Charles Krauthammer’s Gift to Jewish Music

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy