Dispatch from Tel Aviv, 1937

by Jay Nordlinger

I would not have expected the question of Palestinian identity to be a news item in December 2011. But so it is. And I duly mention it in my debate notes. I say that the Jews of the Holy Land used to be the “Palestinians” — and not so long ago. I mention that the Israel Philharmonic started life as the PSO: the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. Their first concert was conducted by Toscanini on December 26, 1937.

Thought you might like to see, here in the Corner, Time magazine’s account of the event:

As a full Palestine moon rode one evening last week over Tel Aviv, [the] exclusively Jewish city, the Hebrew Sabbath ended and thousands of Jews began to move toward the Levant Fair Grounds. There they packed the Italian Pavilion to capacity to hear [the] great Arturo Toscanini lead Palestine’s first civic orchestra through its first performance. Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, the British High Commissioner, brought with him a party of notables. Open-shirted German immigrants gathered in rowboats on the adjacent Yarkon River. A few Arab fishermen paddled quietly toward shore [and] listened respectfully outside the pavilion walls[,] which are still pitted by Arab bullets.

The article mentioned that the orchestra played a piece by Mendelssohn, “partly as a taunt to Nazi Germany.” Tel Aviv was described as the Jews’ “brave new cultural capital.” The last paragraph began, “The Palestine Symphony Orchestra now numbers 72. Germans make up about half the number, the rest are Poles and Russians. Six are natives of Palestine . . .”

In the last sentence, the article named some conductors who, at future concerts, would replace Toscanini “on Jewry’s proudest podium.”

The Corner

The one and only.