I was eight years old. I wore a red and white polka dot dress, with a matching bow in my hair.
My violin was a three-quarter size. I played a simple version of the Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach.
I can still sing it on command, lo these many years later.
My parents gave me a big bouquet of roses afterwards, and gave one to my sister Dina, too, who had just turned five and didn’t play anything yet, but no one wanted her to be jealous.
My teacher, Mr. Ezrachi, had no use of his left pinky—a crazy thing for a violinist. He was facile enough, and in those days I had such a heightened frightened respect for teachers in general, a state-of-being very much encouraged in my family of teachers, that I never thought him compromised in any way. I would sneak lots of peeks at his pinky, though.
This, my first recital, took place in Tel Aviv in a hall that seemed huge to me, but might actually have been my teacher’s living room.
My father, a Math Professor, was on Sabbatical for a semester, the only Sabbatical he ever took. We moved to Israel for four months. He taught at Bar-Ilan University, I went to Netzach Yisroel School for Girls, across the street from Netzach Yisroel School for Boys who threw rocks at us; Dina went to Kindergarden which they just call ‘garden’ in Hebrew, where she was the only kid with long hair-- every Israeli mother chopped her kids’ hair off because of the lice-- and my American mother, who was all of 30 at the time, tried to make it work in a new apartment in a new land where she barely spoke the language. Without a dryer.
I had been playing violin less than a year, scratching and squeaking away, but in my family there are a few prodigies, so I was given the benefit of the doubt.
Procuring a teacher for me in Israel was a priority for my father.
Every week we went together to Mr. Ezrachi’s apartment: my lesson was first and my father’s was second. My father’s violin was a very dark wood—almost black. Apparently it was a pretty good instrument, but I never dared try it.
I don’t remember what else I played besides the Barcarolle, because the violin lesson itself was beside the point.
The point was that the minute my lesson was finished, and his was about to start, my father gave me a shekel to go to the tiny corner market, called a Makolet in Israel--and buy myself a candy bar.
I can still remember the smell of that Makolet, lo these many years later.
The freedom of those few minutes, the burning shekel in my hand, the choices—so so many colorful choices!--something chocolate or something different, oh who am I kidding, of course chocolate—the act of paying for it myself--was the closest thing I had to grown-up-hood.
For those few minutes, no one knew exactly where I was. No one told me what to buy. And no one knew exactly where I actually ate the candy bar, which was in the lobby of an apartment building next to the Makolet.
I thought to myself—this is worth playing the violin for.
A few weeks after the recital was my actual one-year violin anniversary.
My parents took me to the Mann Auditorium, in Tel Aviv, to hear the great Isaac Stern.
He picked up his bow and I sat back in my chair in a state of stone solid shock.
How could anyone do that? How could anyone play like that?
I KNEW how hard it was to play the violin. I mean, I PLAYED the violin.
It was my first taste of the divine. The first time I saw God in a person.
I was little, I was young, but I knew.
After that, I practiced harder.
Over the years, my violin was kind of a frenemy. I had to spend lots of time on it, time my friends had for other things like TV.
I had to shlep it to every summer sleepaway camp I ever went to, and my father would pointedly ask me on Visiting Day, if I had ever taken it out to practice. Of course I had, so I wouldn’t have to lie. Once. The day before Visiting Day.
It shadowed me everywhere, like a little hoyke, a little hunchback, slung over my shoulder in its little black case. Wither Thou goest, I goest.
And while I was pretty good at it, and I guess I am pretty good at it, God never made me one of His soloists.
I am ok with that and my father is actually ok with that too, and kvells and marvels that I play professionally. “Oy, did you hate to practice! Oy did you fight me over every note!”
He cries with pride at my concerts. It makes me cry too. Once he even offered to lend me that dark wood violin. Of course I said no. No thank you.
“One Day,” he used to say when I was 8, “One Day,” he used to say when I was 9 and 10 and would groan and make eyes and squirm, “One Day,” he used to say when I was 11 and12 and 13 and 14 and my attitude could make even Mozart sound unpleasant, “One Day you will have children of your own and you are going to have to force them to practice, too!”
It is the only thing he was wrong about.
Zachary and Aaron (ok Aaron maybe he was a little right about) practiced when they wanted to, and they wanted to a lot.
It was never fraught, never a fight, never anything but—happy.
Maybe it was because neither of my boys played the same instrument as I did? Maybe it's because (poopoopoo) they really DO play divinely?
But in all the years of saxophone and piano lessons, I cannot remember ever having to resort to even one bribe, even one chocolate bar.
Which brings me to the Twins.
This past summer, they started violin. Their violins are cute and tiny, just like them, but they get bigger and more difficult. The violins, too.
Their teacher goes by his first name.
He smiles a lot and tells them funny stories.
Every time we practice at home, and yes, they take their violins out almost every day, we do something fun—we make up silly songs, have wacky contests, or Sruli and I jam with them.
I also taught them how to pluck which they think is the coolest thing.
Last week was their first recital. They each played a rhythm while their teacher played Twinkle Twinkle.
Charlie was resplendent in a peacock blue dress. Johnny had a fancy blue button down shirt.
Sruli and I video-ed the entire minute-and-a-half of it on our phones. We both cried when they took their bows
We had to run to our Temple’s Chanukah party right after their performances, but the next day I took them to Walmart.
“Each of you gets to pick out a candy bar—whatever you want.”
Times are different, and Walmart is no Makolet, and I would never in a zillion years let them go anywhere by themselves, but joy is joy and chocolate is chocolate.
While they stood in front of all those choices, so so many colorful choices!--I thought:
Was it all worth it, just to play the violin? All these years? And after all these years, am I finally feeling the joy of being able to play?
I can’t decide. I know that I seem to bring joy to other people when I play the violin, and I guess that is enough for me.
It is different for Zachary and Aaron. And I really want it to be different for the Twins.
Neither of them picks chocolate. She gets sour gummies and he gets pink and purple Nerds.
“How come you always let us get candy after a violin lesson, Mommy?”
I come up with an answer.
“Because playing the violin is-- delicious.”