Temple Sholom in History – “Lost” Oratorio from 1958, FOUND!

As the keeper of our D’var newsletter, I sometimes field fascinating questions about Temple Sholom history. And when I do, it’s time for me to go back to the dusty books, to be a Cadfael-type investigator, and find some tid-bit of striking Temple lore.

A little while ago I was asked to track down an Oratorio entitled “The Life of Moses” by Jacob Weinberg that may have had one of its few full performances here at Temple Sholom in March of 1958. The woman who asked me to seek out this information, Helen Leneman, is working on a book on the subject and through her I found myself in touch with Ellen Orchid who is the granddaughter of Weinberg.

Now, I’m from a musician family and do a little singing here and there (for a while I hoped to be an opera singer) so this really struck a chord with me… so to speak.

Born in Odessa in 1879, Weinberg learned piano at the famed Moscow Conservatory, which boasts alums like Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich. He made his living touring as a concert pianist and joined the Society for Jewish Folk Music to promote and preserve the unique melodies of Jewish music.

When the Bolshevik revolution made life untenable in Russia, in 1922, he left his teaching position at the Odessa Conservatory and moved with his wife Theresa and Son Vladimir (Ellen’s Father) to Palestine. There he taught and wrote a prize-winning comic opera, that might be his most famous piece, called “The Pioneers” (“Hehalutz”) about Jews coming to Palestine to life on Kibbutz (Here’s a clip from a recent performance).

With the $1000 prize money he received for “The Pioneers”, Weinberg moved his family to NYC and later joined the faculty of the NY College of Music and Hunter College. There, while writing music, Weinberg performed at Carnegie Hall with the Jewish Music Society for ten years. In addition, “The Pioneers” was performed there in a concert version as well as at the NY City Center – known then as the Mecca Temple. He passed away in 1956, two years before his work was presented at Temple Sholom, and his funeral was held at the Jewish Museum on NY’s Upper East Side.

The JEWISH MUSICAL FESTIVAL that you CAN’T AFFORD TO MISS seems to have been a big thing in the life of Temple Sholom and the fact that his work was performed here is a wonderful glimpse into our history. As for information on the life of The Life of Moses, I could not track down any recent performances, but it looks like the music is available so maybe we should recreate it! What do you think, Cantor?  If the performance in 1958 is an exemplar we just need 17 more Cantors on board.

I can’t wait to find out more about Weinberg from Ms. Leneman’s book – I’ll keep you posted.

So, I’m hoping to have a chance to look back into temple history every Thursday for you. Searching through old D’vars is a way to discover a treasure trove of information and they are a time capsule into what the world was like for Chicago Jews throughout history. Looking forward to seeing you next week!

Jason Lindner is the Marketing & Communications Director at Temple Sholom and the Assistant for Cantor Aviva Katzman. He has worked at Temple since 2009 and is also and actor an a playwright.