A Musical Revival in a Chinese City Stirs Memories of a Jewish Past

Aug. 16 2016

In response to President Xi Jinping’s call for a “cultural renaissance,” the city of Harbin has invested many millions in building concert halls and sponsoring musical performances. The city, located near the country’s northeastern frontier, had been a major center of Western music a century ago, largely because of an influx of Russian Jews. Amy Qin writes:

The arts—and especially classical music—flourished [in Harbin] throughout the early 20th century. Nicknamed the St. Petersburg of the East, [it] was home to a thriving Jewish community that helped build a rich cultural scene, including China’s first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians. . . .

This summer the city . . . hosted . . . two concerts conducted by Zubin Mehta, featuring the Harbin Symphony Orchestra and fifteen members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. . . . City officials have a “vision of building a cultural bridge with Israel,” said Mehta, the longtime music director of the Israel Philharmonic. “So I came as a catalyst between the two sides.” . . .

During the 1920s, the city was home to as many as 20,000 Jews. . . . [It] soon became a gateway for Western classical music in China. . . . Harbin had as many as 30 music schools where a number of prominent international musicians trained. . . . There were jazz orchestras, ballet performances, drama groups, theater companies, and even a Yiddish theater.

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More about: Arts & Culture, China, Harbin, Israel Philharmonic, Israel-China relations, Music, Russian Jewry, Yiddish theater

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East