Veterans: The music man
Not everyone loves what they do for a living, but Bernie Marinbach has found his calling.
The music man Photo: GLORIA DEUTSCH
To open your front door and have a klezmer musician, dressed in full regalia,
serenade you with “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” on his clarinet is vaguely
But that’s what happened when Bernie Marinbach, visiting his
sister in Kfar Saba, appeared on my doorstep one morning
Passersby and neighbors enjoyed the impromptu concert.
Marinbach is an accomplished musician who has carved out a niche for himself as
one of Israel’s best-known klezmer musicians. For 21 years he was member and
concert master of the Israel Police Band. This often entailed being out on the
street in his police uniform, where people assumed he was a real
“I was often asked the things people ask policemen, and I
never volunteered that I was only a band member,” he says. “I tried to look
This would not have been an easy task for the genial Marinbach,
who strongly feels that his mission in life is to bring happiness through his
He made aliya in 1975 and had no idea he was going to be able to
make his living through music, no matter how good he was. He had another string
to his bow, so to speak, with a doctorate in history, and he taught history for
a while. But music is his life and to this day he can barely believe he is
making his living doing something he loves so much.
Marinbach was born in
1946 on New York’s Lower East Side. His whole family is musical and his father
was a cantor, as Marinbach is today in the synagogue where he prays in
Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
Later the family moved to Boro Park in
Brooklyn, and he describes a turning point that occurred in his life when he was
12 years old. A certain Sam Meltzer walked into his Hebrew day school and
offered to start clarinet classes. The principal agreed and the children began
learning to play on rented clarinets.
When the year was up, Meltzer told
all the children to carry on renting next year but said “Bernie, you buy a
By the age of 16 he was playing professionally and eventually
had his own band.
“To this day I thank the principal for taking up the
suggestion of Mr. Meltzer,” he says now.
When he decided to make aliya in
1975 he planned to carry on teaching history and make music in his spare time.
He taught in Givat Washington High School and later at Tel Aviv University in
the Overseas Students’ Unit, but he also used connections he’d made in New York
to contact hassidic bands here and offered to play for free so they would hear
“With my 15 years of experience I figured I would get in easily, and
I did. I got recommendations and after some time joined up with another
immigrant, Shalom Brody, and we played together for seven years in the Shalom
Band,” he says.
Then in 1980 a traumatic incident brought about a change
in his life. He fell from a ladder, badly injuring his right hand. During months
of treatment he worried he would not be able to play any more and became
“I kept telling myself I still had the history
teaching but I realized that all I wanted to do was to play. I made a little vow
to myself – if I ever get out of this I’m going to play full-time,” he
After extensive physiotherapy he was able to play as well as
ever and soon after joined the police band, staying with it for 21 years until
he retired in 2001.
“After I left the police, I really wanted to play my
own music – klezmer music. It means something to me because of the neighborhood
I grew up in and the family background.”
Klezmer music has enjoyed a
revival in Israel for many years now. Marinbach defines it as music that has
developed over the past few hundred years primarily in Eastern Europe and in
places where Jewish immigrants settled around the world who originated from
A good klezmer musician can make his
instrument laugh or cry. Marinbach is proficient in saxophone and clarinet, and
listening to him is always a delight. He’s recorded many discs and has often
appeared on television. He also has a oneman show in which he plays and tells
stories, and he is almost as good a raconteur as he is a musician.
musicians play for the art of music, but I come from a different angle,” he
says. “Music is to make people happy and that’s one of the reasons I picked
klezmer, because it is mostly happy music.”
Today he lives in Jerusalem
with his second wife, Yehudit, and their four children.
He is pleased
that one of his sons, Assaf, seems to have inherited his musical
An older son from his first marriage is a
He often goes abroad for gigs but he’s happiest playing
his joyful music in Israel where he feels he can alleviate some of the hard
times, if only briefly. For Marinbach, it’s his contribution to the country he