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

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.

Read more at New York Times

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

Why Haredi Jews Are Enlisting in the IDF

Unless it can get an extension from the Supreme Court, the Israeli government has until the end of March to formulate a law requiring more haredi Jews to serve in the military. This always contentious issue has become more contentious still with the IDF’s recently announced plan to extend the term of service for male conscripts from 32 to 36 months and to require reservists to spend more time in uniform. All this in addition to the unprecedented demands placed on reservists since the war began and the greater dangers to which troops are being exposed.

At the same time, the war has changed haredi attitudes toward the IDF and the Jewish state, leading some 2,000 young haredi men to volunteer. Cole Aronson interviewed several of them, and describes the attitudes he discovered:

Nobody I spoke to described enlisting as rebellion. These men are proud to serve and proud to be haredi. It is doubtful that their community’s leaders share this dual pride.

They do not care for the Z-word, but the new haredi soldiers I’ve spoken to sound remarkably like pre-state Zionists. Meir of Bnei Brak says he enlisted for the sake of “unity, responsibility, and re’ut.” The Hebrew means “friendship,” but “solidarity” may be more apt in context. However much Jews disagree about their spiritual destiny, they share a physical fate so long as they share a physical home. Of his recent decision to enlist, Meir Edelman of Beit Shemesh says that “this isn’t Zionism, it’s survival,” citing the main justification for the ideology in opposition to the ideology itself.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Haredim, IDF, Israeli society