From Lili Elstein's apartment Tel Aviv looks good. On one side are business towers, alight with the promise of prosperity.
On the other side, at the foot of similar business towers, is culture. Here is the plaza connecting the Israeli Opera house and the Kameri Theatre. The city's central library and fine art museum are less than 100 yards away.
Inside the apartment, the arts meet. The Ariel String Quaertet is giving a superb rendition of the third movement out of Brahms's third quartet, with a sculpture by Sigalit Landau in the background.
They then move on to an equally stunning bit by Beethoven. Never have I had chamber music be played this close to me.
To be honest, the whole setting is quite foreign to me. This is a gala evening thrown by Mrs. Elstein to benefit the Perlman Music Program, or "PMP". Years ago, Toby perlman dreamed up what turned out to be one of the most succesful programs for gifted young musicians in the States. This May, the program expends abroad, not to Berlin, nor to London, Nor to Tokyo, but to the Jerusalem Music Center.
Perlman explained to the guests that the decision stems from values bequethed to her by her father. If she can ever do anything that supports or promotes Israel or the Jewish people, she will.
Readers of my blog know that I'm hardly a staunch Zionist, but somehow this moved me, and not only Because perlman's personality is instantly captivating and enchanting. Yes, creating a top notch program like this is going to make this place better. Perlman is here to lift our self asteem. We are not the chosen people when it comes to politics, but we do possess some talent as fiddlers. I think it was Isaac Stern who once explained Jewish dominance of the violin by claiming: "They circumcise our fingers too."
One man who can certainly claim such fingers was present, Toby's husband, the legendary Itzhak Perlman.
Both members of the couple were there as musicians. They were playing the music of fundraising to some of Israel's most affluent. As Toby explained, the program is "extremely cost inaffective" placing a small group of young students in the hands of a relatively big staff, including Itzhak himself.
Enchanting Elstein's guests with the Ariel musicians, all of them graduates of the American program, helps even the cost out. When someone asked how the program is financed, Itzhak explained: "We changed the form of the handshake. The typical handshake is like this," and he presented his hand as if to be shaken, "but we changed it to this," and he presented it with the palm facing up, as though begging. Everyone laughed, but this is of course not a joke. In the U.S. the program is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Israel's meanger budgets for culture neccesitate approaching the rich personaly. This country has negelected the arts so badly that they are our only hope.
The rich have regained their traditional role as patrons of the arts, without neccesarily being as knowlegable of the arts or respectful towards them as were the aristocrats of lore. Thankfully, the PMP event was highbrow enough to draw mostly true conoisseurs, such as cleaning detergent mogul Bruno Landsberg, who is Israel's greatest afficionado of second Viennese school composers (Shoenberg, Berg, Webern, et al.)
This made me more comfortable in such posh surroundings (I'm a socialist, for Marx's sake) and I endulged a bit in the elegance of the event. The wonderful carpaccio and sashimi
The fine decoration,
And my own oppurtunity to wear a tie (seen here with Haaretz English Magazine editor Tal Niv and musician, activist and prime media agent Roy Yellin).
The one element of the event I couldn't enjoy was the contribution element, so I'll try and conribute here in a statement of support.
This country is currently going to the dogs at great velocity. If it has anything going for it, it is spirit and talent. Let's put ourselves into this. Lets exhaust the spirit and talent. Let's be inspired and allow others to be inspired with us. Any penny that goes into the arts is sacred, regardless of the many other needs of our society. Any initiative that is meant to bring culture to our doorstep is sacred, regardless of how much we often deserve to be boycotted. If our high society contributes to the arts as a way of redeeming its soul, so be it, its soul is redeemed. On my way home I passed the Mann Auditorium, home of the Israeli philharmonic. People were leaving the building by the thousends. I asked them what they attended and learned that it was a Kabbalah even in which people cried in extacy and were healed and saw the light. Let's make sure tomorrow's program is different.