The inspiring story of Ervin Birnbaum (90), Holocaust survivor and a hero interwoven with an original soundtrack composed by his grandson, Nitzan Birnbaum

Every SABA has a story

SabaProject would like to inspire young people all over the world to capture the stories of their grandparents and bring them to life with a musical dimension. The team at SabaProject will edit your recording and add a musical layer to create a unique soundtrack that you will have to pass from generation to generation. Its easy!

About the project

Nitzan, an Israeli musician, graduate of the Thelma Yellin School of Arts, and a third generation holocaust survivor. Nitzan grew up on the inspiring stories of his Saba (grandfather), Rabbi Professor Ervin Birnbaum, an educator, author, social activist and an eternal optimist and dreamer. 
Two years ago Nitzan embarked upon a mission to capture his Saba’s story. He dedicated hundreds of hours interviewing and recording him, while in parallel, composing music to accompany his Grandfather's story. The result is a moving experience where a dramatic life testimonial is empowered and complemented by an original and powerful musical dimension.

The project ranges in time from Ervin’s youth under the Nazi regime, his struggle with God, his journey to Palestine on the famous refugee ship “Exodus 1947”, his rabbinate education in NY and, finally, fulfilling his dream to settle his family in Israel.

In Nitzan’s words: “ during the last two years I had the great privilege to produce my grandfathers life story, a Holocaust survival and a real hero. We spent precious time together and as I heard his stories unfiltered, it has been a real honor to invite him in to my world of music.

Saba’s heroic story of survival has shaped who I am today and I’m thrilled to share this journey with the message that life is a gift and that challenges can often be opportunities and stepping stones.

This project is dedicated to Saba with endless love

Every SABA has a story

I’d like to inspire young people all over the world to capture the stories of their grandparents and bring them to life with a musical dimension. The team at SabaProject will edit your recording and add a musical layer to create a unique soundtrack that you will have to pass from generation to generation. Its easy.


Now is the time!

Now, more than ever, as the wise generation is isolated due to the corona threat, this is a wonderful opportunity to pick up the phone and record your grandparent telling their story.

”The stories I recorded are the ones I‘ve been hearing all my life. They were the bedtime stories that passed down from my grandfather to my father and they largely shaped who I am today and who I want to be. It has been a great privilege to deepen into the survival stories of my grandfather and to tell them through my personal interpretation, through my music. The journey awarded me the treasure of quality time with my Saba. The recordings, photo sessions, joint trips were memorable moments with my Saba and were also an important milestone in his own journey of life. It has been a great privilege for me. You can do it too but we‘re gonna make it real easy for you!“   Nitzan


Nitzan Birnbaum

Nitzan Birnbaum, a 21 year-old Israeli drummer, composer and  singer-songwriter, began his relationship with music at the age of 6. A graduate of the Jazz Department at Thelma Yellin high school of Arts.


At age 17, he received a full scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music summer program, “The Workshop” in Boston and also won a full scholarship there for his bachelor's degree which he chose to give up for the IDF service. Nitzan served as an "outstanding musician" and preformed hundreds of times before military and civilian audiences.

 At the age of 19 (while still a soldier), Nitzan received a "Merit Excellent” Scholarship from the AICF: America-Israel-Cultural-Foundation. In addition, he won first place in the Rimon School of Music competition – “Jazz Player of the Year", where he studied in the "Jazz Institute" honors course under the direction of Ronen Shmueli.


These days, as a citizen, he once again won a full scholarship to complete his undergraduate studies at Berklee which he plans to attend starting Fall 2020.  Nitzan currently plays on Israeli and international stages in various projects. He is a regular member of Anat Fort's Israeli trio and Abata Barihun's “Addis Ken” project celebrating Ethiopian music.


Despite Nitzan's young age, he was able to collaborate with many international and Israeli artists including Eli Degibri, Shai Maestro, Daniel Zamir, Matan Chapnitzky, Gilad Dobrecki, Matan Klein, Mordy Ferber, Yemen Blues, Amos Hoffman and more. In the field of Israeli pop music, Nitzan has performed with Aric Sinai, Alon Eder, Corin Alal, Efrat Gosh, Dan Toren, Daniel Solomon, Hemi Rudner, Rami Kleinstein, Yishai Ribo and with his mother-musician Israeli soul singer Bat Ella. Nitzan is currently publishing his first album SabaProject and in the coming months he will release a solo album as a singer-songwrite.

Ervin Birnbaum

Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum was born in Kosice, Slovakia in 1929, then Czechoslovakia. He survived the Nazi occupation initially in hiding and then in and around Budapest where he linked up with the Underground and operated under cover with false papers. Following his liberation by the Soviet forces, he made several attempts to reach Palestine, including on the well-known ship the "Exodus 1947".

Young Ervin emerged from the Shoah a changed youth. He left behind his religious childhood and struck out in search of a new reality where in there was no room for a God who consigned his people to death. With the termination of World War II, he became actively involved in the struggle for Israel’s independence and was a young leader in the heroic venture of the “Exodus” which failed to land its 4,200 refugees in Palestine but was credited for swinging the UN vote in favor of a Jewish State because its delegation witnessed its ugly deportation in the port of Haifa. In 1949, Ervin followed his family to the United States, where he quickly learned English and earned his PhD in Public Law and Government at Columbia University. Simultaneously, as he was seeking reconciliation with God following the Holocaust, Birnbaum graduated from the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1958. Initially, he "considered himself a “secular rabbi".

Ervin Birnbaum, Hadassa, and their three sons, Aiton, Liel, and Daniel made Aaliyah in 1970, settling at the College of the Negev at Sde Boker (Midreshet Sde Boker) where at Ben Gurion’s request, he founded an English Language College Preparatory School, while also lecturing at Haifa University. The college at Sde Boker, known as the “Netiv Klitati Angli” became a unique model of its kind for similar schools in different languages throughout the state of Israel. 

In 1978 the family moved to Netanya. With the breakdown of the iron curtain between east and west, Prof. Birnbaum became instrumental in establishing bridges between the jewish communities of the two sectors. In 2000, he established the first Russian outreach Program in Israel, “Shearim Netanya”, which helps in the absorption of thousands of Russian immigrants in their new Homeland.

Prop. Birnbaum is the author of “Turning Obstacles into Stepping Stones” (2018), “The Islamic State of Pakistan” (1957, published by the Pakistani Historical Society), The Politics of Compromise: State and Religion in Israel (1970) , In the Shadow of the Struggle (1990), and numerous published and articles. His book“ In the Shadow of the Struggle”, was declared by the New England Review of Books“ the very best illustrated overview history of the state of Israel that we have to date”. 

At present, Rabbi Birnbaum is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bet Israel and Chairman of She’arim Netanya, earning for his work both municipal and national awards. In addition, he is a freelance lecturer on world and Jewish history, politics, Zionism, and Judaism. His sons, their wives and 10 grandchildren all live in Israel.

Contact Saba Project