August 25, 1918
Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Ukrainian-Jewish parents, Leonard Bernstein was one of the most prolific composers and conductors in American history. He began to play the piano at the age of ten and was deeply influenced by the music of his Boston synagogue. Bernstein’s father was a businessman who did not support his son’s musical interests and refused to pay for music lessons. The young Bernstein was determined, and worked to pay for the lessons himself.
After graduating from Harvard and completing supplementary music programs on the East Coast, Bernstein was out of work. On November 14, 1943, he received a phone call from famed New York Philharmonic conductor Artur Rodzinski asking him to fill in as a guest conductor. Bernstein’s performance launched his entire career. He commanded ecstatic applause and was featured in a front-page article in the New York Times. Bernstein spent the rest of the 1940s and 50s touring the world as an orchestral conductor, teaching music at Brandies University, writing musical scores and recording works such as “West Side Story,” Bizet’s “Carmen,” and Mahler’s “Song of the Earth.” As the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein still found time to write music, including “Kaddish Symphony” (1963), which was composed in memory of President John F. Kennedy.
The same Boston synagogue that had been an early inspiration for his music also introduced Bernstein to Zionism. In 1947, Bernstein made the first of several trips to the Land of Israel to conduct what became the Israel Philharmonic. Later trips included the famous concert on Mount Scopus following the June 1967 War (see: israeled.org/mount-scopus-concert/). In 1988, The Israel Philharmonic named him Conductor Laureate. Bernstein passed away in 1990.
In the photo, Leonard Bernstein conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Beer Sheva in November 1948.