NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It started with a local radio station’s musical instrument drive to get donated instruments to be given to New York City public schools. The story of one of them stands out, and shows the power of music to connect and inspire across backgrounds and generations.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, the relationship between Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold, 93, and south Bronx teenager Brianna Perez is an unlikely one.
“He’s a wonderful person to be around,” she said.
It’s a bond forged by music and the story of a violin.
For 70 years it was one of Feingold’s most treasured possessions. He bought it on the black market after the war, while living in a displaced persons camp. The violin was paid for with a carton of cigarettes.
Desperate for happy memories it brought him back to times playing music for his mother who was killed, along with a brother, in a concentration camp.
“I wanted to recreate what was still in my mind, my memory,” he said.
It became too difficult for Feingold to play, so he donated it to the instrument drive. The violin found its way to the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls and Brianna was chosen to play it.
“After I gave it away, I thought ‘that’s it,” Feingold said.
That was hardly it. Music teacher Kokoe Tanaka-Suwan felt Perez was perfect for the instrument.
“We really felt that Brianna as a student would embrace playing an instrument as special as Joseph’s,” she said.
The story was so compelling it became the focus of an award-winning documentary called Joe’s Violin. It’s cameras captured the moment when Brianna and Joseph met for the first time.
Joe seemed transported as she played a song that he used to play for his mother.
“I was just thinking about making him happy. I was thinking, this is special to him, so it’s up to me to play in a special way,” she said,
“It meant so much to me and my mother. I can’t express all the emotions,” Feingold said.
As she came to know Joseph and learn his story of survival Brianna found inspiration.
“His big lesson is basically survival, no matter what is going on, no matter how hard the challenges are,” she said.
After graduation, each year a different student is chosen to play the violin securing Joseph’s presence in the school, and — Brianna said, in her life.
“I have been changed forever by this whole experience. I feel like his legacy will definitely live on,” Perez said.
Joseph’s violin was one of 2,000 instruments donated during the drive. The drive is still going on, if you’re interested in donating an instrument, click here.