A long-forgotten composer and the young man who brought him back.
When I left Detroit to spend a year in Israel, I only planned to improve my Hebrew. Instead, I returned with a business, a fiancee and clear-cut goals for my future.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, where I majored in music history, I knew I wanted to spend more time in Israel. (Until the end of 7th grade, I grew up in Indianapolis, where I was one of maybe 10 Jewish kids in my school; I always craved more Jewish knowledge.)
At Michigan, I took tons of Jewish studies courses, traveled to Israel with Birthright and returned there the next summer as a volunteer English teacher for children affected by the rocket attacks in Sderot. Before applying to graduate school in musicology, I wanted to solidify my Hebrew and do some serious research in the Jewish music archives in Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, the archives were under construction and closed for the entire year. So, aside from taking a Hebrew course at the Hebrew University and developing my Yiddish language skills on my own, I began to explore the Conservative Jewish world in Israel and visited the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
The environment not only seemed conducive to improving my Hebrew and Talmud skills, but I also felt that the serious atmosphere would enable me to focus on my research.
Thanks to the funding I received from Masa Israel Journey, I registered for classes.
Then I met Rachel. In my first Hebrew class at the Conservative Yeshiva, I introduced myself and spoke about my Jewish classical music research; and her interest was piqued.
It turned out that she, a future rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, had been a double major in religion and music. Three months later, we were engaged.
Around that time, something else big happened to me. I was accepted to participate in Masa Israel’s Building Future Leadership program, where I could take part in entrepreneurship workshops and develop my own entrepreneurial project.
Since college, I had dreamed of launching an organization to raise awareness of Joseph Achron, an all-but-forgotten Lithuanian-Jewish classical composer. Achron fascinated me. Beyond his excellent compositional talent, he also expanded the notion of Jewish music — combining the secular, religious, ancient and modern in his many pieces.
The Building Future Leadership program gave me the tools to write a business plan and deliver a successful elevator pitch. It also gave me confidence. One Friday morning, the other participants and I headed to the shuk (outdoor market) to work on our marketing skills. Our task was to get people to buy a little extra food and donate it to the poor. It was not easy to approach people at first; but with practice, we were able to collect more food than we could ever have imagined.
I returned to the United States with a clear vision for my future: I joined my fiancee, who was by then living in New York, took a few jobs teaching Hebrew school and began learning German and Russian for my graduate studies.
I also launched the Joseph Achron Society. We published the sheet music for one of his concertos that had been performed only once before — by Achron himself in the 1930s. This month, an orchestra in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, will perform the piece for the first time in more than 70 years — as part of a concert series of music by Jewish composers. Ironically, this city is one of the first locations where the Nazis experimented with killing their victims by gas.
As I prepare for my summer wedding and my Ph.D. in musicology at New York University, I look forward to continuing to restore Achron’s long-forgotten works. Working to fill in this gap in the classical music repertoire is my form of tikun olam RT