Palestine Music Association address
Huberman gave this lecture to the American Palestine Music Association in New York on 9th December 1934, and published in Hadassah News Letter, January 1935.
Not reticent in his support of Zionism, Huberman thinks that Western Civilization is based upon only two races - the Jews and the Greeks. He also argues that the Jews are primarily responsible for the European Industrial Revolution, and that for centuries they have been the deciding factor in musical affairs.
I am very happy to have this opportunity of speaking about a subject which fills me with great enthusiasm, that is, about Palestine and music.
Somebody made an allusion to my professed political ideas on Pan-Europe, a United States of Europe. An ardent Jewish politician in Poland asked me, “But where does the Jew come in, in Pan-Europe?” – I told him: “In many respects. He would be one of the passports to Pan-Europe and also one of the beneficiaries.” He asked me: “Why a ‘beneficiary’?” – Because, I said, one of the most dangerous elements of anti-semitism is envy, jealousy. When there is bread for both anti-Semite and Jew the antisemites will lose much of their resentment against Jews even in Germany.
I have also looked into the relations of Zionism and the part which it would play in Pan-Europe. When the impression first started to work on me, I must confess I was not at all a Zionist. There were many reasons which prevented me from becoming a Zionist in earlier times. To begin with, I was always of the opinion that there is nothing more European than the Jews. As a matter of fact, the whole structure of what we call our western civilization is built on two main columns; they were built by the two smallest of all the European nations or tribes: the Greeks and the Jews. No matter how great the share of the other nations in the upbuilding of European civilization was, they had to build upon the basis laid down by those two peoples. We got our sense of beauty, of philosophy from the Greeks, our conception of the one and only God from the Jews. Now, the Greeks have vanished; the Jews still exist and they are going on with their mission within the western, the European civilization.
As I said before, and as I hardly need say to anybody, Jew or Gentile, we got our monotheism from the Jews. It is only one step from the idea of the Almighty, the one and unique and everpresent God to that other idea of the one one humanity of brethren. Therefore, it is not a mere chance, it is just, I daresay, a mathematical consequence that the nation which developed the conception of the one God, has become a leader in social development, leading in the struggle for social justice among humanity. Where there is only one God, there can be only one humanity; where there is the conception of one humanity, in the long run social injustice cannot be tolerated.
But this was not the Jews’ only mission in former times, just as it is not at the present time in Europe. I should like to hint at an ethnological proof that the Jews have been mostly responsible for the transformation of the industrial and financial structure of feudal times to what it is at the present time. Europe and America owe this transformation to the discovery of new energies like steam and electricity, and their application to everyday life. These applications meant expenditure of such huge amounts that no individual nor even Government would be able to afford it. For these some sort of a mutual basin was necessary into which the private savings of a nation could be poured. Well, I asked myself one day, what has such an accumulating instrument of money to do with seating accommodation? You know, this accumulating money-pot is called a Bank. Bank, deriving from the very sense of seating accommodation such as a seat or chair, what has this to do with money? Well, it has the following: When the medieval towns of Italy were growing rich and richer and their commerce becoming more and more international, the foreign money pouring into these towns had to be exchanged. The little poor Jews did that job on the corners of, say, Main Street, on their little wooden benches, and when there was something wrong with the exchange, then this wooden bench was cut to pieces, in Italian ‘La Banca Rotta’. Thus we got the Bank and the Bankruptcy from the Jews. – I do not pretend that there had not been bankers before. We know there had been bankers even in Roman times. But when we see that the great financial institutions of the 19 th and 20 th century are called ‘Banks’ and not creditor or money exchange, but just bank, then we cannot help assuming that all these financial institutions of today, managed by Jews or by Gentiles, have developed directly from just these little Jewish enterprises.
