A Tribute to Eli Davidsohn, “z’l”
Photo: Courtesy Davidsohn family
Nothing made Eli Davidsohn, back row, happier than being with his large family. He is pictured here at the Kotel on Nov. 30, 2019.

He lived a life of passion for all things Jewish

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Passover marked an end and a beginning for our family this year. Erev Yom Tov coincided with the conclusion of shloshim for my beloved brother-in-law Eli Davidsohn, who passed away March 23 after a 15-year battle with multiple forms of cancer and a more recent fight with aggressive vascular dementia.

The last 30 days have been a roller coaster of sadness and joy with Eli’s death followed almost immediately by our son Benjamin’s wedding. We wondered what the hora would be like without Eli playing his accordion and infusing his Jewish soul into the music. He had played at our wedding and each of our sons’ bar mitzvahs and every other family simcha in between and after.

We figured that out with an amazing recording of him performing his favorites. When the hora began and people heard his unmistakable voice full of joyful ruach (spirit), the dancing was full-throttled and spectacular. Knowing he was “there” eased our pain ever so slightly.

Now, it was Passover, and like every Jewish holiday we celebrated together, Eli always brought that little something extra. He loved leading the Seder and using a Haggadah he had co-written many years ago for Golden Acres, complete with a songbook. Every year I learned something new. His children, grandchildren, sister, nieces and nephews relished these moments.

What would our Seder be like without him?

We used the Haggadah and the songbook. We sang loudly and proudly. We told stories about Passovers past and what Eli brought to the proverbial Seder table.

Photo: Ellman Photography
Eli Davidsohn performs at Sydney Kahn’s bat mitzvah in April 2017.

It was bittersweet.

We were lucky to have him and so was the North Texas Jewish community.

He made a profound impact on just about everyone he came in contact with.

The son of Holocaust survivors who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, Eli was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and grew up in Lima, Peru. At an early age, he discovered the accordion and won a prestigious competition before he was 10. Music — especially Jewish music — was in his heart and soul. Whether the accordion, guitar or piano — or any instrument for that matter — Eli brought it to life.

A lifelong Zionist

His love of Israel was nurtured from an early age. His daughter Jordana Bernstein recalled him telling the story of being 5 years old and remembering his mother and grandmother huddled around the radio. It was 1948. Suddenly everyone shouted for joy and in Yiddish said, “Ahuvana heim” (We have a home now). The state of Israel, a homeland for the Jews, had been declared. These seeds of Zionism grew throughout his life. One might have thought he was a sabra, but he made his first trip to Israel when he was 37 on a Jewish National Fund mission. Subsequent trips were made as part of the Schultz Family Israel Educators Fellowship in 2014, then for one granddaughter’s bat mitzvah and another’s wedding.

“I will never forget the smile on his face when we touched down in Israel,” said his granddaughter Shaya Bernstein, 17, who celebrated her bat mitzvah there and recently made aliyah.

Eli was fiercely passionate about the Jewish homeland and he wasn’t shy about sharing his zeal.

Photo: Sharon Wisch-Ray
Eli Davidsohn leads what would be his last Seder in 2023.

A ‘110% guy’

“Eli never met a stranger” was a sentiment echoed by many when reflecting on Eli’s life in recent weeks. For more than two decades, Eli was a dedicated member of the Texas Jewish Post staff. He laid out the paper each week and designed ads and once the paper was put to bed, he would call on advertisers. One of those customers was Larry Goldstein, who at the time was preparing to open Bagelstein’s, the iconic deli at Spring Valley and Coit.

Larry shared his first encounter with Eli:

“In July 1976, I was trying to open Bagelstein’s. The previous owner left the store in January, intending to return. Unfortunately, he did not as the bank foreclosed on him. Therefore, everything (including food in the refrigerators) was left as is. With no electricity, you can imagine that many, many undesirable invaders took over.

“Enter Eli, who wanted to sell me an ad in the Texas Jewish Post. When he saw how hard I was working, he took off his sport coat and helped me for the next four hours in the sweltering heat with no working air conditioning. I will never forget that time spent with him. Clearly, he was a true mensch. It was an honor and pleasure to know him.”

