"Jews of Russia" Program May 15
The program is the third in an annual series which presents the culture and history of the Jews of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust as a way to commemorate the catastrophe’s victims. Previous events in the series highlighted the Jews of Ukraine (2014) and the Jews of Poland (2015). This year’s event will cover Russia proper during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That period witnessed a spectacular migration of Jews from the Ukraine and Belarus, when Tsar Alexander the Second, “the Liberator,” freed them from confinement in the so-called Pale of Settlement. Many of them found their way to the major Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa.
The Jewish arrivals began to change dramatically the cultural, and particularly musical, landscape of those cities. In time, they became part of Russia’s academia and intelligentsia, rising to the top of the country’s political and cultural leadership.
In 1862, Anton Rubinstein founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which provided modern, westernized musical education for talented young Russian, as well as Jewish, students. It also offered a training ground for the important composers of the time, such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and others. As decades went by, the St. Petersburg Conservatory, as well as the Moscow Conservatory, founded by Anton Rubinstein’s brother Nikolai, produced virtuosos which became American household names, including pianist Emil Gilels; violinists Mischa Elman, David Oistrakh, and Yascha Heifetz; and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
Jennifer Podolsky, the East Brunswick Public Library Director, will open the event. Rabbi Esther Reed, Senior Associate Director of Hillel at Rutgers University, will introduce the program. Glen Dynner, Professor of History and Chair of Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College, will give an overview of the history and culture of Russian Jewry. Rabbi Bennett Miller of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick will reflect on the influence of Russian Jews on American Jews and America. The musical part of the event will feature TOPP (Tales of the Past Promoters), an ensemble specializing in Jewish music of Eastern Europe. Dr. Tamara Freeman, ethnomusicologist and violist, Dr. Michael Kesler, cantor, David Schlossberg, pianist, and Dr. Susan Hornstein, alto, will offer selections of Jewish music of Russia from the 19th and 20th centuries, echoing the cultural history of the Jews of those times. Tamara Freeman will be featuring a viola of 1935, rescued from the Holocaust. Michael Kesler will present a classical selection in bel canto style. MaryEllen Firestone, former director of the East Brunswick Public Library, will pay tribute to the late Karl Kaplan, a library benefactor. The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey and the East Brunswick Jewish Center are co-sponsors of this free event.