When Julie Rosenfeld moved to Columbia in 2014 to teach music at MU, she knew almost no one.
She had met music professor Wendy Sims during an interview with the university. A former board member with Congregation Beth Shalom, Sims could share information about the synagogue with her.
“I told her that I would be interested in joining because when you move to a new place as a 50-something-year-old, how do you make friends?” Rosenfeld said.
After she joined, Rosenfeld mentioned that she was a professional violinist, and her involvement in the congregation took off.
Rosenfeld is now a board member, as well as a professional violinist and music professor at MU. She brings her musical talent to the congregation and has become a valued member of the community.
She plays “Kol Nidrei” for its Yom Kippur services every October. The song is heard three times during the service, once with Rosenfeld on violin and twice by two singers.
“Her violin solo adds a different kind of depth and passion to the moment,” said Tim Parshall, vice president of the board. “She brings a different kind of spirituality to that service.”
Rosenfeld has used her musical ability in other ways for the Jewish community. She performed live violin accompaniment for the monodrama “Golgotha” in August at Talking Horse Productions.
The play tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who revives the memories and guilt of time spent in Auschwitz. Rosenfeld plays Sephardic and Latino melodies throughout the play.
“I’ve seen the versions of it with and without the music,” Sims said, “and the music just increases the flow of the play and the emotional context dramatically.”
Rosenfeld, 63, grew up in Los Angeles. Her father immigrated to the U.S. from Vienna, Austria, in 1939, surviving the Holocaust. Her mother was a librarian, also from Los Angeles.
One memory that emerges from childhood is watching the 1969 moon landing while at Jewish summer camp. The leaders brought the campers into the dining hall and set up a television set for everyone to watch.
Rosenfeld’s family belonged to Congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, just north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. She began violin lessons at age 8 and frequently performed recitals in the synagogue.
She continued playing violin throughout her adolescence and young adult years.
“I was really serious about the violin,” she said. “If you’re not, you’re not really going to do anything with it.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern California and later a master’s degree from Yale. In 1982, she auditioned for the Colorado String Quartet, based at the Juilliard School of Music, got the job and moved to New York City.
Within a year, the quartet had earned two major successes. According to The New York Times, the group “won both the Naumburg Chamber Music Award and first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition.”
They went on to tour the world. Rosenfeld said Amsterdam became one of her favorite cities.
“The audiences there are wonderful, and there’s just something about playing in a large city,” Rosenfeld said. “I would say playing in places like that is really, for me, the high point of my career.”
The quartet also led her to the woman who would become her wife. Rosenfeld met Deborah Redding, a fellow violinist, when she joined the quartet. A decade into traveling and performing together with the musical group, the two planned a Jewish wedding ceremony in California in 1992.
The couple was legally married in Connecticut in 2013, and they are together in Columbia.
“It’s been a long time,” Rosenfeld said. “Many, many years. We’re an old married couple, that’s for sure.”
After more than 30 years with the quartet, the group decided it was time for a change. Rosenfeld began looking into teaching and has loved it ever since, she said.
Beyond work, she enjoys playing bridge. During her first year in Columbia, she heard about a group of people that play bridge regularly, and it turned it to be some folks from the synagogue.
“It’s lovely just having a group of people that you feel like, ‘I know those people,’” she said.
She also loves to cook and found a passion for baking through her Viennese grandmother. One of her favorite parts of her religious community is celebrating holidays and inviting people over for meals — although it hasn’t happened in two years because of the pandemic, she said.
Today, Rosenfeld is on the building and grounds committee for the congregation. Other duties include fundraising and working with the eight other board members in the search for a permanent rabbi.
Parshall, the fellow board member and vice president, noted Rosenfeld’s contributions to board meetings, saying her comments are well thought out and worth listening to.
“Her warmth, her love of Judaism, her musical talents, her commitment to the community,” Parshall said, “are all elements of who Julie is and why we are most pleased and fortunate to have her here in Columbia.”
Rosenfeld said music and religion both fulfill a similar need in her life.
“A little bit like music, it makes you feel like you have a place in this world,” Rosenfeld said. “That there’s some kind of way to have solace when you’re hurting, some way to celebrate when you’re making achievements.”
The community aspect of her religion is reminiscent of music, as well.
“The collaboration and the camaraderie and the familiarity of it, there’s something very comforting,” she said. “And it’s the same way that music is a comfort for me.”