Monday, June 12, 2023

Stories from the Violins of Hope


 Stories from the Violins of Hope by Lisa Rosenbaum and Ronda Spinak. Presented by Moira Blumenthal Productions and Shalom at Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Sydney, May 31 – June 18 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 11

Written by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum & Ronda Spinak
Musical curation by Dr Noreen Green, Artistic Director and Conductor of the
Los Angeles Jewish Symphony

Barry French as Amnon Weinstein with Laurence Coy, Lloyd Allison-Young, Sophie Gregg and Kate Bookallil

Dr Noreen Green (performing on all dates EXCEPT 13 to 18 June)
Ben Adler (performing on all dates EXCEPT the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 11 June)
Swing Violinist - Leo Novikov; Swing Pianist - Ben Burton

Director - Moira Blumenthal
Set Designer - Tom Bannerman; Costume Designer - Andrea Tan
Lighting Designer - Martin Kinnane; Sound Designer - Aaron Robuck

Production Manager - Helena Gonzalez
Stage Manager - Kirsty Walker
Rehearsal Stage Manager - Aaron Robuck


For me this week has become the Art of Human Kindness in the Face of Human Perfidy week. Thursday June 8 took me to the community of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, for Come From Away; Sunday June 11 at 2pm took me to Tel Aviv, to the Violins of Hope workshop of Amnon Weinstein; then also on Sunday June 11 at 6pm at Eternity Theatre I was transported to Eastern Europe and finally Australia by Driftwood, The Musical – in my next review.

To appreciate the Stories from the Violins of Hope – true stories, as are those in Come From Away and Driftwood – the history of collecting the violins is the central thread of the play:

In the 1980s, Amnon Weinstein, a second-generation violin maker in Tel Aviv, Israel, was asked to restore an old violin. The instrument was in poor condition but had an incredible past: the man who brought him the violin had been interned in a concentration camp, and he played it as he was sent to the gas chamber. This man survived only because his captors assigned him to the camp’s orchestra. After the liberation of the concentration camp, the man put the violin away. He had not played it since.

“I opened the violin case,” Weinstein recalls, “and inside there were ashes.”

He was horrified, as the ashes were very likely the incinerated remains of concentration camp victims. Almost 400 members of his own extended family had died in the Holocaust. To handle an instrument that had witnessed such destruction was too much for Weinstein.

“I could not,” he says. “I could not.”

In 1999, Weinstein decided he was ready. He put out a call for other violins which had survived the Holocaust like the one he’d put away so many years ago, and so began the Violins of Hope. Since then, Amnon and his son Avshalom have received more than 70 instruments, and have devoted countless hours to the lovingly detailed and careful restoration of each one. This exhibition will share the story of Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein and the violin workshop in Tel Aviv where the Violins of Hope journey began.

The play begins as young Amnon is watching an American Western movie with his father – who reacts visibly, on their weekly cinema trips, to the gun shots, but makes the crucial point: the good guy always wins.

Amnon himself only ever knew living in Palestine, later in the newly established Israel.  He discovers the story of his parents leaving Germany in 1938 especially because his mother saw going to Palestine as going to their true homeland.  Jews, of course, were already being rounded up and placed in ghettos, so his father saw an opportunity to take his expertise repairing violins – as it turned out ironically mostly German - to Palestine.

Perhaps the most awful part of Amnon’s story is how letters from his parents’ families stopped coming soon after WW II began, but in Palestine there was no news until the end of the war to explain what had happened.  His father had kept hidden the German violins, but Amnon had not understood why.

In a similar story-telling form as in Come From Away, the five actors play out scenes from the family history from Amnon’s parents’ generation through to his own and the beginning of the next.  The essential dramatic conflict is about the rejection and finally acceptance of the truth – that the art in making, playing and repairing the violins is central to their German and Jewish traditions.

Only, as his history records, in 1999, 60 years after his parents left Germany, could Amnon Weinstein find the way to show that art is our universal hope, bringing out our sense of community.

The effect, especially in the small theatre in the Bondi Pavilion, was moving, taking us from a confusion of feelings to a satisfying sense of resolution – of a new direction for the future.

Finding myself engaged in the Jewish experience, afterwards on reflection I wondered about how the Violins of Hope fit in to the politics of Israel today.  

There is an awful irony that the longstanding discrimination against the Jews in Europe (which even William Shakespeare recognised in his The Merchant of Venice more than 400 years ago), taken to such an extreme beyond understanding by Adolf Hitler (in the spurious name of the National Socialist Workers of Germany), generated the United Nations' response in setting up Israel to replace the British colonial state of Arab Palestine to provide the homeland that Amnon Weinstein’s mother had hoped for.

I hope that the Violins of Hope warmth of understanding can come together with the Ouds of Hope before too long:

 By Mutaz Awad - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,