While the world admires him for his talent, violinist Itzhak Perlman is also
recognized for his social consciousness.
Perlman remains outspoken on behalf of the disabled and is concerned that
the new Americans with Disabilities Act does not go far enough to open doors
for the disabled. Perlman walks with braces on his legs and canes since being
stricken with polio as a 4-year-old in his native Tel Aviv.
Perlman, a U.S. citizen, said the new law will be difficult to enforce
because it has too many loopholes for businesses. He acknowledges that it might
not be cost-effective for a particular business to put in an elevator, but
nonetheless, an elevator is definitely a necessity for people confined to a
"People should not be relaxed now that the law is out. Now is the time to
continue to fight for access to public places and to change society's outlook,"
The man sets a concrete example. He has been smashing through barriers with
a fiddle all of his life. It was in spite of the polio that Perlman picked up
the violin. He spent his convalescence listening to violinist Jasha Heifetz on
the radio. He admired it so much, that as a preschool-age child he asked his
parents to let him play the violin, too.
Perlman played his way to the United States in 1958 with a group of other
young Israeli musicians to appear on the Ed Sullivan "Caravan of Stars." He
stayed in the states, studied at the famous Julliard School and married his
sweetheart, Toby Friedlander.
Perlman has been featured on television throughout his career and has made
appearances on programs as varied as "Sesame Street," "The Tonight Show"
and most recently a broadcast of his performance with Israel Philharmonic
Orchestra in Leningrad for the 150th anniversary of Tchaikovsky's birth.
Because TV and newspapers helped Perlman reach his fame, he has a keen
understanding of how the media can play an important role in bringing classical
music to the masses. He believes the process begins in the home with parents
providing exposure for their children, but education should be available in the
"The economy has an effect on everything, and of course, it has an effect on
the educational side of music. For lack of money, programs die and the first to
die are the arts. Hopefully, with things in the media, it can change. The media
plays a big role in bringing arts to more people," he said. "We have to
convince the powers that be that music is not a fluffy thing."
Perlman's brief recollection of his trip to Warsaw with the Israel
Philharmonic three years ago, illustrates just how strong an impact music can
have on international understanding.
The orchestra's weeklong tour was its first time in Poland. The schedule
included four concerts in three cities and a visit to Auschwitz, a
concentration camp created by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
"The fact that the orchestra was allowed to go into an Eastern block country
was an incredible achievement," Perlman said. He described a dramatic moment
during one performance on the tour when the orchestra played the Israel
national anthem and nobody sang.
"Because of course there were no Jews there. It was a very upsetting and
dramatic experience. And still people don't see the magnitude of this horrible
event (the Holocaust)."
Perlman's parents, Chaim and Shoshanna Perlman, left Poland in the early
1930s before the Nazi occupation. They met and married in Palestine.
While Perlman has been called a virtuoso who is one with his violin, he does
set it aside to pursue typical leisure activities. Consistent with his image as
a down-to-earth guy, he said his interests include watching sports events,
cooking and maintaining a huge vegetable garden.