By Fred Rothzeid
Fred Rothzeid is a member of Beth Adam’s Ritual and Life Cycle committee. A playwright and composer in addition to his work-a-day life, his songs often find voice in Shabbat and Yom Kippur services.
Beth Adam has a proud tradition of exploring the essence of Judaism, both for the individual and as in community. A month ago in February guest lecturer Rabbi Rami Shapiro imagined Judaism NEXT, Judaism as a means and a process (3 Jews, 4 opinions), rather than as an end. This month Daniel Hope spoke of the music that expresses the Jewish soul.
For Daniel the violin is the quintessential orchestral instrument to convey this: it comes closest to mimicking the human voice and is able to express a wide range of emotions, particularly the plaintive sounds that touch people most deeply. And being one of the most mobile instruments, it also proves ideal for a people who throughout history have been forced to pack up and leave at a moments notice.
While raised as a Catholic, Daniel has a strong connection to Judaism. He traces his Jewish roots back to the 16th century and is a direct descendant of the first Chief Rabbi of Potsdam, Germany. His own wanderings include being born in South Africa where his family was active in the anti-apartheid movement and then moving to London at six months of age. Soon he was living with his family at the home of Yehudi Menuhin, considered by many to be the premier violinist of the 20th century. Inspired by Menuhin (but not instructed by him), Daniel took up violin at age 4. His talent was quickly recognized and he became a performing artist. Although he performs classical pieces, much of his career has been devoted to playing contemporary music.
One night while driving home from a concert, he heard a piece on the radio that grabbed his attention. Unable to identify the composer, something he is typically able to do, he pulled off the road and waited to hear who had written the piece. It was Gideon Klein, someone he was not familiar with. Research revealed that Gideon Klein had composed this music while at Theresienstadt. Although he had heard of Theresienstadt, Daniel was unaware that this Nazi labor camp housed many Jewish artists and composers.
This knowledge sent Daniel on a quest. He discovered many Jewish composers and musicians were sent to this camp after the Nazis realized that music would be good for morale. The music that survived was hurriedly written on scraps of paper, some in fragments. It was created under inhumane conditions by musicians trying to forget where they were and seeking to live with whatever hope and dignity they could. The music itself was not sad as one would expect, but emotional and defiant, often played at a frenzied tempo with few rests.
Many of the musicians perished in the Holocaust and many of their works were lost or destroyed. But some survived. Daniel has met with survivors of the camps and has written books and created documentaries on this music. It has become Daniel’s mission to keep this music alive in performance and recording. The day after Daniel’s talk he performed some of those works at Beth Adam as part of the Linton Chamber Music Series. They received long and enthusiastic standing ovations.