Local klezmer trio Veretski Pass will lead the April 21 session of the new series.
(Photo/Courtesy Veretski Pass)
Local klezmer trio Veretski Pass will lead the April 21 session of the new series. (Photo/Courtesy Veretski Pass)

New Jewish dance and music series serves as balm in troubled times

This article first appeared in Berkeleyside and is reprinted with permission.

“The Joy of Jewish Music and Dance” series, which kicked off Sunday at the JCC East Bay and goes through May, arrives at a moment when communal Jewish celebration feels more essential than ever.

Between anguish over the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, deep divisions over Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza and anxiety around a rising tide of antisemitism, dancing and grooving to ecstatic Jewish music can serve as a balm in very troubled times.

More than a concert series, the monthly workshops include an opening hour focusing on Yiddish dance or klezmer music technique, an hour of dancing with a performance by the featured ensemble, and a closing jam session.

While KlezCalifornia used to produce annual festivals with several days of workshops for aspiring musicians and dances, “it can be hard to find a way into Yiddish culture,” said Berkeley clarinetist Mike Perlmutter, who booked the musicians for the series. “We’re hoping some young people come out who are interested in exploring these different facets of Jewish music and dance.”

Perlmutter is the leader of Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Band, which plays the final workshop and concert of the series on May 19. He said he has noticed that “everything about performing Jewish music and spaces has felt different since Oct. 7. It’s complicated. We did an event for Hanukkah, a big dance party with the Saul Goodman Klezmer Band and it felt like a cathartic outpouring. I do hope people can come and immerse themselves in the joy and learning. I love that we’re starting with Qadim, a group that bridges the gap between the Jewish and Arabic world.”

Everyone has a different style, a different repertoire and expertise and different ways of teaching.

Presented by the JCC East Bay and partly funded and co-presented by KlezCalifornia, the series builds on the dance workshops Bruce Bierman has been giving at the JCC East Bay in recent years (he leads the final four dance sessions). Perlmutter also credits Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud, the JCC’s director of community engagement, and Ukrainian-born accordionist Zina Pozen with pulling the series together. Pozen performs at the second event Feb. 25, with Israeli clarinetist Asaf Ophir and percussionist Sean Tergis (a mainstay on the Bay Area Balkan music scene).

Most of the artists participating in “The Joy of Jewish Music and Dance” are based in the Bay Area, but the March 24 program presents violinist Zoë Aqua, a rising force in New York who recently spent two years in Cluj, Romania, studying Transylvanian folk music pedagogy. She happened to be on tour and she’s making her first Bay Area trip since 2016 with accordionist Dmitri Gaskin and cellist Misha Khalikulov.

“She a super high-level musician who’s been understudy for Klezmatics violinist Lisa Gutkin” in the Broadway production of “Indecent,” Perlmutter said. “She’s the one visiting artist in the series. She’s just been immersed in Romanian and Jewish music and has an album of her own compositions out.”

The Bay Area’s premiere klezmer trio Veretski Pass leads the April 21 session. Featuring bassist Stuart Brotman and the Berkeley couple of violinist Cookie Segelstein and Joshua Horowitz on chromatic button accordion and hammer dulcimer cimbalom, the group has performed internationally.

“I wanted to include as many folks as we could,” said Perlmutter, who also opens a fourth-Thursday-of-the-month residency at the Cheese Board on Jan. 25 with a five-piece version of Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Band. “We got funding for five sessions, and we’re hoping we can continue and expand it,” he said. “Everyone has a different style, a different repertoire and expertise and different ways of teaching.”

“The Joy of Jewish Music and Dance”

1-4 p.m. Feb. 25, March 24, April 21 and May 19 at JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. $18-$54 sliding scale for each session.

Andrew Gilbert
Andrew Gilbert

Los Angeles native Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelance writer who covers jazz, roots and international music for publications including the Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, San Francisco Classical Voice and Berkeleyside.