Those who were his close friends also received the benefit of his positivity and reliability. He was part of a group of men who met for racquetball five times a week at the JCC at 6 a.m.

Marshall Funk, one of those buddies, said, “I seldom have met or run into someone as positive as him. He never talked negatively about others.”

Eli’s friend Laslo said that he gave everything his all and more.

“Eli was a 110% guy — in his Zionism, his beliefs, his friendships, his teaching, his singing, his performance, his humanity, his love for his family. He did not do anything in his life halfway.

“If you were his friend, he was behind you 110%. He protected you and campaigned for your cause with no regard to whether you were there or not.

“Being 110% was Eli’s essence.”

Photo: Courtesy Peta Silansky
Children were drawn to Eli Davidsohn wherever he went. He’s pictured here at the Eshkol School in Nahariyah when he traveled to Israel with the Schultz Fellows in 2014.

A teacher’s teacher

Being a Jewish educator came naturally to Eli. He loved sharing Yiddishkeit with others and he enriched the lives of students at Congregations Beth Torah, Temple Shalom, Anshai Torah, Tiferet Israel, Ahavath Sholom, Beth-El and Kol Ami, among others.

He also inspired fellow teachers.

“Eli was my friend, mentor and teacher. He was loved by all who met him,” said Peta Silansky, who worked with Eli in many religious schools around the community and later when he was a Schultz Fellow. Eli filled sanctuaries and social halls with joy. He filled our classrooms with words of Torah and instilled a love of learning in every child he met.” 

Ruth Schor worked with Eli when she was the director of Beth Torah’s religious school.

“Hundreds of students had the good fortune to have him as their teacher, role model and a source of strength, encouragement and hope,” she said. “Eli truly made my work as a religious-school director enjoyable, meaningful and inspiring.”

Schor added that he was always there to offer sincere help to both students and the faculty.

“To the classroom he brought love of Judaism and he always focused on the positive characteristics of each student. There is nothing that brought him more satisfaction than preparing students with learning differences to perform successfully on their bar/bat mitzvahs.”

The family man

Eli was blessed to have four children — Amy, Reuben, Jordana and Ethan — and 11 grandchildren who brought him great joy. Each of them inherited his work ethic and his love for music, Israel and community. He was proud of them beyond words. He never missed a sporting event, recital or Shabbat dinner.

Schor said that at a visit with him in recent months he put his hand on his heart and explained how grateful he was that they took such good care of him. He said, “Oh Ruthie, I can’t describe how much I love them and what they mean to me. I am a lucky man.”

Funk concurred, “He was so proud of the work or time he spent at religious facilities around town, but the thing that always brought out his smile and sparkle was his family.”

The music man

Eli performed Jewish music at countless simchas throughout North Texas and beyond. If you wanted Jewish music at your event, Eli was the man to book.

Schor shared a story about her wedding 44 years ago. An Israeli, she “wanted a wedding with Israeli ruach and lots of hora dancing.” She asked around and Eli’s name came up. “The moment I met Eli I knew that I would have a Dallas wedding with Israeli spirit,” she said. “He was then a young guy in his 30s — energetic, enthusiastic and always with a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. As we all know, Eli never changed.”

Shabbat programs were enjoyed by the youngest to the oldest members of the Jewish community from various preschools around town to senior living residences. Eli led Shabbat programs and services every week at multiple locations.

“Eli’s passion for delivering authentic Jewish music, his talent with instruments and his warm smile during Friday night services undoubtedly left a lasting impact,” said Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker of Congregation Shearith Israel. “He brought joy and meaning to countless weddings, b’nai mitzvah celebrations and special gatherings with his klezmer-style music. His kindhearted nature surely touched the lives of many.”

For many years Eli was at the front of the annual Israel Independence Day parade leading the celebration.

“The sweet notes of his beloved accordion accompanied by his heartfelt repertoire infused with his love of Yiddishkeit and passion for Zionism and the state of Israel” brought joy to thousands of people, said Silansky.

“The music won’t be the same without him,” she said.

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