Stephanies shindig: Family throws concert in womans memory

Relax, have a good time and enjoy a night on the town. Stephanie Sussman would have wanted you to.

Sussman, remembered as the “first lady” or, alternatively, “queen” of Palo Alto’s observant Jewish community — it is apparently uncertain if the Peninsula’s Jews constitute a monarchy or republic — died a little more than two years ago when she was not quite 63. Yet her family established a fund to continue doing what Sussman was so adept at in life: Bringing together the local Jewish community.

On Sunday, March 9, Grammy-nominated klezmer, bluegrass and jazz virtuoso Andy Statman will play Los Altos Hills in a free concert courtesy of the Stephanie Sussman Memorial Fund. The 7 p.m. concert at Congregation Beth Am is, of course, gratis, but carries a suggested donation of $18 to fund future events.

“She liked to have fun. My parents were always the last ones to leave weddings and the first in the middle of the dancing circle,” recalled daughter Adeena Sussman of New York.

“If she felt like there was a good time to be had, she could create it.”

Statman is a natural for the first major public event in Sussman’s memory. Many fans of the New Yorker’s bluegrass mandolin and clarinet-playing are likely unaware the musician is an observant Jew. And many fans of Statman’s klezmer licks may not know he’s a world-class bluegrass player. So, once again, Sussman will attract a diverse crowd.

Sussman and her husband, Stan, were co-founders of Palo Alto’s Orthodox Congregation Emek Beracha. Over the years, the two hosted hundreds of Shabbat dinners, providing a home away from home for hungry travelers in the days when Palo Alto’s Jewish community could probably have fit in a Stanford classroom.

In the early days, “There wasn’t much else going on here and Stephanie sort of became the person who helped people in all of their needs,” recalled Stan Sussman.

“We learned she was probably a better dancer than I was.”

Statman was one of Stephanie Sussman’s favorite musicians; his Jewish background and eclectic repertoire made him a natural fit.

“The music is fun, but it has depth and Jewish significance,” said Adeena Sussman.

“He was the first person we reached out to and he said yes.”

The Andy Statman Trio will play Congregation Beth Am at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 9 at 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills. Information: Stan Sussman, (650) 493-2141.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.