It's hard to believe that it's more than 25 years since I last saw Daniel Fradkin. That cold, gray Yom Kippur in 1974 Leningrad is etched in my memory. Fradkin, a Soviet Jewish refusenik, led us from the Choral Synagogue through the tense streets of Leningrad to the dingy communal apartment of his friend Alex Yampolsky.
Along the way Fradkin didn't talk much—his English and Hebrew weren't so good, and the cold gnawed at his threadbare coat and cap. He did tell us he was a musician and had relatives in Israel where he was sure he would end up.
Here in Israel I'd seen his name on several concert programs over the years, but always in places and at times that I couldn't make. Finally an ad announcing a Saturday night appearance in the courtyard of the Church Of the Redeemer in Jerusalem's Old City caught my eye. This was it—I would finally get a glimpse of Daniel and perhaps share a moment or two of nostalgic recollection.
Walking down the deserted steps of the shuk toward the church, past the Arab stalls shuttered tight, it occurred to me that the venue was a little strange for a Fradkin sighting. I distinctly remember Fradkin as an observant Jew. Most observant Jews I know do not make a habit of frequenting churches. Still, I rationalized, the concert was to take place in the courtyard, not in the church itself, and perhaps Fradkin was one of those who had felt the need to assert his religious identity in the Soviet Union but not once he came to Israel.
At the entrance to the imposing church a few people stand in line to buy tickets from a Teutonic looking middle-aged woman with blond hair tied in a bun who transacts business in German.
Down a flight of stairs the courtyard reveals its stately beauty. Germans built the house of worship in 1898 incorporating the remains of a Crusader church. The bleached stone cloister is a perfect square of elegant arches, with just enough room for sixty wooden chairs and a slightly raised platform for the musicians. Plants of all kinds seem to grow out of the walls, but a statelytwelve-foot tall palm tree and a wizened leafy arbor that reaches up two stories dominate the space. A square of dark sky is visible directly above, and the slightest of breezes rustles through the foliage as the musicians take the stage.
Fradkin is part of the Binyamin Trio, which includes two of his fellow countrymen. In the intimate concert space I'm perhaps twenty feet away from him, but I lean forward to try to determine if this bare-headed, sixty-ish, well dressed figure with thick glasses resembles the Fradkin I remember from Leningrad. The Fradkin in front of me is definitely taller, and he introduces the program in fluent English. Still, as I settle back to enjoy the flawless rendition of Schubert and Beethoven , I reason that after 28 years it's quite possible that my memory might be just a little off.
During the intermission, while everyone else is upstairs sipping wine, I realize that this is my chance for a definitive identity check. I move toward to the musicians who are relaxing between the arches to ask the violinist if he's from Leningrad. "No, I'm the Moscow Daniel Fradkin," he tells me. "I often get phone calls for Leningrad Fradkin . He's a Chabadnik who lives in Ramot," he continues. Moscow Fradkin has just retired from a lengthy career as first violinist of the Jerusalem Symphony, and now he spends his time playing in trios and quartets.
Now I'm even more curious to track down Leningrad Fradkin. But at least I can now concentrate on the second half of the program without straining the limits of my memory.