David Jacoby and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra go way back.
David Jacoby‘s attendance record with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra may indeed be a record: There are 81 years between his first concert in Tel Aviv and his most recent one in Los Angeles.
It’s a relationship that spans the lifetimes of both orchestra and octogenarian, with Jacoby continuing to provide the IPO with annual financial support and by purchasing Gala tickets to every Los Angeles concert.
“The orchestra is a prime ambassador from the State of Israel to the world,” he explained. “It is a great orchestra of fabulous Israeli musicians who perform outstanding beautiful music worldwide. It must be supported.”
For eight decades, the sights and sounds of that concert by the one-year-old Palestine Symphony Orchestra have remained fixed in Jacoby’s crystalline memory. They anchor a rare perspective that stretches from the orchestra’s origins through interwoven histories of life under the British Mandate and doing their part to bring about independence and nationhood.
Listening to Maestro Zubin Mehta conduct a piano concerto by Beethoven in Disney Hall last October, Jacoby reflected back on his first encounter with the composer. It was February 1937 when a rapt, 7-year-old David Jakubowicz (name changed in 1940) sat in the mezzanine of Tel Aviv’s Levant Fair Hall.
“My elementary school music teacher, Mr. Burgachove, had told us, ‘We’re going to hear an orchestra, and you must listen for a repeating theme in the music,'” Jacoby told a visitor to his home some weeks later. “‘When it does that … repeats a certain part, you know it’s a symphony,’ Burgachove told us.”
“All this was so new to me,” he continued. “I didn’t know anything about an orchestra. I didn’t know any of the composers. But they started playing …” he sings Da-da-dah DUM. It’s instantly recognizable as the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
“I remember that repeating,” he said. “That note I remember till today.”
POLAND TO PALESTINE
Jacoby first came ashore in Jaffa Port in 1935 on the shoulders of an Arab porter. His parents and two older brothers were arriving from Królewska Huta, Poland, which they had left under cover of night.
His father, Chaim Jakubowicz, had fought for Polish independence from Russia and had been wounded, captured, and imprisoned by the Russians. He returned to his home on the border with Germany and in 1925 married Rifka Shivek, a woman who, like himself, was one of nine brothers and sisters. “Some siblings on both sides were fervent Zionists,” Jacoby said, and by the early 1930s a few had migrated to Palestine – some on foot – to pioneer new communities.
“Because my father was a Polish veteran, he had a Polish passport and was able to get a British Mandate Visa,” Jacoby remembered. “So we quietly left by train. I was 6, my oldest brother Henry was 10 and my middle brother Abe was 9. We stopped to say goodbye to relatives in Poland: All hush-hush. We got to Trieste and sailed to Jaffa.
“In Palestine, the pioneers developed the country and the music,” he continued. In Tel Aviv, with a population of only 100,000, several thousand were eager to attend the orchestra’s first concerts. “Who were these people? There were many highly educated architects, doctors, and others in Tel Aviv, and although there was no government to provide money for the orchestra, the people raised donations for it, just like they still do today.”
Music was also self-supported in Jacoby’s childhood home, where only Henry got to take lessons on a violin he brought with him from Poland.
After graduating high school as a skilled draftsman, Jacoby helped an architect who designed the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv. In 1946, he joined the Haganah and in 1948 joined the fight for independence. With his skills as a draftsman, he became an army cartographer.
ON TO AMERICA
In 1951, David joined his brothers in America for his education. Henry had earned a degree in Chemical Engineering and Abe earned his in Electrical Engineering. Jacoby complemented them with a Master’s in Food Science and Technology from UC Berkeley, where he met his future wife, an educator named Janine Volk. They had two children, Naomi and Daniel.
Today, daughter Naomi Ryerson is an artist and owner of Wandering Art Gallery in Denver. Daniel earned his degree in Biomedical Engineering. He and a partner founded Digital Insight, an early provider of digital banking solutions that was later acquired by Intuit Corporation. Tragically, Jacoby lost his son to cancer in 2004 and his wife the following year.
Next month, Jacoby and his best friend, Penny Haberman, will be back in Israel visiting their friends, husband-and-wife IPO members Dmitry Ratush, Assistant Principal Viola, and Yevgenia Pikovsky, Principal Second Violin. While there, they will attend the Israel Philharmonic concert in Jerusalem, which will extend Jacoby’s attendance past the 81-year mark.