1882 – 1947), a Polish-Jewish violin prodigy, saved more than 1,000 Jews (many claim more like 3,000 when parents, wives, and others were swept along) in the process. At the time Aronson started his work on this tale, there weren’t any books written in English that chronicled the story. He assembled his material primarily from Huberman’s archives in Tel Aviv. Interviewed in the development of this work are Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Pincus Zuckerman, Zubin Mehta, and other notables.

In his early years, Huberman was utterly absorbed by music That preoccupation was economic as well as aesthetic. He began performing at 12 and was soon supporting his family. WWI politicized Huberman. He did not consider Nazism a passing fad. When Jewish musicians were banned from teaching, studying, and performing with or for non-Jews, Huberman, who had performed about 12 concerts in Palestine, began making plans to relocate the finest Jewish players there.

The obstacles presented in moving that many people that far away would be difficult enough, but shaping them into a world-class orchestra, set very prominently in the public eye, makes the whole endeavor that much more unbelievable. From fighting with British immigration officials who were then the overseers of Palestine; to clashing with David Ben Gurion, defacto Jewish leader in Palestine who didn’t think musicians were what was needed in the future home of the Jews; to gaining the intervention and support of world Zionist leader, Chaim Weizmann; and then to recruiting noted Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini for the premier performance, Huberman remained resolute. In the years after the establishment of the State of Israel, Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein adopted the Orchestra and arranged tours around the world for 20 years.

History may be full of inventive people turning unexpected hardship into great success, but not many can claim that they responded to the rise of a dictatorial state by creating a national arts institution halfway around the world. Aronson believed that Huberman’s place in Holocaust education, in cultural history, and in Israel’s growth as a flourishing, artistic country and homeland should be remembered and celebrated. Huberman was a Jew saving a Jew – a very special breed. It gives a real sense of what Zionism was about, the passion for it, and the way that people felt in those days of a Jewish homeland.

“Though generous with time and money,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of SJCA, “Huberman left no public statues, no foundations for young performers, and no legacy of teaching. The Israeli Philharmonic is his monument, as is this documentary.

The Zoom panel discussion for this film will be held October 15 at 7 p.m. Registration: 

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