Documentary connects CSUN community to Jewish people and music

CSUN presented “Orchestra of Exiles” to the community Sunday explaining the connection between Jews and music.

Jessica Kaplan, a senior English literature major, comes from a Jewish musical family and felt a personal connection to the documentary.

“I started to play the violin when I was six years old,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan attended the event to receive extra credit for her Jewish Studies class.

“Orchestra of Exiles,” opening Nov. 2, is about the Polish Jew Bronislaw Huberman, a known violinist. He elected 70 Jewish musicians that had been fired by Nazi authorities and established an all Jewish symphony orchestra in Palestine.

Jody Meyers, professor of religious studies at CSUN, said there is a spiritual connection between Jews and music. She has organized this free film series for seven years. This is the first of four films to be presented this year, co-sponsored by community partners Temple Ahavat Shalom and Valley Beth Shalom, said Meyers.

“One of the things I noticed is the passion Jews have for the symphony orchestra and for the arts,” she said. “When you go to a concert half of the audience is Jewish. The art in this city is built by Jews.”

Dr. Beth Cohen, Jewish studies professor and historian of the Holocaust and modern era, gave the audience a crash course in Jewish history. Between 500,000 and 600,00 Jews lived in Germany in the 1930s and 43,000 of them moved to Palestine, said Cohen.

“Music and arts is not there for its own sake, it’s there to make people more human and to make them more civilized, to realize those bonds between them that should transcend nationality and religion,” Cohen said.

Ester Benjamin Shifer, a regular attendee at the movie series, is a professional pianist. Her uncle played violin in the Israeli Philharmonic from 1951 to 1961. Shifer’s family could not afford tickets. She stood outside, with her ear against the back door, listening to her uncle play.

“Because of the intense suffering Jewish people have been through, they play much more soulfully than others because they have the depth of emotion through the suffering, making them lovers of music and able to play it with soul,” Shifer said.