Date of Birth: March 15, 1905
Date of Death: January 26, 2003
Place of Birth: Yakatrinislov, Russia
Used music and philanthropy to support cultural and education causes around the world
“She was the biggest star ever in the history of our Jewish community,” said Oak Park author and historian Irwin Cohen after Emma Lazaroff Schaver’s death in 2003.
Born in Russia in 1905, Emma Lazaroff immigrated to the United States with her family as a young girl. After graduating from Northern High School in Detroit, she studied voice at the Detroit Conservatory of Music and at The Juilliard School of Music in New York. As a young woman, she performed with several opera companies and orchestras, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, developing a prominent career as a soprano soloist. She married Morris Schaver in 1924; they were married for 30 years until his death.
Emma Schaver was a member of the first cultural mission to Europe after WWII sponsored by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Jewish Congress. For six months, she traveled to displaced persons camps in the American zone in Germany presenting concerts to Holocaust survivors. She also performed for the first group of survivors allowed into the U.S. after the war. Singing for these groups, she would later say, were among her most moving experiences and the impact remained with her throughout her life.
Throughout her life, Emma used her fame and talent to support cultural and education causes locally and globally. She and Morris were noted philanthropists and civic leaders who endowed scholarships and libraries: The Morris and Emma Schaver Library-Archive at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills; the Emma Lazaroff Schaver Library at the Shul in West Bloomfield; and the Emma Lazaroff Schaver Music Building at Wayne State University. They also created an accounting scholarship at the WSU School of Business Administration and founded the Morris and Emma Schaver Educational Fund at the Wayne State University Press.
Emma received numerous awards for her work. Among these are honorary degrees from The Juilliard School and the Jewish Teachers Seminary; 1995 Holocaust Memorial Center Legacy Award; 1995 Leonard N. Simons History Award from the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan; and a 1997 Arts Advocate Award from Wayne State University. Her papers are collected at the Jewish Community Archives at the Reuther Library at WSU.
Emma Schaver, a beloved Southfield resident for more than 35 years until her death at the age of 97, was committed to supporting the global Jewish community. She was a founder of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award from the State of Israel Bonds for outstanding service to humanity in the spirit and ideals of Mrs. Roosevelt. A public concert of vocal music was held in her memory in Israel in February 2003, shortly after her death.