‘She took her last breath listening to music’

‘She took her last breath listening to music’

Rabbi’s mom helped her ex, Isaac Stern, in saving Carnegie Hall

Rabbi Shira Stern and her brothers, Michael, left, and David, with their mother, Vera, 10 days before her death.
Rabbi Shira Stern and her brothers, Michael, left, and David, with their mother, Vera, 10 days before her death.

Vera Stern — the mother of Rabbi Shira Stern, primary school educator at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro; mother-in-law of the congregation’s Rabbi Donald Weber; and former wife of legendary violinist Isaac Stern — died July 22 in New York City, 10 days after her 88th birthday.

Her son, Michael, wrote the following tribute on behalf of his sister and brother, David.

Our mother Vera…left this earth just as she had inhabited it, on her terms. To the end, she showed the strength, resiliency, grace, and character that defined her, always. She took her last breath listening to music, surrounded by people who loved her and cared for her, in her own home. Thanks to extraordinarily expert and loving hospice care, she was free of pain and any fear. 

In recent years she had faced her health challenges with elegance, fortitude, and a stubborn refusal to submit, and she defied again and again every dire medical prediction. To so many of you whose paths crossed with hers in this life, there was no doubt that she left an indelible mark. In her conversation and sentiment it was very clear to all of us, as she faced this final chapter, that her thoughts returned to her husband of 43 years, our dad Isaac. Despite their divorce, with all of that life history, it was indisputably evident that she loved him. Today would have been his 95th birthday.

She was a steadfast friend to so many of you, a staunch advocate of good causes, a generous benefactor, and a tireless lifetime volunteer. Her lifelong love of music inspired her devotion to so many musicians, those from the past who informed her rich and wonderful life, as well as the young ones whom she admired so much. Her life reflected her remarkable journey — from her origins that were Russian in character and disposition, she fled the Berlin of her birth, through her escape through Switzerland to Paris, then to Stockholm, then back to Paris before settling in the United States. She made aliya to Israel in 1951 only to return to New York half a year later after her 17-day courtship with our father. Fluent in seven languages, immersed in her new life, she enthusiastically began her immense impact on the musical life of this city and Israel.

Her extraordinary energy was focused on her work for Israel Bonds, L’École Française (later The Fleming School), the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, the Musicians Foundation, and so many others. Her most gratifying and continuing legacy was as the organizational and energizing copilot with Isaac in saving Carnegie Hall from destruction in 1960. 

But of all her achievements in her accomplished and distinguished life, perhaps the greatest one was in her role as the matriarch of our family. She was the anchor, the epicenter, the protector, and the guiding spirit for all of us. At the core, she had an incontrovertible, unwavering, and fierce love for us all. Her parents, Michael and Esfir, and her sister Meri Lind predeceased her, as did our father, Isaac, in 2001. But her spirit will continue to touch us all.

Vera’s final vigil began three weeks ago. She was surrounded by loving people who cared for her and loved her. 

Services were held July 23 at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. We are missing her already.

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