All your questions for Naomi Adler answered! This week’s question:
What are you kvelling about lately?
In addition to kvelling about my husband and children’s recent accomplishments (which I’m always doing), I’ve been so proud to talk about the recognition given to my 90-year old father. I’ve written previously about my father, composer Samuel Adler, and his profound musical and religious influence on me. What I haven’t discussed before is my father’s role as a cultural diplomat between the US and Germany, for which he was recently honored by the country of Germany as well as by the cities and current Jewish communities of Berlin and Mannheim.
In 1939, at age 10, Dad had to flee his birthplace of Mannheim not long after Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” in which the city’s huge synagogue was destroyed by fire. As it happens, my father’s father was the “high cantor” of this synagogue and a significant composer of synagogue music as well. In fact, before leaving for America, my grandfather took my father on a dangerous mission, saying, “Sam, we’ve got to rescue the music of the Mannheim synagogue!” The two of them rooted around the destroyed building, gathering up the remaining music books for safekeeping, narrowly missing discovery by the Nazis (although a few days later my grandfather was arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen).
My father clearly absorbed that lesson of valuing his cultural heritage. Though he moved to America to escape the Nazis, he never renounced his German-Jewish roots; rather, he sought to reconcile that schism and to heal that trauma through music. So in 1950 when Dad was drafted into the army and stationed in Germany, he realized that he could utilize cultural diplomacy to help heal the divide between the US and Germany as well. Thus Dad became the conductor of the United States Seventh Army Orchestra — “Uncle Sam’s Orchestra” — a full-time touring orchestra intended to build bridges through the mutual language of music. (An “Uncle Sam’s Orchestra” publicity poster hangs on my office wall; you’re welcome to come see it anytime.)
My father’s efforts as an American-German-Jewish cultural ambassador have included teaching in Berlin, writing a huge body of secular and Jewish music, and teaching about music composition in many universities as well. I am so proud of his commitment to engaging in such dialogue as a means for moving safely from the past into the future, and of his willingness to lean into the complexities and discomforts that can come with that engagement. Naturally, those lessons have made deep impressions on me. They have also recently resonated throughout our most recent Jewish Federation mission to Israel, where we helped bring the Philadelphia Orchestra and more than 50 patrons to engage in music-making and cultural diplomacy.
All of this has been at the top of mind throughout the last few weeks. Between my work for the Jewish Federation in Israel and Philadelphia, I feel honored to have been able to proudly stand by my dad’s side along with many of my family members in New York, Cincinnati, Berlin and Mannheim. It is my hope to continue to integrate these lessons of devotion to tolerance and understanding in the years to come.