accordianist, violinist, and cellist stand playing joyfully
Veretski Pass will perform a free concert on Nov. 18.

A daughter’s gift: Healing concert from local klezmer favorite Veretski Pass

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With all the grim news lately in the world, including the shooting deaths of 11 congregants in late October at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Wendy Shearn thought it was a good time for some music — in particular, some klezmer tunes.

Shearn was at a birthday party in July when she heard musicians from the Bay Area klezmer group Veretski Pass jamming. Within days, she decided to hold a concert in honor of her 93-year-old mom. She presented the idea to Rabbi Susan Leider of Tiburon’s Congregation Kol Shofar, who quickly agreed to host the gig.

“The music made us so happy, and we realized the community would enjoy hearing that music,” Shearn said. “The tragedy that’s with us, it’s been building. Music is healing. This music resonates with so many Jewish people.”

The Nov. 18 concert at Kol Shofar will feature Veretski Pass, a three-member group based in Berkeley that plays melodies from Eastern Europe. The performance honors the 1940 arrival to the U.S. of Shearn’s mom, Lori, as a refugee from Vienna.

Lori Shearn’s immediate family survived the Holocaust by scattering to all corners of the globe. While she went as a teen to England, her father escaped to Shanghai and her brother went to the Netherlands. They all reunited in New York, along with Lori’s mother, who had stayed in Vienna.

Wendy Shearn said the concert was a great way to recognize the journey of her mother and all other refugees. She said her mom, who lives in Marin County, plans to attend the concert. Lori Shearn comes to the synagogue’s Judaism 101 class each year to talk about her life as a Holocaust survivor.

“It all ties together in my mind, the fact that immigrants and refugees are being targeted, scapegoated in these current times, and we just wanted to honor her with the gift of beautiful music,” Wendy Shearn said. “These are hard times for the Holocaust survivors with what’s going on in the world and trying to understand the growth of anti-Semitism.”

Leider said Kol Shofar is increasingly weaving music into synagogue life, and that she’s grateful Wendy Shearn and her husband Pat Nance are presenting a concert for the community.

“Klezmer music has this incredible Old World flavor, and I think especially now to have that infused into our synagogue life is a really powerful thing,” the rabbi said. “It takes you beyond words. It takes you to an emotional good place.”

Veretski Pass is named for a mountain pass through the Carpathians that is now in Ukraine. The parents of Cookie Segelstein, who plays violin and viola in the group, both came from that region.

Segelstein said the klezmer group is excited to be part of Wendy Shearn’s concert for her mom, which is free and open to the public. Registration in advance is requested.

I think it’s wonderful that Wendy offered this gift to her community,” Segelstein said. “We are certainly feeling that the news has been terrible in these last two years, and the fact that she has offered this concert as tikkun olam makes us feel that we are taking part in a deep way in her generous gesture.”

Wendy Shearn, who played flute and piccolo in a klezmer band several years ago, said this is an appropriate time — especially after the vitriol leading up to the Nov. 6 elections — to have a party.

“We thought it would make people happy. I just feel like, given where we are today, we need more music,” she said. “Klezmer music definitely gets you tapping your toes and wanting to sway or dance or something. We wanted to be able to share happiness.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.