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June 20, 1986 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-20

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A Notable American Saga Personifying Gabrilowitsch and Twain

Musicians on all continents join an-
nually in September in honoring the
memory of a great pianist, a noted orch-
estral conductor and a most interesting
It should be occasion for world Jewry
to pay special tribute to a man who had
made great contributions to Zionist efforts
and whose deep interest in the pre-Israel
Palestinian projects made the cause of
Jewish national rebirth his chief concern
in life.
These are generally unknown facts,
yet Ossip Gabrilowitsch was adamant in
his views. It was not a secret: he wanted it
known that his chief interest was in the
Palestinian efforts of the Zionist move-
Interest in Gabrilowitsch and his
association with and support of Israeli
musical enterprises is mounting with the
announcement that the Israel Philhar-
monic Orchestra, the successor to the
Palestine Symphony, will be featured at
the 60th anniversary celebration of the
Jewish Welfare Federation, at Meadow
Brook, Aug. 28.
Gabrilowitsch's background was that
of a childhood in a most assimilated
Jewish home. There were rumors that he
had been converted, but these were never
proven, and it is doubtful whether he had
ever abondoned his Jewish faith or
whether his parents had led him into a
Christian affiliation. A lack of a .Jewish
education, non-affiliation with Jews, led
him far from Jewish ranks. How, then, did
he come to Palestine and to Zionism?
There is a story which may or may not
be apocryphal, and much truth has been
attached to it by those who were close to
him. It was in the late 1920s that Gab-
rilowitsch went to Palestine to visit with a
childhood friend, an eminent violinist
whose name I have been unable to ascer-
tain — one who, like him, was raised in a
thoroughly assimilated home. When Gab-
rilowitsch confronted his friend he found
him without an arm, and as he faced him,
aghast, he heard his friend tell him: "Os-
sip, do you remember our childhood, our
indifference to our Jewish background? It
didn't help me when a pogrom broke out in
our home town. That's when I lost my
arm. When you go back to America, don't
you forget what you see here now. You
can't escape it, Ossip! You're a Jew!"
Never again did Ossip Gabrilowitsch
want to escape it. He came back to the
United States, began to propagate
Zionism, joined in campaigns in behalf of
the Palestine Symphony Orchestra.
He associated closely with the foun-
der of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra,
the world famous violinist Bronislaw
Huberman. Early in 1933, Huberman had
written a strong letter to Wilhelm
Furtwaengler, the German conductor, de-
nouncing Nazism. Many exiled German
musicians had gone to Palestine and
Huberman was inspired by the idea of a
Palestine Symphony Orchestra, whose
first concert, upon the founding of the or-
chestra, was conducted in Tel Aviv by Ar-
turo Toscanini.
It was in this project that Gab-
rilowitsch took a special interest. His
dedication was especially evidenced in
1932. He had contributed regularly to the
Detroit Allied Jewish Campaign. One of
Detroit's most prominent community per-
sonalities who was active on the board of
the Detroit Symphony Society again ap-
proached Gabrilowitsch for a contribution.
It was then that Gabrilowitsch's prefer-
ences became known, when, under date of
May 17, 1932, the eminent director of the
Detroit Symphony Orchestra wrote:
As per our conversation over
the telephone of yesterday, I am
sending you herewith check for


Friday, June 20, 1986

Mark Twain

(blank amount), for the Allied
Jewish Campaign. It is under-
stood that the amount of my con-
tribution will not be made public.
In forwarding this contribution to
you I wish to make it clear that the
modest amount it represents must
not be interpreted as a lack of
interest on my part in the affairs of
Jewish welfare. On the contrary,
my interest in such matters is very
earnest, but for reasons which I
explained to you over the tele-
phone yesterday, I have always
made a point of directing my con-
tributions to Palestine — rather
than to American Jewish philan-
thropic organizations. My reasons
for this are very simple. I know
that there always are and always
will be plenty of Jews in the
United States who will contribute
to the regular philanthropic cam-
paigns in the country. Unfortu-
nately, there are only very few
who take an interest in Palesti-
ian affairs. I do believe that those
of us who are interested in Pales-
tine should make an effort to
somewhat readjust this balance,
and this can best be done by send-
ing contributions to Palestine di-
The recipients of such contri-
butions, (as far as my donations
are concerned) are not only musi-
cians and musician institutions,
but also other philanthropic
organizations in Palestine. In the
course of years, they have come to
regard my small donations as
something they may look forward
to with a certain regularity. There-
fore, I do not feel that such monies
should be deflected from them and
directed to institutions located in
Detroit or elsewhere in the United
I believe that my point of view
in this matter is logical. I have
maintained it for several years in
the past, and intend to maintain it
in the future. If nevertheless, I am
sending you a check today, this is
done simply because you men-
tioned yesterday that it may be of
some moral assistance to your
campaign. I must state, however,


Ossip Gabrilowitsch

that I cannot obligate myself to
repeat this contribution in the fu-
ture, as it may become more and
more imperative to send money
direct to Palestine.

