GLOUCESTER – A retired pulpit rabbi who becomes a successful cabaret singer? That sounds like something to sing about.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, Rabbi Deborah Zecher will lead an evening of song at Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester. The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. with a light supper, followed by Havdalah services and Rabbi Zecher’s program, “Jewish Caroling – the songs of Carole King, Carolyn Leigh, and Carole Bayer Sager.”
“I’ve always loved to sing, and always loved, loved, loved musical theater, but I didn’t connect it to myself,” Rabbi Zecher said. “In high school and college, my schools did not have musical theater, and I was already looking toward the rabbinate.”
For 22 years, she served as rabbi at Hevreh of the Southern Berkshires in Great Barrington, retiring in 1994. “The secular singing didn’t happen until 1995,” Rabbi Zecher recalled. “I was invited to give a program at a Conservative synagogue. I just said, ‘Would you mind if I sang a program instead of speaking?’” A new career was born.
She created different programs: “Their Fathers Were Cantors” highlighted the works of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Kurt Weill. “Broadway Bible” combines show tunes with familiar tales from the Bible and Midrash.
For many years, she worked on her cabaret avocation while continuing her rabbinic duties. When her youngest child graduated from college, she decided the time had come to make a change.
“I loved being a rabbi. But being in the Berkshires, many of my congregants were people in their 60s and 70s, enjoying the second acts of their lives. They were curious and interested in trying new things. I was inspired.
“With my heart in my throat,” she said, she and her husband, Rabbi Dennis Ross, moved to New York. “A year ago, I presented my first debut show in New York. It was thrilling, it was terrifying, and I loved it. And it was about being a rabbi,” Rabbi Zecher said. The show was nominated for best solo debut by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. She was also one of six singers selected as a Senior Cabaret Fellow at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn.
“Cabaret is a kind of Midrash,” she said. “You’re taking a text, and, through the interpretation, you’re making it your own. You’re singing your truth. You’re making it your story.”
Now, she is focusing on the music of three famed Jewish women. Of the three Carols in the program she will give in Gloucester, each had their first songs published before age 18. Carol Bayer Sager wrote her hit, “Groovy Kind of Love,” at age 16. Carolyn Leigh, who wrote the Broadway score for “Peter Pan,” penned 500 songs before age 25. Carole King, one of the most decorated songwriters in American music history, wrote her first Number 1 hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” when she was 17.
As a bonus to her new career, Rabbi Zecher has worked as an extra on TV shows such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Blacklist,” and “Madam Secretary.”
Rabbi Deborah Zecher will appear at Temple Ahavat Achim, 86 Middle St., Gloucester, at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, Aug. 24. Tickets are $18 per person, and include supper. Contact the temple at 978-281-0739 or visit taagloucester.org.