Now I am not going to give you here a list of all the branches of Finance, Culture and Science and so on where Jews have played and are going to play prominent roles, because you know it just as well as I do. So, agreeing as we do on this point of their mission also in the future, I kept asking myself when the problem of Zionism approached me, whether such a thing would hamper or help the fulfilling of this mission of the Jews in the world. This Mission, so I argued with myself, they can fulfil only if, really and 100 percent bona fide, they are allowed, while remaining loyal Jews, to act in Poland as Polish Jews, in Germany as German Jews, in America as American Jews and so on. Would not a successful little Jewish State in Palestine, comprising at the utmost only 1/10 th part of World Jewry, help the antisemites to strengthen their argument that after all the Jews are striving, with their ancient hope, to go back to their real old fatherland and with all their money and sympathies already directed towards Palestine? These were the questions. I do not pretend that I answered them right away in a negative sense. But the mere existence of these questions in my heart imposed on me a great reserve towards Zionism. And then I don’t want to conceal the fact that, while I have been a loyal Jew whenever the moment of displaying this loyalty arose, I felt also very Polish and, in addition to that, very European. As a matter of fact, I was always a nationalist, I mean nationalist as a European. This feeling was so strong, so imperative that I could not even help embarking actively in what is called the Pan-European Movement, a political movement aiming at the formation of the United States of Europe. I have been writing and lecturing about this subject and devoting all my spare time to this ideal of mine. – Now you can think for yourselves what must be the feelings of a man with these thoughts and longings when he is for the first time coming to Palestine. I frankly admit, I had to fight many prejudices preconceived out of my feelings as a European. But already on my first visit I was so impressed by the monuments of idealism, of the creative energy of the people there, that I made a vow never to say another antagonistic word about Zionism, because I felt, in view of these wonderful achievements, that it would have been what the German calls: Dolchstoss in den Rücken – a knife in the back. There followed 2 years later, in 1931, a second visit, and in 1934 a third one. This longest sojourn provoked a fundamental change in my attitude and interest in Palestine. All arguments or theories are quite useful things as long as they are in accordance with life. But as soon as there is a discrepancy between life and theory, then I am too much of an artist as not to bow first of all to life. And you have never seen life with all its impulses, longings, hopes and creative energies flow in such an overwhelming way as you can see in everyday life in Palestine. There is such an abundance of miracles that it is not easy to select a few examples, be it the Library, or Agriculture, or a social problem handled on a collective basis by the taxi-drivers, and so on.
But the main source of inspiration in the Holy Land emanates from the atmosphere of mysticism of which everybody there, Jew or Gentile, feels the breath. It is, of course, much more difficult to speak of this je-ne-sais-quoi of Palestine mysticism than to speak about a taxi-drivers’ corporation. When I spoke about it to the High Commissioner, who after all is an Englishman and a military man, and therefore just not made for mysticism, he agreed that he too was alive to this unique mystic atmosphere which casts its reflection upon his whole attitude towards his official mission. – This mysticism is born of the landscape, of the history, of the ideals in everybody’s breast, of the miracles of the three religions represented there, of the hopes nourished and partly already realized by the Jews.
I must think of a conversation with a schoolmaster in En Harod which perhaps casts a light upon the sources and the effects of this atmosphere of mysticism. – I gave a concert in En Harod, one of the agricultural colonies in Erez Israel, and was, the next morning, shown all that was interesting, such as the school, the Kindergarten, the babies’ home for different ages and so on. I saw there was everything, a piano, a library, sports-grounds, botanical and zoological collections, but I missed one thing: where is the Synagogue? I asked. “There is no Synagogue!” “You carry your children to another one?” “No, there is no other.” “But how do you bring up your children in ethics and morals?” “Well, we devote our special attention to the Bible, in special courses, much more elaborate than in the usual educational scheme.” Then I went on asking, “I see two ways of teaching the Bible, teaching it as a sort of history, but that would not answer my question about the teaching of morals; or taking the Bible as a collection of miracles and divine commandments and inspirations; but then I see again a need for liturgical forms with a Rabbi and a Synagogue or so.” – The schoolmaster gave me an answer of such a high level, that I feel I won’t be capable of quoting it in the proper way. He said that apparently I did not know the Bible as I ought to know it, which I confirmed, because otherwise I would not have overlooked that there was a third possibility and to him the most important in teaching it to children: This third possibility, representing the Bible as the spiritual treasury where are deposited the wisdom, the goodness of the most elect men in our nation’s history, teaching morals and ethics and human behaviour up to the highest level of these highest minds of the Jewish people, and such teaching of morals does not need the vestments of liturgy and church, on the contrary, eh said, “When I succeed in making the children understand ethics and morals as such and make them live up to it without any allusion to miracles, to obligations, to recompense and to punishment, then the highest imaginable aim of education will be fulfilled” – I had to agree with that man. I have sometimes dreamed of a phrase of humanity’s evolution where the good would be done and taught just for the sake of the good. And here I met for the first time a striving for it. I cannot tell how deeply I was touched by that conversation.