This letter was addressed to Israel
Himelhoch, one of the most prominent
Jewish personalities in Michigan Jewry
and head of one of the most popular
women's apparel stores in the state. Mr.
Himelhoch had served as president of
Temple Beth El. He headed the public re-
lations committee of the Allied Jewish
He had not made the letter public and
he shared it only with Mrs. Joseph (Dora)
Ehrlich, who was among the most revered
women in American Jewry. Dora gave me
a copy of that Gabrilowitsch message to
Himelhoch, who frequently referred to it
as one of his prize possessions.
The Ossip Gabrilowitsch Jewish saga
is so deeply moving that it deserves a spe-
cial chapter in American-Jewish-Israeli
history. In April of 1932 he stated in an
"I regret that in my childhood I did
not study Hebrew and now, at this period
of my life, you can understand it would
require very much of my time — but to be
able to read the Book of Books, the Bible,
in Hebrew, is an accomplishment which
has been denied me. It is fine and poetical,
this language of our ancestors, and you
may say for me that I would consider it a
privilege to know Hebrew. Young Jewish
people should be encouraged to study the
Let it be noted that when he made
this statement he was 54 years old. He
was only 58 at the time of his death, Sept.
14, 1936.
On numerous occasions, Gab-
rilowitsch spoke glowingly of the work of
Hadassah, and he took a deep interest in
the Jewish National Fund. The land re-
demption agency of the Zionist movement
seemed to have a special fascination for
In 1934, Gabrilowitsch expressed a
deep interest in the JNF. He was invited
by Mrs. Philip (Anna G.) Slomovitz, who
then chaired a donor event for the JNF, to
be a guest of the women's group. He made
an effort to attend the event, but finding
himself pre-dated with an out of town
engagement, he had his secretary, Miss

Phyllis Harrington, send Mrs. Slomovitz a
contribution to the JNF.
He had met Mrs. Slomovitz at the
convention of the National Council. of
Jewish Women, held in Detroit at the end
of March 1932. She had gone to the ban-
quet of the convention on behalf of the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Gab-
rilowitsch was the guest artist. After his
recital, Mrs. Slomovitz followed him into a
reception room. Some Council women,
then extremely opposed to Zionism, gues-
sed her mission and rushed after her to
prevent her from reaching the eminent
pianist. $ut she stood her ground and ap-
proached the guest artist with the ques-
"Mr. Gabrilowitsch, I understand that
your honorarium of $500 for tonight's con-
cert is being waived by you, conditionally
upon its being used for the new music
movement in Palestine? I represent the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Do you have
any objections to my stating the condi-
tions you made for appearing here to-
"Objection!" he replied heatedly. "Of
course not! I want it known that I want my •
fee to go for the aid of the great cause of
music in Palestine."
And he proceeded to state that "there
is in Palestine a music school and choral
organizations, and there is' hope for the
organization of a symphony and an or-
chestra"; that "something distinctly
Jewish will arise as a result of the new
Jewish developments in Palestine."
Thus, Gabrilowitsch was among the
pioneers in establishing the Palestine
Symphony Orchestra, whose first concert
was held Dec. 26, 1936, under Toscanini's
direction — three months after Gab-
rilowitsch's death. But that concert was
also an occasion for tribute to his memory
— and the present Israel Philharmonic is
the outgrowth of the movement that was
inspired by Ossip Gabrilowitsch.
In his comment to Anna Slomovitz, he
was prophetic about the rise of the great
symphony whose glory will contribute
toward the celebration of the 60th an-
niversary of the Jewish Welfare Federa-
When Garbilowitsch spoke of Pales-
tine, in the several interviews that were
held with him, he took occasion to com-
ment on the work of his friend, Prof. S.
Rosovsky, the Russian-Jewish
musicologist, who was conducting studies
in ancient Hebrew music, at the Palestine
Institute of Musical Sciences.
He anxiously volunteered opinions on
what American Jews should do to help the
Zionist cause: "I think," he said, "it is our
duty to help those who are in Palestine at
present and to give them all the moral and
financial support at our command. I can-
not speak too highly of the type of men
and women I saw in Palestine — they are
saints and the sacrifices they make have
left a deep impression with me."
His life was not without tragedy. His
wife, Clara Clemens, the daughter of
Mark Twain, gained only partial success
as a singer. His daughter, Nina, died in
January 1966 in a California motel, after
having been institutionalized. There are
no survivors — and there are no survivors
now to Mark Twain.
Mrs. Gabrilowitsch remarried, but
she was deeply devoted to her late, first
She told me at the time of his death
about Gabrilowitsch and about Mark
Twain — but what concerned her was the
fate of her daughter: "You know what is
happening now under Hitler," she said.
"He is persecuting not only Jews but also
half Jews — and my daughter is half-
Continued on Page 20

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