Eli Davidsohn keeps the harmony alive in virtual performances
By Deb Silverthorn
Eli Davidsohn, 76, the Dallas master of ruach, isn’t letting COVID-19 slow him down. In the last 10 weeks he has been performing virtual programs, tutoring students and “visiting” with impact as only he can.
“I’ve put all my life into music and entertaining,” said Davidsohn, for decades leading the community in musical holiday celebrations, simchas and educating children, often accompanied by his accordion, “and I’m not stopping because we’re at home.”
Last month he helped the young families of Akiba Yavneh Academy and Temple Emanu-El wish Israel a happy 72nd birthday.
“On Yom HaAtzmaut we needed to hear from him. Not wanted, needed,” said Jordana Bernstein, Early Childhood director at Akiba Yavneh Academy. She is also one of Davidsohn’s four children and justifiably proud of her dad. “I watched through Zoom and there were smiles after smiles. He really brought us together.”
“Eli is iconic,” said Shelly Sender, director of Early Childhood Education at Temple Emanu-El. “It wouldn’t be the same without him. It’s already not the same but we couldn’t surrender him too. Eli’s energy came through the screens, everyone connected. Many of us were moved to tears.”
Residents of The Legacy at Willow Bend recently enjoyed an online concert by Davidsohn, and they appreciated so much that he recorded Shabbat services that are shared at The Legacy’s campus.
“I remember being 5 years old and watching my mother and grandmother listening to the radio, and the two of them dancing and shouting ‘mir haben ein heim,’ which translates to ‘we have a home.’ That day I became a Zionist, that day I fell in love with my home — our people’s home, the Land of Israel.”
On Lag B’Omer, Davidsohn was thrilled to sing and entertain as nearly 100 cars paraded through the parking lot at Chabad of Plano/Collin County. “Everyone was so happy to be out,” he said. “Apart and safe, but out and celebrating.”
Coronavirus has no hold on Torah and trope lessons that Davidsohn provides his b’nai mitzvah students via FaceTime. “Eli connects with children and appreciates them for who they are. My son works hard because he wants to for Eli because he loves him,” said Libby Holtman, whose son Max is studying for his October bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Torah. “He and his life lessons are absolute gifts.”
Born in Bolivia, the son of Rudi and Mary (of blessed memory) and brother of Judith, Weathersby and Brigitt Isenhour, Eli grew up in Peru. He came to the United States at 18, working in Los Angeles for the Max Factor company. In 1963, he moved to Houston, where he taught at Congregation Beth Yeshurun before being drafted, and serving, as an acting chaplain in the U.S. Army.
Davidsohn was based at Fort Wolters, a deactivated military base near Mineral Wells, when he met his former wife and mother of his children, Linda Wisch Davidsohn (her parents, Rene and Jimmy Wisch of blessed memory, were the founding editors and publishers of the Texas Jewish Post). Rene invited Davidsohn and other servicemen home after Shabbat services, a visit of a lifetime.
The Davidsohn children are Amy Doty, Reuben (Suzy) Davidsohn. Jordana (Josh) Bernstein and Ethan Davidsohn. Grandchildren are Shea and Jessie Doty; Tessa, Joey and Isabella Davidsohn; and Rosie (Avi) Greenbaum, Zach, Micah and Shaya Bernstein.
Making simchas special and treating everyone like part of the family is Davidsohn’s trademark. And for his own family, he’s doing the same. While Davidsohn and many expected guests can’t be in Portland, Oregon, for the June wedding of Ethan to Liz Zimmerman, the proud papa, his accordion and his heart will still come through Zoom.
Davidsohn’s music has run through an era of students and their simchas. Now the lifecycle events are filled with the next generation. “I live for all the special moments and I’m grateful to still find ways to do that.”
It’s the pulse of Davidsohn’s heart, “od yishama, it will be heard,” and his passion always present, that is indeed a “siman tov — a good sign” for us all.