Senator José M. Serrano honored Emily Kessler with the New York State Senate 2015 Woman of Distinction Award at the Goddard Riverside Community Center on the Upper West Side.
This award highlights distinguished women across our state who have made significant contributions to our society.
Kessler, a resident of the Upper West Side, is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in the former Soviet Union. During World War II, she was forced into imprisonment at a Ukrainian concentration camp. Facing unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Nazis, she lost many members of her family. She survived and was able to escape with her two-year-old son. She eventually moved to New York City, making the Upper West Side her home.
Once in New York City, Kessler saw a mandolin in the window of a music shop which brought back memories of her pre-war childhood. Kessler scraped the money together to purchase the mandolin and quickly relearned how to play. She became a masterful musician, then in November of 2014, at the age of 97, she performed at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
“I played when i was 10 years old - I played the mandolin and violin. I didn’t have a violin when I came to the United States, and I couldn’t buy one, so I bought a mandolin. I didn’t play when I was in terrible grief, but finally time heals everything. I am just happy to exist. I have lost a lot of people and saw a lot of bad things, but I still believe in good. I believe there are good people and this makes me happy. I stick to good people, and they stick to me too,” she said.
Serrano presented Kessler with the award and a Senate Resolution in front of her neighbors, community members, and friends. After the award ceremony Kessler performed a number of traditional mandolin arrangements.