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Fromer Award Recipients Mesh Creativity, Tradition in Jewish Music

BERKELEY, Calif. – The Fromer Fund is excited to support Bay Area musicians Jeff Kasowitz and Cookie Segelstein. Their projects, which a Fromer award will see to completion, are dedicated to strengthening Jewish culture through music.

The two musicians adopt differing—but necessary—approaches to Jewish music.

Kasowitz, who was raised in Conservative Judaism and played in a folk band, takes sacred texts—in their original Hebrew—and applies contemporary melodies to them. Kasowitz’s songs, which he started playing for his infant son at bedtime, are influenced by singer-songwriters like Mark Sexton and folk songs by Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead. He’s currently producing an album of these songs, called Arbaim Shana.

He believes that everyone is creative, even those who don’t call themselves artists or musicians, and that this creativity helps people feel alive. According to Kasowitz, when you fuse creativity with Judaism, it helps Judaism become its most vibrant self—becoming infectious to others. It’s just like how creativity enhances people—whether they produce or consume creative works—and inspires them to live fuller lives.

“I see this project as a Midrash, a new interpretation of the Jewish canon,” says Kasowitz. “[The texts] have been around forever, and can be very meaningful. I hope that people get something from learning new texts, and gaining new insights, from listening to the music.”

Cookie Segelstein, on the other hand, has embarked on a journey of preservation. Her project, Veretski Pass, plays klezmer music, or what she describes as “music from home.” Her children call it “circus music,” but it’s an unmistakably old-world, fiddle-heavy sound, with a dash of vibrancy designed to get your feet moving.

Born to Holocaust survivors in Kansas City, Segelstein has been playing the fiddle for her family since she was five years old—and would eventually play for the New Haven Symphony and teach music at Yale.

She formed Veretski Pass, with musicians Stuart Brotman and Josh Horowitz (now her husband), to both document Eastern European Jewish history and inspire young musicians to play klezmer music.

Given how dispersed the Jewish people have been, Veretski’s work is especially important.

“Jews were often chased out of their homes, we have lived many places as a people,” says Segelstein. “Since the Jewish people can be so fragmented, things like art and music can bring them together. Music is part of our family album.” The Fromer award will allow Veretski Pass to continue developing new music.

About Jewish Federation of the East Bay and The Jewish Community Foundation

Jewish Federation of the East Bay and The Jewish Community Foundation are dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant and inclusive local Jewish community and supporting Jewish life in the East Bay, Israel, and throughout the world. Federation and Foundation work together with East Bay Jewish donors to create a rich and supportive community guided by the Jewish values of tzedakah (righteous giving), chesed (loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). For more information, call 510.809.4953 or visit jfed.org.

About the Fromer Fund

The Fromer Fund was established in 1984 in honor of Seymour Fromer, founding director of the former Center for Jewish Living and Learning at Federation, founder of the Magnes Museum collection, and pioneer in the East Bay Jewish community.

The fund provides incentive grants to support individuals working in Jewish arts, academic scholarship, or education. Past awards have provided seed funds for the production of films, curricula, scholarly articles, publications, exhibits, and performance-based work. Grants will not exceed $6,000 per project.

Eligibility: Applicants should be age 40 and under and must reside in Northern California. Proposed projects should address Jewish themes.

Preference will be shown for early-stage projects that demonstrate innovation, creativity, and risk-taking. The committee will prioritize projects that are interdisciplinary in nature.

Funds will be awarded in fall 2015 for projects to be completed by July 1, 2016. The committee expects to provide funds to a maximum of three projects. The 2016 Fromer honoree(s) will be invited to present their work at least one community event, and will be required to provide a midyear and final report on the funded project.

For more information about the Fund, or the application process, please contact Dana Sheanin at 510.809.4905 or dana@jfed.org.

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