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Some two dozen Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra musicians gathered outside the Israel Broadcasting Authority offices in Jerusalem early Monday afternoon and picked up their instruments with the hope of saving their jobs, threatened by IBA budget cuts
"It's a crime," said retired violinist Carmen Lehner, who played with the orchestra for 37 years. "The government committed itself [to the JSO] and can't abandon it now."
The JSO was founded and is largely funded by the IBA, which recently informed the orchestra that its budget would be cut by 60%. Four years ago, members accepted a voluntary 20% pay cut to save the orchestra from liquidation.
JSO bassoonist Alexander Fine said Monday's demonstration, however, was not about salaries, but "about survival of this institution. The JSO is of critical importance for the future of Israeli music education."
The number of musicians was matched, and often exceeded, by supporters and curious bystanders, drawn toward the strange sight and unusual acoustics of an orchestra on Jaffa Road. Even workers in the IBA building came out to enjoy the show, smiling and clapping along.
"Music is a Jewish profession," explained viola player Moshe Lifshitz. "The JSO has been part of Israel for 70 years; the society has to care about it."
Many musicians and supporters noted that the JSO is the only orchestra that regularly performs new Israeli music. Composer and Academy of Music Professor Menachem Zur said he was worried that "young musicians will see how Israel treats it musicians and many of them will leave the country for Europe or the US. I achieved fame abroad because they [the JSO] helped me by playing my music and allowing me to grow."
Zur's sentiments were echoed by Jerusalem Great Synagogue conductor Eli Yaffe who told the musicians, "I was able to conduct around the world because of you."
What had been a rather cheerful gathering for most of the afternoon, despite the matter at stake, quickly became heated when the IBA's Moshe Gavish appeared to address the crowd. Musicians packed in tightly to demand explanations of the IBA's and government's reasoning behind the cuts.
Gavish told the JSO in early June that the IBA was still interested in the orchestra, and would provide NIS 5 million of the orchestra's annual budget, if that amount could be matched by both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry. This is a far cry from several years ago, when the IBA provided NIS 11m. out of the orchestra's NIS 15m. budget. Monday he told the musicians that they weren't the only ones affected by the cuts, and that he was concerned for the salaries of those who work at the IBA as well.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, the minister responsible for the IBA before he resigned from the government, said in June that the situation was worse than anyone had realized.
"People have been talking about it for years, but the extent of the crisis is worse than anyone had imagined," he told Israel Radio.
Principal violinist Daniel Fradkin argued, "This IBA action is shameful. It brings Israel down to the status of a third world country. Already the budget is hardly 10% of most Western orchestras. We have a right to culture, the same way we have a right to defense, education, and health care."
Cellist Tomel Yoshe, 27, says most of the musicians are already working two or three jobs just to get by. He works in a pet shop and teaches music when not performing with the orchestra. Yoshe says his sister performed with the JSO for 12 years but had to leave because she wasn't bringing in enough money. He compared the JSO to a "lonely animal being thrown bones in the street."
If it remains in existence, the JSO will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year.