Former Journalist Peter Aronson brings the IPO’s founder and founding to middle-grade readers.
On July 17, Peter Aronson‘s Bronislaw Huberman: From Child Prodigy To Hero, The Violinist Who Saved Jewish Musicians From The Holocaust launches the author’s series of books for middle-grade readers. The New York-based attorney and former journalist describes his open-ended “Groundbreaker” series as “short biographies about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
Written for ages 8 through 13, this first book introduces Huberman as a violin prodigy in Poland, and then follows him on his teenage concert tours of the world’s music halls. We see the emergence of the social activism that in the 1930s will lead him to merge two monumental tasks: saving Europe’s leading Jewish musicians from extermination and establishing a world-class orchestra in Palestine. Rallying the involvement of prominent figures from Albert Einstein to Arturo Toscanini, he would be responsible for saving scores of musicians and their families while founding what became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Aronson, who dedicates the book “to the many individuals who saved lives during the Holocaust,” gives his young readers a sense of immediacy with his subject through dozens of historic photographs, excerpts from Huberman’s own correspondence, and quotes from interviews he conducted with founding IPO members in Israel, New York, Toronto and Germany in the early 2000s.
“I wanted to choose quotes that kids can relate to,” said Aronson. “These musicians knew Huberman and told me about the kind of person he was. Because they lived in Germany and other European countries at that time, there were quotes I thought were pertinent to give readers an impression of what the Nazis were doing to them and what they were living through.”
CONNECTING TO HISTORY
It was in 2000, while awaiting a Carnegie Hall performance by the Israel Philharmonic, that Aronson met the historic Bronislaw Huberman in a program article.
The Long Island-born, Westchester-raised Aronson was nearing the end of 20 years as a print journalist and TV news reporter and producer. Although he had earned a law degree from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in 1982 and quickly entered the New York bar, he had chosen not to practice, and spent the next 12 months earning a Master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. On newspapers in Connecticut, Ft. Lauderdale, and San Francisco, then Court TV and the National Law Journal, he worked his way to covering the nation’s biggest legal stories: the Rodney King beating trial, the OJ Simpson trial and Bush vs. Gore, his last big assignment.
“The fun thing about being a journalist was traveling for the big stories,” he said. “But it wasn’t conducive to having a family.”
By 2005 he would dust off his law degree and bar membership and join a Manhattan firm specializing in elder law. As he waited for the concert to begin in 2000, however, he was open to another big writing venture.
“I’m reading about Huberman and how the orchestra came to be,” he said, “and I turned to my wife, Emily, who’s in the film business, and said, ‘This is a story … an amazing story.'”
Longtime IPO bassoonist Uzi Shalev is a longtime friend of Aronson’s, having met in 1978 while living on Kibbutz Ein Dor. Over lunch the day after the Carnegie concert Aronson confirmed his reporter’s instincts.
“‘Yes,” Shalev quickly agreed. “It is an amazing story.”
“I told him, ‘I am going to write it,’ and I began researching,” Aronson said. “Uzi sent me material from Israel and connected me with people I went there to meet. I visited the IPO archives in Israel and looked through letters and so forth, and interviewed members of the orchestra. I went with Emily to a film festival in Toronto, interviewing an original member there, and to the Berlin Film Festival, where I did research in Germany. There were also several original musicians living in New York whom I spoke with.”
He also spoke with Huberman’s granddaughter, Joan Payne, several times and recently got great support from Rob Huberman, a distant relative with a comprehensive website dedicated to Huberman.
The original research went into a screenplay Aronson wrote that was “a fictionalized account of Huberman’s story.”
“It was optioned twice, but never produced,” he said. “I still have it – maybe someday it will be produced.”
Coincidentally, it was filmmaker Josh Aronson, no relation, who told the story in the celebrated Orchestra of Exiles documentary.
FOR OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN
While the research sat in a drawer, Aronson spent the next decade establishing his law practice and writing children’s books for – and reading children’s books to – his daughters Mabel, now 15, and Maisy, 13.
When Mabel and Maisy were entering their teens he “noticed my kids were reading only dystopian type books – Harry Potter and Hunger Games. And I said, ‘I’m going to write some children’s books that focus on real world people who’ve successfully dealt with real issues and personal challenges.”
Huberman was the obvious first candidate. The second, to be published this November 6, Election Day, is about Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist, activist, and suffragist, who in 1916 became the first woman elected to congress.
“I’ve got subjects lined up for the next 10 Groundbreakers books,” he said.
For American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic, however, the first in the series may have the greatest importance, as it not only shows the role one person played in history, it characterizes the ongoing role of the IPO, as in this excerpt:
“To beat the world campaign of anti-Semitism, it’s not enough to create material and idealistic prosperity in Palestine,” [Huberman] wrote in a letter in support of his plan. “The symphony orchestra as I visualize it would be perhaps the first and easiest step to the highest aim of Jewish humanity.”