Last Friday afternoon, Rupert Bergmann stood in a Nahant kitchen amid an assembly of eggs, yeast, water, salt, oil and flour. He wore a checked scally cap, a blue T-shirt that spelled out Jerusalem in Hebrew, and placed his hands on the moist dough and began to braid it into a challah.
Bergmann, who is 51, is a Vienna-based opera singer and musician who visits Nahant at least once a year to see his sister, Katharina Radlberger, a classical violinist. Raised Catholic, his interest in baking challah, and Judaism, began four years ago when he was tapped to play Tevya in a German language production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” at the Mourbish Festival in Austria.
“When I was preparing for Fiddler I thought it would be a good idea to go to Jerusalem,” he explained. He decided to stay in the Old City for a few days along the Via Dolorosa, where he was able to visit Christian sites. He also prayed at the Western Wall, and at the time started to feel a connection to Judaism.
During his Fiddler run, he learned some Hebrew including the blessing over the wine. Months later, he was summoned again to play Tevya – this time in Bolzano, Italy, where he was cast along with Timna Brauer (daughter of painter and poet Arik Brauer), who played Golda.
Since then, he has continued to tour in different shows but Tevya always seems to be close to his heart. “I relate to Tevya,” he said. “We were the same age and he looked like me. He taught me a lot, like how to talk to God.”
Since the performances, he’s learned how to read and write Hebrew and when he travels he tries to visit Jewish sites. In Prague, he purchased a burgundy velvet yarmulke before visiting the city’s ancient Jewish cemetery. He has his own kiddish cup. And he’s also done a DNA test that revealed a 5 percent Sephardic match.
He hopes all this leads to a stronger relationship with God. “I do find I have faith but how deep I step into that is unknown right now,” he said. “It’s a process.”