By Isaac Mervis
A history of prejudice and persecution against the Jewish people, dating back to the 6th century BCE, scattered them throughout Europe and northern Africa. However, at the turn of the 20th century, the Russian empire held almost half of the world’s Jews, sequestered into an isolated area known as the Pale of Settlement.
Throughout the second half of the Russian Empire, violent destruction and murders known as pogroms targeted this area and slaughtered thousands of innocent Jews. This string of violence forced the Jews to flee once again, with the majority traveling to the United States. Waves of Jewish refugees arrived at Ellis Island, as many as 50,000 each year, with nothing but the hope of a new beginning. These refugees settled in the commercial, industrial, and cultural centers of the United States, namely New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.
While these destinations were havens for the Jewish people, the massive influx gave way to a wave of prejudice and persecution, resulting in violence and immigration quotas in 1925.
This was the world that produced Leonard Bernstein’s parents and molded Leonard’s childhood. From an early age, he was told by society that his identity was a “problem.” Throughout the duration of his life, his work and activism are evidence of his affirmation of his identity and a celebration of what it means to be a Jewish immigrant in the United States.
Isaac Mervis is a senior music and education double major at Davidson College from Indianapolis, IN.
In 2018, music lovers everywhere are celebrating the centennial of legendary artist Leonard Bernstein. To help give our listeners a deeper dive into Bernstein’s life and musical genius, we have partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Bill Lawing’s seminar on Leonard Bernstein to produce a blog series sharing details about Bernstein’s family, career, friendships and more. This intimate look at Bernstein’s personal life is a part of that series. Click here for additional blog posts highlighting different aspects of Leonard Bernstein’s experience.
Please consider also joining us for a production of Bernstein’s Mass at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on Sunday, September 30th at 3 p.m. at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.