Instruments of Hope Represent Bham’s Potential To Break Barriers
By Samantha Dubrinsky,
BJF Director of Community Impact
“Much like a violin, hope must be practiced.” This line said by an African-American actor during a special performance of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra stuck with me. After week-long programming and two years of planning, Violins of Hope culminated with an inspiring performance by the symphony at the Alys Stephens Center.
“Violins of Hope” tells the story of a man, who lost over 400 family members during the Holocaust, dedicated to restoring violins that Jewish musicians played during the Holocaust. Nearly 50 years ago, a man who had played the violin in Auschwitz visited Amnon Weinstein’s violin workshop in Tel Aviv. The survivor had not touched his instrument since leaving the death camp.
When he visited Amnon, he wanted the instrument restored for his grandson. The top of the violin was damaged from having been played in the rain and snow. When Amnon took the instrument apart, he discovered ashes inside that he assumed to be fallout from the crematoria at Auschwitz.
Amnon began restoring the violins of many survivors and now those violins — the “Violins of Hope” — travel across the world to tell the story of those who played them so many years ago.
The violins were in Birmingham during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day and brought together many parts of the broader and Jewish community to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and of hope. The initiative co-chairs Jeffrey and Gail Bayer, along with program coordinators Sallie Downs and Kay Donnellan, worked tirelessly to ensure that the impact of this project was felt by all who attended. Their success is immeasurable.
From Jewish to Muslim to Christian, the “Violins of Hope” worked to bring our entire Birmingham community together around a conversation of compassion, tolerance and acceptance.
I asked Sallie Downs to summarize her thoughts of the experience and she said the following: “Amnon Weinstein’s ‘Violins of Hope’ is a convener of people — creating bonds between today’s generation and the generation before us through the reparation of instruments from the Holocaust. His work sheds light on the atrocities of the Holocaust by telling the horrendous life stories through music of some of the musicians who were targeted victims of hate.”
“The Birmingham project,” she continued, “was a convener of people also. It brought together the hands and hearts of an entire community — old and young, from different walks of life, all products of a different time and place. There is such a parallel between the Holocaust and the cruelty imposed on segments of our population over the years here in our city and state. It illustrated what happens when people sit idly by versus when a community unites with love in their hearts in a humanitarian effort to make our community a better place.”
At the symphony performance that Saturday night right before the orchestra played “Hatikvah” (Israel’s national anthem), Jeffrey and Gail Bayer explained how moved they were by being co-chairs of this important initiative. Jeffrey said, “As Gail and I look into the eyes of our children and our grandchildren here tonight, our family’s 5th generation of Birminghamians, we want to further dedicate our energy to making Greater Birmingham a beacon to the nation of a city that is changing its narrative from the horrific newsreels of the 60s.”
“All of us in Greater Birmingham,” he explained, “have shared fates, shared futures, and, therefore, a shared interest, in further dismantling barriers to cooperation. Greater Birmingham is bursting with opportunity. THIS IS our time!”
Gail followed his comments by announcing the establishment of a fund to provide further opportunities such as Violins of Hope. “So, ‘Violins of Hope’ has been Jeffrey’s and my inspiration to launch an ongoing initiative we are calling the Instruments of Hope Unity Fund, through The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham,” Gail explained.
“This fund is intended to be a permanent resource to support organizations and coalitions that are instruments of positive change and act as a convener of those who are striving to break down the barriers that divide us. After all, we are — each one of us — instruments of hope in building unity in our community, the same way that the Violins of Hope are tools for encouraging tolerance, compassion and empathy,” she concluded.
The Birmingham Jewish Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation are proud to have played a role in this important initiative and are grateful to the Bayers, Sallie Downs and Kay Donnellan for taking on this massive project and, as a result, having a massive impact on our Birmingham community.