Reviewing David Schoenbaum’s new biography of the famed Jewish violinist Isaac Stern, Amy Spiro writes:
Stern, who died in 2001, was born in what is now Ukraine, and moved with his Jewish parents to San Francisco when he was a baby. At age eight he began studying the violin, at ten made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony, and by eighteen he was crisscrossing the United States on tour. At twenty-three he took the stage triumphantly at Carnegie Hall—an event he referred to as his “professional bar mitzvah” in the 1999 memoir he wrote with Chaim Potok.
While Stern quickly became one of the most in-demand violinists around the world, Schoenbaum focuses much of the book on his societal and philanthropic ventures, including his love for, and extensive ties to, the state of Israel, [where], he writes, “the self-assured informality of Israeli audiences in shorts and khaki shirts, score in hand, immediately enchanted him.”
He met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, developed a close friendship with the Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, and repeatedly canceled concerts elsewhere to rush to Israel and entertain its war-weary citizens, in 1967, again in 1973—and at an infamous 1991 concert interrupted by an air-raid siren, and carried out with the audience wearing gas masks.