A Letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to His Wife Constanze

The intimate letter, written in 1790, a year before Mozart's death, offers a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the legendary composer

It wasn’t easy being a late 18th-century celebrity superstar…

Despite his copious amounts of talent and fame, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in constant pursuit of financial resources, which could help him fund the costly lifestyle he had grown accustomed to. During the later years of his tragically short life, he traveled to numerous locations across central Europe, performing concerts in the hopes of receiving generous payments, as well as further invitations to still more performances and events.

In September 1790, only a year before his early death, Mozart traveled from Vienna to Frankfurt am Main at his own expense to a most special event he could not afford to miss: the coronation of the new German Emperor Leopold II. After arriving in the city, he wrote a letter to his wife Constanze describing his journey, which took him ‘only’ six days. Frankfurt and its suburbs were fairly crowded: “We are happy that we were able to get a room”, he wrote in his letter.

The letter by Mozart to his wife, signed – Ewig dein Mzt (“Forever yours, Mzt [Mozart]”) September 28th, 1790. The National Library of Israel collections. Click on the image to enlarge.

The letter provides insight into Mozart’s impressions of the trip, which passed through a number of cities on the way. These include the composer’s delight at his comfortable carriage (“I’d love to give it a kiss”), the wonderful food in Regensburg – “we had a splendid lunch, godlike table music, an English waiter and a fantastic Moselle wine”, as well as the coffee in Wurzburg. He was less impressed, however, with Nuremberg – “an ugly city” – and he was convinced that the inn-keeper in Aschaffenburg had cheated him.

In contrast to these details concerning his lavish lifestyle, Mozart did not write much about the actual purpose of his travel, which was the concert he gave on the occasion of the coronation. He did not refer to the event, nor to the program (the famous “Coronation Concerto”). He simply wrote: “I am determined to do my work in the best possible way”, before finishing his letter with financial matters. If not for Mozart’s signature at the bottom, it would completely lack any indication that it was written by one of history’s greatest composers.

Our Exodus from Egypt

“When we left Egypt we could only take one suitcase and twenty Egyptian lira. That was all,” my grandmother said. “It was forbidden to take more than that, and we were very worried how we would manage in a new land without anything.”

Grandfather Yitzhak and Grandmother Tony, shortly before their exodus from Egypt. Alexandria, 1953.

My grandfather was the first to leave. He had been deported, handcuffed, on a ship sailing for Italy. Both my grandparents were members of a Zionist underground that operated in Egypt. They taught children to speak Hebrew, organized activities that encouraged Zionist thinking among the youth and even wrote a Zionist newsletter, which they distributed among members of the movement.

Until one day, secret lists containing the names of all the members of the underground group fell into the wrong hands, and soon enough they found themselves in an Egyptian prison. Anyone who had foreign citizenship, like my grandfather, was expelled. Others remained behind bars for a long time. But there was one name on the list that the Egyptian police could not find. One member of the underground that remained at large – Tony. Tony was the missing member of the underground. My grandfather said that even when they tried to force him to reveal Tony’s hiding place, he didn’t tell. The Egyptians were looking for a man. They did not know that Tony was actually a woman. Tony is my grandmother.

Grandmother Tony

This article is based on an article that originally appeared in Hebrew on “The Readeress”

She took her money and went to a jeweler. She asked him to make her a heavy gold bracelet. You couldn’t take money, but you could take what was on your person. And so, with the gold bracelet on her wrist, she left Egypt and began her journey to Israel and the reunion with my grandfather. She has the bracelet to this day—silent testimony to her life’s journey and to what was she left behind.

In 2014, new legislation was passed in the Knesset marking November 30 as the day commemorating the exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. The date was deliberately chosen, for it immediately follows the famous date of November 29, on which the UN voted to establish a Jewish state. Some might say it stands in its shadow. This was the moment that the stability of the Jewish communities in the various Arab countries began to falter. With the official declaration of an independent State of Israel now on the horizon, the Arab states changed their viewpoint regarding the Jews living among them. In an instant, these Jews had their world turned upside-down, and the communities began to collapse one after another, some at all once, others more slowly, over an extended period.

