Charles Krauthammer’s Gift to Jewish Music

July 25 2018

In 2003 the late political commentator Charles Krauthammer and his wife Robyn met with the historian James Loeffler to discuss a project that would promote and preserve the long-forgotten treasures of Jewish classical music. This project eventually became Pro Musica Hebraica, which began its semiannual concerts at the Kennedy Center in 2008. Loeffler writes:

As word grew of the Pro Musica Hebraica concert series, entreaties and proposals began to roll in from across the world. Inevitably, the media also came calling in search of a great story about how one of their own took up this quixotic cultural mission far removed from the day-to-day battles over American politics, Israel, and the Middle East, and even his own stated first love, baseball. Some saw it as an extension of his quiet generosity as a Washington philanthropist, in which capacity he helped to launch a local Jewish day school and other area educational programs. Others imagined it was somehow related to a preemptive defense of Israel. Neither was the case, at least from my perspective. For in our years of conversation about Jewish music, Charles Krauthammer the musical impresario revealed himself to be motivated by a remarkably simple set of convictions about the ennobling virtues of historical curiosity and the impoverishment of the American Jewish imagination.

There were only ever three rules that Pro Musica Hebraica used to govern the selection of Jewish music for the concert stage. First, there would be no obsessive fealty to the Holocaust and the music produced in that dark era of Jewish history. Charles well understood the centrality of lethal anti-Semitism in disrupting the flowering of European Jewish civilization and continuing to endanger Jewish communities around the world. He also loved it when some concert-goer would inquire as to why much of the music sounded sad and minor key. That gave him an opening to quip in response: “Give us a break. We had a rough century.” But he remained adamant that the sacralization of the Holocaust in contemporary Jewish culture was an egregious mistake. . . .

Second, there would be no Jewish hero worship, no cheap nostalgia for pious ancestors. It was high past time to stop elevating Jewish composers into cartoonish heroes who only braved anti-Semitism and never thought an un-Jewish thought. Not every musical note written by a Jewish hand had to reflect an underlying commitment to religious tradition. Jewish art music represented the beauty and messiness of real lives often lived beyond the strict dictates of the rabbis.

For that reason, from the get-go, Charles agreed that there was no question but to include non-Jewish composers who created Jewish musical visions out of traditional Jewish folk and religious sources. There was no racial or genetic test to Jewishness, just as there is none in real life. In the Pro Musica Hebraica version of the Jewish canon, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich easily commingled with Salamone Rossi and Mieczysław Weinberg. Third, any music performed must pass what Charles called the “man in the street” test. That is, it must actually make for enjoyable listening.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, Arts & Culture, Charles Krauthammer, Jewish music, Pro Musica Hebraica


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount