JERUSALEM — As an educator, composer and musicologist specializing in Jewish music, Tzipora Jochsberger, 80, has opened new worlds for thousands of people of all ages. An accomplished woman, her goals have been twofold: to use the medium of music to broaden human experience, and to bring Jews closer to Judaism and their heritage through Jewish music.
Although she is now retired from her position as founder and director of the Hebrew Arts School in Manhattan, Jochsberger's energy and enthusiasm remains boundless.
Born in 1920 in a small village in southern Germany into a loving family that knew very little about Judaism, she is the daughter of parents who perished in 1944 in the ovens of Auschwitz. "After I learned of their murder, I became strengthened and was determined to learn more about Judaism, and show the Jewish world how rich our heritage is," she said.
When she was 5, her mother bought her a piano and provided lessons that set the stage for a lifelong love of music.
While attending the Jewish Teacher's Seminary in Wurzburg, one of the few schools of higher learning in Germany that was open to Jews after 1933, an opportunity presented itself that would change Jochsberger's life.
Emil Hauser, director of Jerusalem's Palestine Academy of Music, came to Germany and Czechoslovakia.
She offered Jochsberger and other young Jewish students the opportunity to leave Germany and go to pre-state Israel to study.
"He saved many young musicians, and I was one of those lucky ones," she said.
When she arrived in Israel in 1939, Jochsberger was 18. The country was under British rule and Jerusalem was like a small town where everyone knew each other.
Many residents and new immigrants were from Germany, and Jochsberger fit right in. She plunged into her studies, became fluent in Hebrew and graduated with two diplomas, one from the Palestine Academy of Music, the other from the Music Teachers Seminary in Jerusalem.
Her first job, in 1942, was at an Arab teachers college in Jerusalem. "I did not speak any Arabic or very much English," Jochsberger recalled.
"However, I learned here that music creates a language of its own, and I taught these young Arab women Western music and folk music through choral singing and playing recorder ensembles. I was the only Jewish teacher at the school, but we got along well. I was involved in developing a music curriculum for Arab schools. However, things fell apart in 1947 as hostilities between Arabs and Jews heightened."
With her little wooden flutelike instrument, the recorder, she developed a teaching method based on Hebrew songs called "Hava N'halela" (Come, Let Us Praise), and set off to transmit through music the knowledge of Judaism, its holidays and culture to Jews throughout the world. She persuaded the Jewish Agency to send her to America and began her mission. "I kept the recorder in my pocketbook," she recalled, " and would take it out and demonstrate my materials when I visited Jewish organizations. Then I began training teachers who started classes throughout the country." During her stay in America, Jochsberger also attained a doctorate of sacred music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
However, the first and foremost force in Jochsberger's life has been to be an active educator. When the opportunity presented itself in 1952 to start the Hebrew Arts School in Manhattan, she grabbed it. "Here was an opportunity to bring thousands of people closer to Judaism via music," she said. "The facility was established under the guidelines of being closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, so that it would be accessible to all Jews and become part of their lives."
She started the school with 16 students. Today the school is called the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, has an enrollment of more than 2,000 students and boasts a complex of classrooms, theaters, and a jewel of an auditorium, Merkin Concert Hall, known for its fine acoustics. This hall was filled to capacity when the school celebrated the 20th anniversary of its current site, the Abraham Goodman House, and Jochsberger was honored. She spoke to a standing ovation and was presented with a silver plate by nine faculty members who had been with her for 30 years. On the plate is an inscription from the Talmud, "The one who sings in this world will also sing in the next."
But before moving to the next world, Jochsberger has things to do. In 1986, she fulfilled her dream and returned to Israel.
"While in New York, I was always waiting to come home. When I saw that the school was established and would be in good hands, I knew where I belonged," she said. Now in Israel, in addition to her work in the Israel Music Heritage Project, she is carrying on her formerly "clandestine" pastime.
"During August vacations," she said with a grin, "I would do my composing. No one ever knew."
These days, she is composing music full time, and has added to her already impressive list of commissioned and performed music a new CD called "Jewish Choral Music," performed by the Ave Chamber Choir of Riga with Cantor Israel Rand and the Ankor Children's Choir of Jerusalem. "
"The Riga Choir is a non-Jewish choir," she said, " and yet they performed my music beautifully. As a matter of fact, their performance was the first performance of Jewish music in Riga since World War II, making it a most moving experience."
Her most recent accomplishment is a series of videos prepared through the Israel Music Heritage Project, which she established, consisting of a 10-part documentary video series called "A People and its Music."
The series documents the music and lifestyles of a number of diaspora communities, each video providing an accurate, historical presentation as well as a personal encounter with current Jewish communities of the world.
One of her documentaries, "Sepharad: Judeo-Spanish Music," was a recent finalist in the New York Film Festival. It takes the viewer on a journey from the Golden Age of Spanish Jews to their expulsion from Spain with little more than the Ladino melodies that permeated their everyday lives and synagogue music.
The counterpart to this documentary, "Ashkenaz: Music of Eastern European Jewry," traces the simple music of the shtetl: the powerful, liturgical traditions of cantorial art, the irrepressible joy of klezmer and the songs of the Yiddish theater, played and sung by well-known contemporary performers. It also contains vintage footage, giving the viewer a peek into life in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust.
"My goal in producing these videos," Jochsberger said, "is to use music as a unifying factor between Jews to overcome boundaries, and build bridges between the various segments of our rich and colorful nation."
"Toward Jerusalem" and "One Day the Heart Opens" feature the music of the Jews who come from the small but distinct Jewish communities of Persia, India, Iraq, Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Georgia and Tadzhikistan. These videos are coordinated by the Israeli rock star Ehud Banai, who throughout his career has made use of the ethnic tapestry of sounds in his own compositions.
"Jews have a musical past," Jochsberger said. "We just have no idea how the choirs of Levis in the Temple sounded or how the instruments on which they played actually looked. We have only the shofar and traces of the melodies. We therefore had to visit ancient communities in Israel for a view into our past. We recorded the music of the Samaritans and music sung by an Ethiopian children's choir in the last video entitled 'Israel: The Bible and Today.'"
Jochsberger donated the entire Israel Music Heritage Project to the Jewish Music Department at the Beit Hatefutsoth Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv to "disseminate information and promote tolerance, brotherhood and love within the Jewish people."