By Casey Margerum
Leonard Bernstein is the son of immigrants Samuel Bernstein and Jennie Resnick, both of whom came to the United States to escape anti-Semitism and a life of hardship in the Jewish ghettos of the Ukraine. Though their villages were only about a day’s walk from each other, Sam and Jennie didn’t meet until they were both living in the US.
Jennie was born Charna Resnick in 1898. Her parents, Simcha and Perel Resnick, were devout Jews and lovers of music. Simcha came to America ahead of the rest of his family. After arriving in the States, Jennie, though intelligent and imaginative, had to give up her dreams of teaching to work in a textile mill and help provide for her family.
Sam, who was born Shmuel Yosef Bernstein in 1892, came to America at only 16 years old and against his family’s wishes. His uncle Harry, already living in the US, helped him find a job, first at a fish market and then at Harry’s own barber shop. From there, Sam got a job at Frankel & Smith, and he would later start his own business. He was a fervent believer in the American Dream and rose to a position of wealth by monopolizing the sale of the extremely popular permanent wave machine in New England. He was also an extremely religious man and a Talmud scholar.
Sam and Jennie were married in 1917, and they had their first child (Leonard) the next year. Two siblings, Shirley Anne and Burton, followed in 1923 and 1932, respectively. Unfortunately, Sam and Jennie were not well-matched, and Sam disliked Jennie’s family. Leonard also had a turbulent relationship with his father, who, remembering of the impoverished klezmer musicians in the Ukraine, did not want his son to become a musician.
Casey Margerum is a senior English and music double major at Davidson College. She sings with the Davidson College Chorale and Collegium Musicum, and she intends to pursue graduate studies in vocal performance next year.
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. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts highlighting a different aspect 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 3pm at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem. A private reception for WDAV listeners will follow the performance. For more information, visit our webpage here.