David Gross knew immediately what he had to do.
In November 2018, the executive director of the Reading Symphony Orchestra was invited to visit Fort Wayne, Indiana. The musical director of the symphony, Andrew Constantine, was also the musical director of the symphony there, and he wanted Gross to verify something they had done. .
The Fort Wayne Philharmonic participated in a traveling project called Violins of Hope. It’s a mix of exhibits and concerts centered around the violins that belonged and played to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Gross headed west to check. He was amazed.
âI found the experience to be incredibly compelling,â he said. âAndrew and I talked and I said, ‘We have to bring this to Reading’. “
Three years later, that is exactly what is happening.
Beginning Monday, Violins of Hope Reading will begin a two-week stay in Berks County, their first visit to Pennsylvania. The project will include a list of concerts, exhibitions, film screenings, conferences and community events.
It will also present programs in 16 schools across the county.
What are the violins of hope?
Violins of Hope is based on a private collection of violins, violas and cellos belonging to the father and son of luthiers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, who worked in Tel Aviv and Istanbul.
Each of the instruments was played by a Jewish musician during the Holocaust.
Amnon Weinstein has spent the last two decades locating and restoring the instruments. He said his work was dedicated to “400 relatives he never knew”, family members who remained in Eastern Europe when his parents immigrated to Palestine in 1938.
All of these relatives were murdered during the Holocaust.
Violins of Hope became Weinstein’s vehicle to reclaim his lost legacy.
The collection has traveled to cities around the world and the restored instruments have been played by hundreds of musicians, rekindling the voices and minds of those whose songs were silenced during the Holocaust.
“An exhibition of resilience and hope”
When Bill Franklin was contacted by Gross in 2018, right after Gross returned from Fort Wayne, to bring Violins of Hope to Reading, Franklin immediately jumped on board.
The Reading and Berks Jewish Federation, where Franklin is president, and the symphony would lead the charge from there, joined by a host of other local partners. Of course, soon after they began their pursuit, the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Franklin said it was a blessing in disguise, offering two mostly uninterrupted years to plan. Gross expressed a little more concern about what that would mean for the project.
âWe built up strength and continued to plan with fingers crossed to emerge from the pandemic,â he said. âThe good news is that we are. “
Bringing Violins of Hope to Berks is a monumental opportunity, Franklin said. This is something that is bound to have a profound effect on whoever participates in it.
âFirst of all, it’s an incredible display of resilience, hope and survival,â he said. âIt’s just a great teaching opportunity.
Franklin said the history of violins – how they were used, how they survived – is frightening. He said some of the instruments were played when the Jews were taken to the death camps, and even when they were taken to the gas chambers.
âI have cousins ââwho were survivors, so it really touched me,â he said.
But, Franklin added, the project is not just about the fate of Jews during World War II.
âIt doesn’t just deal with the Holocaust, but can be extended to how we deal with all hate crimes, all genocides,â he said. âIt’s Holocaust education, but at the same time, it shows that there is hope and there is survival.
âAs humans, we have to watch – despite hatred, despite ‘isms’ – when you are faced with terror, when you are faced with hate, you can survive. Your life can be restored.
Gross said music is a powerful vehicle for this message.
âI think one of the powerful messages through this is the power of music,â he said. âThroughout this dark time, there have been people who have found solace and hope in playing music, playing these instruments. “
Gross said it’s very important to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, especially with the increase in hate crimes of all kinds in recent years.
âWe live in a time when in some places we have people who have forgotten or have started to forget the Holocaust,â he said. âAnd we have some that question its existence. It is important for us to remember this so that this kind of thing never happens again. “
Gross and Franklin said they hope Violins of Hope starts a community conversation about unity, hatred, racism and hope.
âOne of the barometers of success for that, I think, is that these important conversations that started during Violins of Hope continue after Violins of Hope,â Gross said. âWe’ve all seen the growing division. What we want to project from this two week event is to come together and celebrate each other rather than separate individuals. “
Franklin said he believed racism and other hatred stems from ignorance and only by facing it can it be overcome.
âThe Holocaust is a dark mark in our history, and unfortunately it still continues in some parts of the world,â he said. âWe cannot remain silent, we must focus on working together to combat it.
âMost of what we have is in common, so let’s work on what we have in common and not on our differences. “
The Violins of Hope, Reading project will feature a list of exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, lectures and unit events over two weeks starting Monday.
Here is some information on what will happen.
Violins will be on display throughout the two weeks at several locations. The exhibitions are all free and open to all.
- GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Miller Gallery at Alvernia University, Monday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- The New Media Gallery at Kutztown University, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, from noon to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- Veterans Day exhibit, Berks Military History Museum, Mohnton, November 11 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- Concert of the Friends of Chamber Music, November 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the WCR Arts Center. Free event.
- Kutztown University presents! Concert with Violins of Hope, November 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Schaeffer Auditorium of Kutztown University. Free event.
- Berks Opera Concert, November 10 at the Wachovia Theater, Albright College. Free event.
- Reading Symphony Orchestra with Pinchas Zukerman, November 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Santander Performing Arts Center. Tickets required.
- Gift of the Arts Concert, November 14 at 4 p.m. at Immanuel UCC in Shillington. Tickets required.
- “The Song of Names” November 3 at 7pm at Fox Berkshire, Wyomissing. Tickets required.
- “Misa’s Fugue” on November 7 at 7 p.m. at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. Free event.
- âViolins of Hope: Leadership and Morals,â November 10 at 7 p.m. at the Miller Gallery, University of Alvernia. It’s a free event.
- Know Your Symphony, November 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wyomissing Highlands.
- Leo Camp Memorial Lecture featuring Dr. James Grymes, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Merner-Pfieffer-Klein Memorial Chapel at Albright College. Free event.
- “The Science of Sound with the Violins of Hope,” November 13 at noon at the Reading Science Center. Free event.
All unit events are free and open to the public.
- âConversation on Anti-Semitism and Racismâ, November 3 at 12:30 pm. This is a virtual event, details on participation can be found at ViolinsofHopePA.org.
- Ropes workshop for young people, November 6 at 10 a.m. at Immanuel UCC in Shillington.
- Community Havdalah, November 6 at 7:15 p.m. at the Lubavitch Chabad of Berks.
- Sunday worship, November 7 at 9 a.m. at Immanuel UCC in Shillington.
- Barrio Alegria, November 7 at noon at the WRC Center for the Arts.
- Community Unity candle lighting on November 9 at 6:15 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Reading.
- Crystal Night Memorial Service on November 9 at 7 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Reading.
- Community Shabbat, November 12 at 6 p.m. at the Oheb Sholom / Kesher Zion Reformed Synagogue in Wyomissing.
- Fromm conference and interfaith recital, November 14 at 6 p.m. at the Francis Hall Theater, University of Alvernia.