Another feature of Palestine life is the continuous state of alarm in which everybody is more or less living here. Most people in Europe and perhaps America, who hear about the state of permanent emergency, deplore it. I am now alluding to all the provisions made for defence in the towns and in the loneliest agricultural colonies. I, for my part, am happy about it. I think, these menaces God or Providence has reserved for the preset state of the Jews in order to prevent them from becoming too materialistic or even again too intellectual. The prosperity in Palestine and the sympathy of the whole world which they enjoy and the inclination towards intellectual life and culture would unavoidably have in the long run a weakening effect on morals and physique. But now, on the contrary, one can say that every Jew in Palestine is leading the life of a hero and training for such a life. That has in a most wonderful way added to that rare sort of psychological balance which you find amongst the Jews here, a balance between ethics and physique, between hard physical labour and spiritual recreation.
Now let us turn to music. I start with my own experiences: One might advance the argument that there may have been some special reasons for these huge attendances, such as perhaps my special popularity with the Jews here or the scarcity of first-class concerts; but I can easily refute such arguments. To begin with: they had plenty of first-class concerts in the last few years, and secondly, the following fact tells the whole story: There is an orchestra of a very modest quality. When the Choir leader, Mr. Jacobsohn, gave a performance of Haendel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” with that orchestra, the work had to be repeated ten times in one season. – In a spell of objectivity I tried to calm down my enthusiasm about the love of music in this country, and I said to myself: after all, there is no reason for amazement when we think that these are the same Jews who have for centuries been the deciding factors in musical affairs. So it is not surprising that they have now brought with them to Palestine their musical education and knowledge. But then I said, No, that is Nonsense. America was for 350 years, in matters of music, culturally a desert. And yet the ancestors of the Americans were of Irish, Scotch, British, Dutch, French origin. They were the representatives of highly cultured nations, and yet they surrendered their cultural needs and habits in the first stages of their pioneering. The Jews also had hard fights in their pioneering, but yet they could simply not abandon the cultural standard of life of their native country. One has the feeling as if with every new orange tree planted in the ground a parallel tree of spiritual culture was planted too. One time it is a music school, then a theatre, then a museum, or a collection, a library or a hospital and so on; and all this in 10 years. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. I think it is really unique in the whole history of colonization of the white race. I believe firmly that Palestine will in a very short time be the first country where the human humiliation of a culture limited only to one class or section will disappear, the first country where we shall witness the miracle of an entire community culture. Under the spell of this new evolution one cannot help imagining that this may be the proper atmosphere for the creation of a new, a definite gospel for the salvation of humanity. – It is mainly this outlook of a growing general community culture which pushes me to add my modest share in the field of music.
So far, I have been talking only in an enthusiastic affirmative way. I don’t want to close this speech under the impression that there was nothing to find fault with. There are even a great many objectionable developments and dangers. There will be both malignant and loyal critics for what the Jews are doing in Palestine. All we can do here is develop that medium which carries with itself harmony not only in an abstract way, but very often performs more than politics and other human undertakings for the miracle of creating out of thousands of individual hearts with a thousand opinions and aspirations and outlooks One Great Spiritual Unity. Let’s work for Music in Palestine.