When Ric Schaefer was grieving the death of his first wife, he called the rabbi.

Which might not have seemed to be the natural thing to do.

"We were not Jewish," said Schaefer, who is director of the Arrowhead Health Alliance.

Nor did they know Rabbi Amy Bernstein, who at that time was serving Duluth's Temple Israel. But Schaefer's wife, Lee Dietrich Schaefer, who died on Feb. 3, 2003, from complications of cystic fibrosis, had admired articles written by Bernstein, he said. He called Bernstein out of the blue and asked her to deliver the eulogy at a memorial service for his wife, and she readily agreed.

Later, as Schaefer continued to grieve for his young wife - both were 32 when she died - he found he didn't want to talk to people he knew, Schaefer said.

For Schaefer, now remarried, there are things about the first three or four months after Lee died that he doesn't remember. He assumes Bernstein must have told him to call anytime, he said. Eventually, he did.

"So she opened her door for me to come in and talk," Schaefer recalled last week. Eventually, Bernstein referred him to Ben Wolfe, the now-retired manager of grief support services at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center.

"Amy got me there, so I'll forever be in her debt," Schaefer said. "And then Ben Wolfe got me through the rest."

Fast forward to the present, and Schaefer has called on Bernstein again. The request: Would she return to Duluth from her present home in California for a show as part of the Three Altos?

Three Altos members Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Paula Pedersen and Sara Thomsen. (Rick Lewis / www.threealtos.com)
Three Altos members Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Paula Pedersen and Sara Thomsen. (Rick Lewis / www.threealtos.com)
The trio - Bernstein, folk singer Sara Thomsen and professor Paula Pedersen - had a popular run while Bernstein was in Duluth.

He mentioned the date: April 20.

"I told her what I was thinking about, and she immediately said, 'You know, that's Passover,'" Schaefer related. "I said, 'Well, no, I'm sorry, I honestly didn't realize it.'"

Nonetheless, Bernstein agreed to come, and she will appear along with fellow songsters Thomsen and Pedersen as the opening act for the second annual Mental Health Awareness Concert at the NorShor Theatre.

The event has a dual purpose, Schaefer said. It's intended to highlight LetsTalkMN.com, a campaign devoted to raising awareness of mental health crisis resources. It's also a fundraiser. Last year, proceeds totaling around $10,000 were donated to the Duluth and Minnesota chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This year, proceeds will go to Chum, a nonprofit that serves the homeless in Duluth.

They'll be joined by a return visit from Them Coulee Boys, a Wisconsin-based punk-folk band; and Dead Horses, a Milwaukee-based folk duo.

All three acts have connections to mental health advocacy, Schaefer said.

For the Three Altos, who have been able to perform less often since Bernstein moved to California almost nine years ago, it will be a fresh chance to sing together.

Dead Horses members Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff. (www.deadhorses.net)
Dead Horses members Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff. (www.deadhorses.net)
They have gotten together on occasion for concerts in the L.A. area, Bernstein said over the phone from her home, where she is senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. They've also performed back in Duluth at least twice, in a benefit show at Mitchell Auditorium and an appearance with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra.

It's meaningful each time, Bernstein said.

"Every time we get together it's like we haven't left each other," she said. "And at some point into our first rehearsal together, always, somebody starts to cry."

Not only does she treasure her time with Thomsen and Pedersen, Bernstein has rich memories of the Twin Ports, she said.

"Any opportunity that I can to come back and be part of the amazing community that Duluth is, I love to do that," Bernstein said.

Moreover, the mental health field is important to her both professionally and personally, she added.

"My mother was a borderline personality disorder person," Bernstein said. "It really manifested as narcissism in some really damaging ways. So I'm somebody who has lived with and been around mental illness and the havoc that it wreaks in people's lives."

As a rabbi, she's seeing people increasingly beset with mental health issues, Bernstein said. She attributes that to the double-edged sword of technological advances.

"People are more isolated and depressed and lonely and searching for meaning more than ever before," Bernstein said. "The modern technology that is both a blessing and a boon for us is also an incredible challenge in the way it's just taken over people's lives."

Schaefer loves music, he said, but organizing concerts hadn't been in his wheelhouse. The mental health awareness concert came about from his work heading up the Arrowhead Behavioral Health Initiative, which serves St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Carlton, Itasca and Koochiching counties and the Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage reservations.

Them Coulee Boys members Jens Staff, Soren Staff, Beau Janke and Neil Krause. (www.themcouleeboys.com)
Them Coulee Boys members Jens Staff, Soren Staff, Beau Janke and Neil Krause. (www.themcouleeboys.com)
The show will be all about the music, but representatives from several mental health agencies will be on hand in the mezzanine before the show and during intermissions.

He's thankful for the musicians who perform and those who are willing to share their stories, Schaefer said.

"I don't think anybody who is in the public eye should feel obligated to say anything more than they feel comfortable with," he said. "But when they are comfortable, what a powerful thing."

If you go

What: Mental Health Awareness Concert with Them Coulee Boys and Dead Horses and special guests the Three Altos, plus Elsa Lee in the mezzanine from 6 to 7 p.m.

When: 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.) April 20

Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.

Tickets: $31 for premium seats, $26 for upper balcony seats

Purchase tickets: www.norshortheatre.com/single-tickets

Mental health resources

Visit www.LetsTalkMN.com. Scroll to "Connect with mental health resources now" for a map with the appropriate phone number to call from your location.