The all-woman klezmer band Isle of Klezbos, coming this fall to the Sonoma State University Jewish Music Series (Photo/Angela Jimenez)
The all-woman klezmer band Isle of Klezbos, coming this fall to the Sonoma State University Jewish Music Series (Photo/Angela Jimenez)

Again, Sonoma State asks: What is Jewish music?

For the fourth year, Sonoma State University’s Department of Music and its Jewish Studies program will attempt to determine what makes music Jewish. Have they figured it out?

“No! We’re still exploring the question,” said Brian Wilson, professor of music and director of the university’s annual Jewish Music Series in Rohnert Park.

But that’s a good thing, because this year, guests can ponder the question over five concerts, each exploring a very different kind of Jewish music. The series will begin Thursday, Sept. 27, and will include free, 6:30 p.m. shows roughly every other Thursday through Nov. 29.

Up first is a show titled “the gonifs: Yiddish Songs,” that will take listeners through music collected by archivist Ruth Rubin in the late 1940s. Led by singer, accordionist and Yiddishist Jeanette Lewicki, the gonifs (who prefer to spell their name with a small “g”) will explore a treasure trove of material recorded by Rubin, who, in 1948, was a working mom studying folklore at night school in New York City. At that point, she began to lug a reel-to-reel tape machine to libraries, senior centers, summer camps and living rooms to record more than 1,500 tracks of Yiddish songs, stories, jokes, children’s rhymes, spiritual melodies and even street vendor calls. Much of the material she captured originated in the Old Country.

The next concert, on Oct. 11, will feature Noam Lemish, a Canada-based Israeli pianist, and U.S.-based Israeli jazz guitarist and oud player Amos Hoffman playing works from their recent album of jazz influenced by Arab, Israeli and North African music. The concert is titled “Jazz from Israel and Elsewhere.”

On Oct. 25, “From Lullabies to Miracles: Sacred Music of the Diaspora and Beyond” will feature San Francisco Choral Artists performing their acclaimed program “From Shtetl to Metropolis: Jewish Musical Diaspora.” In it, they follow a path from old to new and from Europe to America.

The series continues Nov. 8 with “Veretski Pass Froyen: Klezmer Music of Women,” in which the Bay Area-based Veretski Pass trio (making its fourth straight appearance in this series) will perform the works of Sofia Magid, a Jewish ethnographer who documented Jewish Ukrainian music under Stalin’s rule.

The series wraps up Nov. 29 with a concert by New York City-based Isle of Klezbos, a soulful, rambunctious, all-women klezmer band celebrating two decades together.

“All the concerts are different from each other, which is something we like to strive for,” Wilson said. “I’m looking forward to the variety.”

Roughly 90 minutes each, the concerts will be held in Schroeder Hall, a 240-seat cathedral-like recital hall that’s part of the Green Music Center, 1801 E. Cotati Ave, Rohnert Park. All the shows are free and open to the public even though they also are a component of a class titled Survey of Jewish Musics. Parking is free as well, underwritten by the Jewish Studies program.

For more information, visit or call the music department at (707) 664-2324

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.