Remembering a man with a ‘passion for music’
At his 90th birthday party and musicale, Jerry Ben-Asher celebrates with his wife, Nessa.
Photo courtesy Bob Cowen
May 23, 2012
A commemorative wall was dedicated in memory of Jerry Ben-Asher on May 9 in a place that embodies what were his great passions — music and music education.
The Jerry Ben-Asher Memorial Wall for Major Gifts at the Judith G. Wharton Music Center is inscribed with a dedication from his widow, Nessa Sylvia Ben-Asher, “in loving memory of her husband…who shared his passion for music as a musician, writer, and devoted board member” of the center.
As a musician, musical scholar, and critic — a role he filled for close to four decades through his “Music Notes” column in NJ Jewish News — Jerry Ben-Asher was known for his leadership in nurturing a love of music.
He served on the board of trustees of the WMC in Berkeley Heights from its founding in 1985 until his death on May 25, 2008, at the age of 91. A longtime resident of Short Hills, he led numerous organizations devoted to cultural and Jewish interests.
In 2006, he was lauded at a 90th birthday celebration and gathering of the Livingston Music Group — which he had founded and chaired for 50 years — for his tireless dedication to spreading appreciation and love of classical music to a wide circle of friends and members who regarded him as a mentor.
A tribute to him upon his retirement from NJJN declared, “With his depth of understanding and highly refined sensibilities, his columns showcased a profound knowledge of music, composers, and performers in a manner that was accessible and full of feeling.”
Judith Wharton, founder and member of the board of the WMC, said, “Jerry was an innovator and enthusiastic about the music center from the beginning. He understood all the challenges and he stayed the course for all the years of his involvement.”
Nessa, Wharton added, “has become a wonderful friend.”
A founding member of the board of directors of two music schools — the Suburban Community Music Center and the Newark Community School for the Arts — Jerry Ben-Asher was also a member for 10 years of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Among the musical organizations he supported was the New Philharmonic of New Jersey.
Gifted with a strong and beautiful baritone voice, he was a former member of the Masterwork Chorus, with which he sang in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. In his youth, he was a French horn scholarship student of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
A former president of the Jewish Education Association of MetroWest, he was one of the founders of the Suburban YM-YWHA and JCC MetroWest and chaired their arts committees and served on their boards of directors for more than 40 years. He also was a founder of Bet Yeled School, a former cooperative Hebrew school in Newark.
Nessa Ben-Asher, born Sylvia Tylber in Poland, was a child theater star in her native country. She survived the Warsaw Ghetto, suffering enormous losses; after the war, she became an actress in Poland. After immigrating to the United States, she met Jerry at a concert at what is now the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, and they were married in 1971. It was Jerry who renamed his wife “Nessa” — Hebrew for “miracle” — because of her “amazing” survival.
“To Jerry, music was everything in his life,” said Nessa Ben-Asher. “He encouraged so many people to go to concerts, and he loved musicians.”
Born in Jersey City, Jerry Ben-Asher graduated from Rutgers University and later studied history at Columbia University’s graduate school.
The nonprofit Wharton center offers instruction in all instruments and classes in musical theater, dance, drama, choral music, vocal music, music theory, audio recording, early childhood music, and music for children with special needs as well as performances for children, teens, and adults.