Finding meaning through music

DAPHNE AND JACK Coleman met during the summer of 1964 while performing at music festival in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy)
DAPHNE AND JACK Coleman met during the summer of 1964 while performing at music festival in Israel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On a late summer afternoon in their spacious Jerusalem apartment, Daphne and Jack Coleman – whose energy, appearance, and vitality belie their years – pause from a week of volunteer work, learning, and music-making to tell the story of their fateful meeting more than 50 years ago and how their shared interest in music has contributed to lives rich in meaning.
In 1964, then 21-year-old Daphne Lewis was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Lewis, who hailed from Southend, a town 60 kilometers outside London, was staying in a hostel in London’s East End.
Jack Coleman, then 25, was a member of the renowned London Jewish Male Choir. That summer, the choir was rehearsing for its upcoming visit to the 12th Zimriya Choir Festival, to be held in Israel in August.
Two months before the trip, the choir’s musical accompanist informed them that she could not attend.
With the choir in desperate need of a pianist, the conductor’s brother, who was also studying at the Royal Academy, mentioned that Lewis would be a capable substitute. Her parents were unsure whether they could pay for her trip, but suggested that she go to rehearsals nonetheless.
Lewis began playing at the rehearsals, her parents consented to cover her costs, and she traveled with the 40-man choir to Israel for two weeks of performances.
While in Netanya one evening, Jack and Daphne went out for hummus, and upon their return, he asked if he could be in touch again.
Seven weeks later they became engaged, and they were married in 1965. Daphne remained with the choir for 14 years as accompanist, and together with Jack, who sang bass, they rehearsed and performed together.
Daphne, recalling the unexpected cancellation that led to their meeting, says, “We would not have ever met. There was no other way. We were in totally different social circles.”
Jack, whose parents escaped from Germany before World War II, was born in London. He worked for 20 years in the fashion industry as a production controller, and then spent 35 years in the specialized printing business. In addition to her work as an accompanist for the choir, Daphne taught music in schools for more than 20 years and gave private piano lessons for another 18 years.
In July 2014, Jack retired, and in August of that year – 50 years since their fateful trip to Israel for the choir festival – they returned, this time as full-time residents, joining their two grown children and 12 grandchildren, all of whom live in Israel.
Since their arrival, a great-grandson has been added to the family. Says Daphne, “Having met in Israel, I never dreamed that we’d end up here.”
Today, Daphne and Jack are active most of the week; busier, it seems, than they were during their younger years. Smiling, Daphne says, “We’ve got lots of energy.”
Their energy finds expression both in their physical activities and in the varied nature of their different undertakings. Jack, trim and fit at 78, says, “All my life I’ve been very sporty.” He plays tennis three times a week, against opponents 10 to 15 years younger. Daphne exercises three times a week, both in Zumba and Israeli dancing.
Jack also serves as a volunteer at the capital’s Botanical Gardens and attends several different Torah classes.
Daphne volunteers at the Ohr Meir & Bracha Terror Victims Support Center and bakes hallot for lone soldiers.
The primary focus of their activities is in their shared passion for music. Jack sings with the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, which performs both in Israel and abroad. Daphne is a rehearsal accompanist for the Encore Educational Theater Company and works with the Hasadna Conservatory and Zamir Chorale.
The couple performs joint concerts at day-care centers and before other groups, presenting a program of classical piano pieces, songs from shows, Gilbert & Sullivan and Israeli and Yiddish medleys. “It’s kind of a full circle story, in a way,” Daphne says.
“Culturally, we are busier than we ever were,” she continues. “The standard of music is wonderful here.
We go to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, and the Jerusalem Theatre is just 10 minutes away.”
Most of their friends from their previous life in England have moved to Israel, Jack notes. “When we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, we got together with a few friends in England, and we went to Paris for 48 hours. There were 16 of us.”
“For our 50th anniversary, 18 of us attended,” he recalls. “Now we are all living in Israel.” While their Hebrew is not quite perfect – Daphne says her Hebrew proficiency is kacha kacha (so-so) – they both have so many British friends that they don’t speak Hebrew often enough to improve. Smiling, Jack says, “Had we moved to Arad, we would be more fluent.”
Leaving their life in London was not particularly difficult for the Colemans. Speaking of the life he left behind, Jack says, “I have no great feelings about it.
Having spent 75 years there, you’d think I would do.”
He adds, “This is home. We feel safer here than we do in England.”
In addition to their children, grandchildren and great-grandson, Jack has a sister who made aliya 60 years ago. They kept in touch throughout the years and he adds, “When we made aliya, at the airport, everyone came to meet us. My sister said, ‘I’ve waited 57 years for you to come.”