The vast majority of the Arab world’s Jews were forced to leave the countries of their birth, where their ancestors had lived for generations. This process, which began around the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, continued into the 1950s and 1960s, and communities with a history of hundreds and thousands of years ceased to exist.

What took place in Aleppo, Syria, immediately after the UN adopted the Partition Plan is just one example. As Hakham Tawil, the chief rabbi of the Aleppo community, described it: “The proclamation of the partition was on Friday. On Sunday . . . they [the Arabs] declared the whole city closed and went on strike. The Jews decided to remain in their homes . . . in the afternoon many gathered near the synagogue and began shouting ‘Falistin biladna v’yahud kalbana’ (‘Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs’), while the army remained silent. In the afternoon, the mob attacked the synagogue, destroying it with the army’s help . . . within half an hour everything was burned to the ground. They removed 40 Torah scrolls and used kerosene and oil to set them on fire. . .” Even in Egypt in 1948 the streets burned. Bombs exploded in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo, many Jews were arrested, synagogues were vandalized.

The Great Synagogue in Alexandria had been a bustling community center, even running its own school. Rabbi Ventura taught there. “If I met him today,” my grandmother told to me, “I would thank him. Thanks to him, we came to Israel.” He taught in Alexandria for eleven years until he was expelled for his Zionist activities. During those years, he ignited the spirit of the community’s younger members, including my grandparents, and awakened in them the dream of coming to Israel.

A family wedding in the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria

“He was different from the other teachers,” she said. “He excited us young people, he talked to us about Zionism, about Israel, without fear. And he not only spoke, he also acted. His way was by setting a personal example.”

Rabbi Moshe Ventura was born in Izmir in 1892 and served as a rabbi in Baghdad and Beirut. In 1937, he was called to be the chief rabbi of Alexandria. He educated generations of students at the Jewish high school he founded, including Eli Cohen, who would become famous for his service with Israel’s Mossad. He instituted a national Zionist consciousness among the Jewish community. In his view, the Jewish national revival, Zionism, was an integral part of the overall national awakening of the peoples of the Middle East, and consequently he frequently spoke publicly about the need for cooperation between the various Semitic peoples and in particular between “the Children of Israel and the Children of Ishmael.” In 1948, he was expelled from Egypt because of his Zionist activities.

As a child, I had mixed feelings about my family’s story. On the one hand, my grandparents were heroes. They were members of the underground in Egypt and did everything they could to reach Israel. On the other hand, they were Mizrahim (lit. “easterners”) and being a Mizrahi Jew was always some kind of uncomfortable, middle of the road existence. Sometimes when I would ask my grandfather about Egypt he would say “How long must I be judged by where my grandfather was born?” For him, he was an Israeli, a Zionist, an enthusiastic kibbutznik. He had left Egypt behind. His goal had always been the Land of Israel.

They worked hard to erase every trace of this Mizrahi identity, never speaking Arabic, only Hebrew. I had no idea how much Arabic they knew; it never dawned on me that it was the language they grew up with. Only the occasional French passed their lips.

Now, I look back to that time, for the stories in the shadows. The ones hidden by the strong glare of the sun. I look at this picture of the synagogue in Alexandria, within whose walls so many family memories were inscribed. I was never there. But I imagine my grandmother Tony standing on those steps in a white dress and reciting the Ten Commandments at her Bat Mitzvah and my late grandmother Suzy marching down them in her bridesmaid dress. Both of them in their festive dresses smiling at me, with smiles of childhood from a different world. A world that was and is no more. With only the stories left to preserve its existence. I try to collect all the hidden treasures from these stories before they disappear into the abyss.


