Normally, I would never impose on her musician friends; for all I knew, they hadnt the foggiest knowledge of who I was. But there was something about Isaac Stern that made one feel he always had room in his heart for one more friend, especially someone who needed him for something. Indeed, one of the many things that endeared me to Isaac, a man who made his New York Town Hall debut at almost the same age as my mother, was his optimistic, joyful approach to concertizing, and living.
I didnt even call the Sterns hotel, I simply showed up and introduced myself. Isaac was wholly enthusiastic and delighted to see me, as were his two children who saw me as a potential playmate. Within a few minutes we were at the beach in Netanya splashing in the waves together as if we were old buddies. In that instant, I proclaimed him my Godfather. Later that evening, sitting on the veranda after dinner, Shira Stern, Isaacs oldest child, ran toward me holding a present behind her back; it was a key to a room at the hotel. After that I never left the Sterns.
Isaac Sterns effortless generosity and thoughtfulness, coupled with his manner of treating me not as my parents child, had won me over. The lasting image I have of our first connection is the way we all played together in the surf, something I never did with my own father. No warm-ups, no getting used to the temperature, Isaac just went swimming, and body surfing, in the formidable waves of the Mediterranean. Not only that, he stayed in as long as his children wanted him to. And then, before we finally got out of the surf that first evening in Netanya, I saw Isaac standing waist high in the water, his hands planted on his hips, blowing out his chest, and pulling himself up as strongly as possible as if daring the waves, nature itself, to knock him over. What a wonderful way to face life. What a gift to be fearless, or at least know that genuine courage, as the ancient Greeks taught, is to know precisely what one should fear.
Not so incidentally, Isaac, like my mother, struggled with the matter of leaving his children when his concert schedule required him to go on the road, which was constant. Life was relatively easy for him during his stays in Israel; concertizing meant only a few hours away from home. Living in the Orchestra House, I often baby-sat the Sterns two children, Shira and Michaela third, David, was born several years later. Every night when there was a concert, Isaac and his wife, Vera, left their children in the care of their full time nanny and me. Night after night we endured the heart-wrenching scene at the front door, Michael looking sad and confused, and his older sister wailing her unhappiness no matter how comforting her parents tried to be. Finally I would say, Just leave; theyll be fine, words my own mother probably successfully uttered to hundreds of parents, but never to herself. Other parents children would survive separations, but not her own. Nor would she.
Then one night, Shiras wailing came to an abrupt halt. Everyone just looked at her as she stood perfectly silent before the front door. When asked, how come you arent crying? this remarkable child responded: I just realized it doesnt do any good!