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Hester Lox, z"l

Long-time Bay Area music fanatic Hester Lox died this past Saturday night about the time that many of us were sitting down to the second seder. She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer just a few weeks earlier and had volunteered at the Bay Area’s Jewish Music Festival (as usual) the night before she was hospitalized for her illness.

I left the Bay Area over 15 years ago, but I still have vivid memories of Hester cracking jokes and making puns (often deliciously bawdy jokes and puns) as we worked putting on shows, or just enjoyed listening to music together. It was with Hester, for instance, that I first encountered one of my favorite bands at their height—Brave Old World, nor was it a surprise that she had been an old friend of the group’s bassist/tsimbl player, Stu Brotman—one of many friends that I met through her and continue to cherish knowing.

What fewer people knew was that she also regularly played accordion (at least while I knew her) with Balkan music groups. She liked klezmer, but balkan music was probably the greater passion. It was through her that my own love of Balkan music was rekindled as she dragged me off (not entirely unwillingly) to local Balkan dance nights, showed me patiently how to work out the steps dancing behind the line, and then, herself, joined in with the best and most exuberant dancers.

In her not-so-spare time, Hester consulted as a professional organizer—the person who helps create order where previously there was none. In my case, she helped me located five years of missing tax receipts, get them entered into a computer, and enabled me to move into the adult world of people who are not having the IRS threaten to garnish their paychecks for imaginary amounts owed from taxes not filed oh so many years past. It is appropriate, then, to present this YouTube video of her discussing this particular professional endeavor:

Since leaving the Bay Area I have had few opportunities to return, and far too little time to catch up with old friends when I am there. I always assumed that Hester would be there, ready for dim sum on a Sunday morning, as soon as I got the chance.

I hate getting moralistic, or using the passing of friends to score political points, but Hester died way too early. She was middle-aged, like me. She was also under-employed and had no health insurance. Our failure to ensure that all residents of this country have access to health care—including the regular check-ups that might have ensured that this was caught early when it was curable—has once again killed a friend. It is time for Americans to stop pretending that it is civilized to turn health care into a lottery, and instead to ensure that it is a right.

But, having said that, I miss Hester. There is no amelioration.To those who were fortunate enough to know her, I say, cherish the memory of her stories about her night on Alcatraz, or of Balkan camp, and of adventures, musical and/or outlandish, all. She had a very hard and abusive upbringing. But, as an adult, she lived and brought life to everything and everyone. She tried to make the world a better, even a perfect place. There are other storytellers, other volunteers, but none like her.

From Lev Liberman:

She was a sweet, generous person who, it seemed, knew everybody in the West Coast Balkan and klezmer scenes. A tireless dancer, fan, and musical insider, Hester had the gift of turning a simple gig into an event. Over the many decades of our friendship, I got to see her wild persona (that biting wit, that omni-sexy vibe) as well as her vulnerable side (her struggles with work and life, her intense loyalty to friends). I can hear her voice, her laugh. Foxy Loxy will be missed.

There will be a memorial in Berkeley on May 20. Please email me for details.