I recently published my Hebrew book, Habaytah Haloch VeChazor (“Back and Again”), a historical novel that moves between the Egypt of those days and today’s Israel. It features a journey that sheds light on events that took place within Alexandria’s Jewish community during that time, as well as an attempt to go back and discover those treasures hidden in the shadows.

Kirk Douglas: Star of David and Hollywood

He starred in the first Hollywood feature filmed in Israel, but the legendary actor's connection to the Jewish state and people certainly didn't start or stop there...

Kirk Douglas in Jerusalem, 1999 (Stylized photo based on one published in the ⁨⁨February 1, 2002 edition of The Australian Jewish News⁩⁩; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection)

Like many Jews of his generation, Kirk Douglas had changed his name to avoid revealing that he was born Issur Danielovitch, the son of poor Jewish immigrants who lived in Amsterdam, New York.  Even before that, he adopted the Americanized surname of his uncle Avram Demsky and preferred Isadore over Issur.

A photo of Kirk Douglas as a young man with his mother, appearing in his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son.

Douglas always was acutely aware that he was Jewish. His childhood temple offered to subsidize his education at a Yeshiva so he could become a rabbi, but he had fallen in love with acting and declined the offer.  Though he had a bar mitzvah and celebrated Jewish holidays in his home, he did not share the piety of his parents.  The anti-Semitism he encountered in his hometown, however, never let him forget his Jewish origins.  As he recalled in his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son:

“After school each day, I’d have to walk about twelve blocks to Hebrew school.  I had to run the gauntlet, because every other street had a gang, and they would always be waiting to catch the Jew boy.”

He could not escape this prejudice when he attended St. Lawrence University, a Liberal Arts college located in an isolated rural area of northern New York. Though athletic and handsome, he was not rushed by the fraternities whose national charters banned pledging Jews. Instead, Douglas left his imprint on the campus as an actor, champion wrestler, and the first non-fraternity member and Jew to be elected student president in 1938.  The alumni protested over a “Jew boy president of the student body” and threatened to stop donating to the school.

A photo of Douglas on the wrestling team at St. Lawrence University, appearing in The Ragman’s Son.
A photo of Kirk Douglas, “Jew boy president of the student body” at St. Lawrence University, appearing in The Ragman’s Son.

Douglas served in the navy during World War Two.  He married his first of two gentile wives in 1943 (the second converted when they renewed their vows in 2004) in a ceremony conducted by a navy chaplain.  A rabbi agreed to officiate at a subsequent wedding in return for the couple promising to raise their children as Jews.

Douglas subsequently admitted that he never intended to honor this pledge.

He landed his first leading role opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946, though he would not be cast as a Jewish character for another seven years. Privately during this period, his attachment to Judaism expressed itself by fasting on Yom Kippur out of a sense of solidarity towards the Jews of the past and the present.

This connection was reinforced when Douglas played Holocaust survivor Hans Mueller in Edward Dmytryk’s The Juggler, the first Hollywood motion picture to be filmed in Israel.

Douglas receiving a gift to present to Moshe Sharett, prior to filming “The Juggler” in Israel. From ⁨⁨the October 3, 1952 edition of The B’nai B’rith Messenger⁩⁩; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection
This double-spread feature on the filming of “The Juggler” was published in the newspaper Davar on October 31, 1952; a part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

At the registration center for new immigrants, Hans, a former juggler and clown, hallucinates that his deceased wife and children are peering at him from a window.  Chafing from confinement, he escapes from the facility and beats up an Israeli police officer whose check of his identification papers stirs up memories of Nazi interrogations. Roaming the countryside, Hans is befriended by a boy and woman who belong to a kibbutz and invite him to stay there.

When the police track him down, Hans barricades himself in a room, though he eventually surrenders and acknowledges he is sick and needs help.  Throughout the film Hans repeatedly remarks that “home is a place you lose,” but slowly discerns that Israel is a homeland for Jews fleeing oppression.  In real life, Douglas admired Israel for fighting for Jewish statehood in the shadow of the systematic slaughter of European Jewry.

