David Gross immediately knew what to do.
In November 2018 the CEO of Reading Symphony Orchestra Invited to visit Fort Wayne, India. The musical director of the symphony, Andrew Constantine, was also the musical director of the symphony out there, and he wanted Gross to check something they did.
The Fort Wayne Philharmonic was involved in a traveling project called Violins of Hope. It is a combination of exhibitions and concerts centered on violins that were owned and played by Jews during the Holocaust.
Gross turned west to check it out. He was blown up.
“I found the experience incredibly compelling,” he said. “Andrew and I talked and I said, ‘We need to get this to Reading.'”
Three years later, that’s exactly what’s happening.
On Monday, Hope Reading Violins will begin two weeks in its Brexit County First visit to Pennsylvania. The project will include a calendar of concerts, exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and community events.
It will also include programs in 16 schools across the county.
What are Violins of Hope?
Violins of Hope is based on a private collection of violins, violas and cellos owned by the violin mechanics of father and son Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, who worked from Tel Aviv and Istanbul.
In each of the instruments, a Jewish musician played in the Holocaust.
Amnon Weinstein has devoted the last two decades to locating and rehabilitating the devices. He said his work is dedicated to “400 relatives he never knew,” family members who remained in Eastern Europe when his parents immigrated to Israel in 1938.
All those relatives were murdered during the Holocaust.
Violins of Hope became Weinstein’s way of restoring his lost legacy.
The collection traveled to cities around the world, and hundreds of musicians played in the restored instruments, reviving the voices and spirits of those whose songs were silenced in the Holocaust.
“A demonstration of resilience and hope”
When Gross contacted Bill Franklin in 2018, moments after Gross returned from Fort Wayne, regarding bringing Hope violins to Reading, Franklin immediately jumped on board.
The Jewish Federation of Reading and Brex, Where Franklin is president, and the symphony will lead the charge from there, along with a host of other local partners. Of course, shortly after they began the chase, the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 epidemic.
Franklin said it was a blessing in disguise, which gave two years mostly uninterrupted planning. Gross expressed a little more concern about the significance of this for the project.
“We exercised and continued to plan with finger holders that we would get out of the plague,” he said. “The good news is that we are.”
Bringing violins of hope to the brakes is a monumental opportunity, Franklin said. This is something that must have a profound effect on anyone who takes part in every part of it.
“First of all, it’s an amazing exhibition of resilience and hope and survival,” he said. “It’s just a great opportunity for teaching.”
Franklin said the story of the violins – how they were used, how they survived – is chilling. He said some of the instruments were played while Jews were being marched to death camps, and even as they were being led to the gas chambers.
“I have cousins who were survivors, so it really amazed me,” he said.
But, Franklin added, the project is not just about the plight of the Jews during World War II.
“It’s not just about the Holocaust but it can expand the way we deal with all the hate crimes, with all the genocide,” he said. “It’s a Holocaust education, but at the same time it shows that there is hope and there is survival.
“We as human beings need to look – despite the hatred, despite the ‘isms’ – when you face terrorism, when you face hatred you can survive. You can rebuild your life.”
Gross said music is a strong moral of this message.
“I think one of the strongest messages through this is the power of music,” he said. “Throughout this dark period there were people who found comfort and hope through playing, through playing these instruments.”
Gross said it is very important to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, especially as hate crimes of all kinds have been on the rise in recent years.
“We live in a time when in some places we have people who either forgot or began to forget the Holocaust,” he said. “And we have some who doubt its existence. It is important for us to remember this so that such things do not happen again.”
Both Gross and Franklin said they hope violins of hope will begin a community conversation about unity and hatred and racism and hope.
“One of the barometers to this success, I feel, is whether these important conversations that begin during the Violins of Hope will continue after the Violins of Hope,” Gross said. “We’ve all seen the growing division. What we want to project from this two-week event is to unite and celebrate each other instead of separating people.”
Franklin said he believes racism and other hatreds stem from ignorance, and only by dealing with it can it be overcome.
“The Holocaust is a dark sign in our history, and unfortunately it still occurs in parts of the world,” he said. “We can not be silent, we need to focus on working together to fight it.
“Most of what is common is, so let’s work on our common and not on our differences.”
Calendar of events
The Violins of Hope Violence project will include a series of exhibitions, concerts, film performances, lectures and unity events over two weeks starting Monday.
Here’s some information on what’s going to happen.
Violins will be displayed during the two weeks in a number of places. The exhibitions are all free and open to everyone.
- GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Miller Gallery at the University of Albernia, Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- The New Media Gallery at the University of Coetown, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m .; Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.; And on Sundays 14:00 to 16:00
- Veterans Day Exhibition, Brex Military History Museum, Mohanton, Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Chamber Music Friends Concert, November 5 at 7:30 pm at the WCR Arts Center. Free event.
- Coxtown University Introduces! Concert with Violins of Hope, November 8 at 7:30 pm at the Schaefer Auditorium of the University of Coetown. Free event.
- Brex’s Opera Concert, Nov. 10 at Albright College’s Wachowia Theater. Free event.
- Reading Symphony Orchestra with Pinchas Zuckerman, November 13 at 7:30 pm at the Center for the Performing Arts in Santander. Tickets required.
- Arts Gift Concert, Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. at Imanuel UCC in Shillington. Tickets required.
- “Song of Names,” Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. at Fox Berkshire in Wyoming. Tickets required.
- “Misa’s respite,” Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the GoggleWorks Arts Center. Free event.
- “Violins of Hope: Leadership and Morality,” Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Miller Gallery of the University of Albernia. This is a free event.
- Know Your Symphony, Nov. 10 at 7:30 pm at The Highlands in Wyoming.
- Memorial Lecture for Leo Camp Attended by Dr. James Grimes, November 11 at 7:30 pm at the Marner-Piper-Klein Memorial Chapel of Albright College. Free Event.
- “Sound Science with Violins of Hope,” Nov. 13 at noon at the Reading Science Center. Free event.
All unity events are free and open to the general public.
- “Conversation on Antisemitism and Racism”, November 3 at 12:30 pm This is a virtual event, details on participation can be found at ViolinsofHopePA.org.
- Youth String Workshop, Nov. 6 at 10 a.m. at Imanuel UCC in Shillington.
- Community Havdalah, November 6 at 7:15 PM at Chabad Lubavitch from Brex.
- Worship Sunday, Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. at Imanuel UCC in Shillington.
- Barrio Alegria, Nov. 7 at noon at the WRC Arts Center.
- Candle lighting of the Unity of the Congregation, November 9 at 6:15 p.m. in the Church of Jesus Episcopal Reading.
- Kristallnacht Memorial Ceremony, November 9 at 7pm at Christ Church Episcopal Reading.
- Community Saturday, November 12 at 6:00 PM at the Ohav Shalom Reform Community / Kesher Zion Synagogue in Wyoming.
- Fromm’s Lecture and Interfaith Recital, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Francis Hall Theater at the University of Albernia.