Photography by Hudson Taylor
Moshe Hammer was born in Budapest in 1946. He was the first child born to his parents, both of whom were Holocaust survivors. His mother had survived Auschwitz. She spent hours in a gas chamber as the Nazis were waiting for another trainload of people to join them and when they didn’t arrive, they were let out.
His mother lived to age 90. His father was on the Russian front. When Moshe was six months old, his parents decided to escape the terrible anti-Semitism in Hungary and boarded an illegal ship, organized by a Jewish agency, heading for Palestine. When they neared Rhodes, the ship was in an accident and was crushed. Everyone had to jump off, but Moshe’s father was afraid to jump while holding a baby. A man told him to throw the baby to him, which he did. The men became lifelong friends, and Moshe, at a young age, like his namesake, Moses, was also rescued from water. The survivors were taken to a camp in Cyprus where they lived for about one year, after which time they were sent to Israel.
Moshe lived in Israel until the age of 19, when, because of his talent for playing the violin, he received a scholarship which allowed him to study at Juilliard in New York for one year.
After that, he became a student of Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of all time. Moshe then went to London, but after his scholarship ran out, he was afraid he would not be able to get a union card and took up an offer to go to Edmonton. He had planned to stay for only one year, but despite other good opportunities, including one in London, he loved Canada and decided to stay.
Moshe embarked on a career as a violinist in Canada, travelling to concert venues around the world and performing with many symphony orchestras. He also founded and led the Toronto-based chamber group, the Amadeus Ensemble.
His pride and joy is The Hammer Band, a non-profit organization he started in 2007 in Toronto’s “Summer of the Gun.” He provides opportunities for underprivileged children to heal through the power of music and offers free violin lessons in the safety of their school environment. More than 1,000 children benefitted last year throughout 40 schools. The violins in the program are all donated, and they are hoping to expand in order to introduce more children to the power of teamwork and the beauty of music.
Moshe and his wife, Cecilia Ronderos, are proud of their children and nine grandchildren.
His son, Mike Hammer, is an abstract artist and musician and his daughter, Maya, is a psychologist. Moshe is glad he stayed in Canada, and appreciates the life and opportunities he has had here.