Kirk Douglas in Tel Aviv, 1952. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein, all rights reserved to Pri-Or PhotoHouse; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

His next Jewish character, Mickey Marcus, in Melville Shavelson’s Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) was based on an American Jewish soldier recruited by the Haganah as a military advisor to Israeli troops during the War of Independence.

David “Mickey” Marcus. From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

Until he tours Dachau after its liberation, Marcus feels little sympathy for Zionism.  Later, catapulted into the fray in Israel, he trains soldiers and organizes the clandestine route to smuggle arms, food, and medical supplies into besieged Jerusalem. Marcus is eventually killed in a “friendly-fire” incident – an Israeli sentry who does not understand English shoots the American, who does not speak Hebrew and cannot respond to orders to prove he is not an enemy combatant.

“Mickey” Marcus during Israel’s War of Independence, 1948 (Government Press Office / Public domain)

Douglas identified with Marcus who “in helping the Israelis, discovered his Jewishness, came to grips with it, and acknowledged that he was a Jew.”

Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner on the set of “Cast a Giant Shadow” (Photo: Boris Carmi). From the Meitar Collection at the National Library of Israel
Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner on the set of “Cast a Giant Shadow” (Photo: Boris Carmi). From the Meitar Collection at the National Library of Israel

The actor returned to the topics of the Holocaust and Israel in films like Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Remembrance of Love (1982).  As Holocaust survivor Joe Rabin in the latter, he travels to a gathering of survivors in Israel searching for his long-lost lover and the baby she was carrying before the two were deported to concentration camps.  Douglas’ indignation over the Shoah and pride in Israel as a Jewish state are evident in many of the books he authored, as well.

In 1991, Douglas nearly died in a collision between his helicopter and a stunt plane. Confined to a hospital bed with spinal injuries, he reevaluated his relationship to Judaism:

“I came to believe that I was spared because I had never come to grips with what it means to be Jewish.”

This quest spurred him to study Torah and have his second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. He valued the morality promoted by religions in general, “I studied Judaism a lot. I studied religion in general, and I have never imposed my Judaism on my kids.”

Kirk’s son, the actor Michael Douglas, also began to further explore his Jewish roots after the helicopter incident. In subsequent years he became very active in Jewish causes and visited Israel numerous times, including in 2015 to receive the second annual Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel”, which “recognizes and celebrates Jewish talent and achievement, honoring individuals for their accomplishments and commitment to Jewish values.”

Kirk Douglas, wearing his original Bar Mitzvah tallis, speaks at his second Bar Mitzvah to his son, Michael Douglas, and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Catherine Zeta-Jones. From the ⁨⁨January 7, 2000 edition of The Australian Jewish News⁩⁩; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

In 1996, the elder Douglas suffered a severe stroke.  Intensive speech therapy enabled him to regain his ability to talk.  Rather than letting his halting speech deter him from acting, he appeared in three more feature films and one television movie.  In It Runs in the Family (2003), he plays the patriarch of a Jewish family coping with the aftermath of his stroke. In the film, Douglas quips:

“So what if my stroke left me with a speech impediment? Moses had one, and he did all right.”

Over the years, the actor donated over $100 million to American and Israeli charities, funding hundreds of playgrounds in poor sections of Los Angeles and Jerusalem, an Alzheimer’s hospital unit, and a theater near the Western Wall.

Eighty-five year-old Kirk Douglas tries out a slide at a playground he donated. Published in the ⁨⁨February 1, 2002 edition of The Australian Jewish News⁩⁩; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Over the course of his career, Kirk Douglas evolved from an actor who originally minimized his Jewish roots into a proud Jew who recovered his ethnic and religious identity by dramatizing it and immersing himself in Judaism and Jewish history.

A version of this article was originally published by the San Diego Jewish World.

Not Traveling? Visit Stunning Jewish Sites Across Poland from Home

Visitors of all ages can now virtually explore 3D Jewish heritage sites - from the extravagant to the mundane...

Screenshot from the virtual tour of the Lancut Synagogue, part of the new "Virtual Connections to Material Jewish Heritage in Poland" initiative (Courtesy: The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland)

“I went outside!”

“How?” I asked my daughter, once again in government-mandated quarantine after a girl in her class tested positive for COVID.

It took me a minute to realize that she hadn’t meant leaving our Jerusalem apartment, but rather leaving a synagogue in some Polish town with one too many consecutive vowels for our tongues to handle…

In just a few minutes, she had “wirtually” toured a number of them… in 3D.

The stunningly-colored engravings of the synagogue in Łańcut (Lancut) enraptured her eight year-old mind.

The main sanctuary in the Lancut Synagogue, 1994. From the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. Click here for the virtual tour

As did the overgrown yard of the synagogue in Leczna, and the reconstructed ruins of the house of prayer in Przysucha.

Leczna, 1995 (Photo: Boris Khaimovich). From the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection.  Click here for the virtual tour
Przysucha, 2004 (Photo: Vladimir Levin). From the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. Click here for the virtual tour

From seemingly sprawling campuses to simple shtetl structures, all of the places she visited are part of  “Virtual Connections to Material Jewish Heritage in Poland,” a new initiative of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which aims to open broader access to some of the countless Jewish heritage sites across Poland and facilitate discourse around them. The project was financed by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, within the context of a grant competition entitled “Public Diplomacy 2021”.

The peeling frescos revealing crumbling red bricks inside the Krasnik Synagogue spooked her.

Krasnick, 1991 (Photo: Nomi Kaplan). From the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. Click here for the virtual tour

There was one thing, though, which interested her as much as the reconstructed relics of Jewish heritage, and perhaps more. The Polish woman doing something on a balcony across the street – unknowingly captured on film – fascinated her almost to no end.

She felt a need to investigate the woman further. Said something about telling her friends. Couldn’t quite zoom in enough to satisfy her interests.

The balcony woman of Krasnick, person of interest

In that, too, there’s something meaningful, ironic and lovely.

Then she moved on to other destinations, continuing her tour of rural Poland from my laptop.

The synagogue in Zamosc now glimmers like a palace – shiny pristine marble floors, ornate wall details, flashy chandeliers, an impressive Hanukkiyah.

The Great Synagogue of Zamosc. From the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. Click here for the virtual tour

Special icons embedded into the tours enable visitors to learn more about some of the structures’ features, as well as the communities they once served.

The Zamosc synagogue cum museum, for example, boasts of the numerous prominent figures who called the town home over the course of some five centuries of Jewish life. The list includes legendary Yiddish literary figure I.L. Peretz; radical activist Rosa Luxemburg; Aleksander Cederbaum, publisher of the first Yiddish-language newspaper in Russia; and Izrael Ben Moshe Halevi, a renowned philosopher, Talmudist and mathematician who taught Moses Mendelssohn.

As opposed to Zamosc, the town of Olsztyn had a relatively young and small Jewish community, which topped out at less than 500 Jews in the 1930s. Its most famous Jewish son, notable architect Erich Mendelssohn, designed the structure that now bears his name and can be visited virtually online through the project: the town’s “Beit Tahara” – the building used to prepare Jewish bodies for burial.

Mendelssohn would go on to design notable buildings throughout Germany and beyond.

Erich Mendelssohn. From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel
Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus shortly before its completion, ca. 1937. It was one of many projects designed by Erich Mendelssohn in the Land of Israel. From the Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Archive, part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

After fleeing the Nazis, he left his architectural imprint around the globe, including many landmarks in Jerusalem, not far from the home of a curious schoolchild, who – for at least one horizon-expanding afternoon – was able to embark on a tour of otherwise unknown historical sites, if only “wirtually”.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

The Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.