Many people in the East Bay and beyond remember Samuel Broude from his 23 years as a rabbi at Oakland’s Temple Sinai. In two weeks they will have a chance to see him again.
Only this time, it’ll be Rabbi Broude: the Musical.
That’s because Broude, who is 20 years into his retirement and 85 years old, will perform his autobiographical one-man show “Listening for the Voice” on the bimah at Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah on Jan. 24.
“Listening to the Voice” includes a riveting monologue, interspersed with a cappella performances of Yiddish and Hebrew tunes. This isn’t the world premiere of his show. Broude has staged it a few times, including last year at Temple Sinai, where he served as senior rabbi from 1966 until 1989.
Since then, Broude has continued to seek ways to connect Jews with Judaism. If his personal tale of an Orthodox yeshiva boy who became a liberal Reform rabbi aids that mission, then he’s done his job.
The show (he calls it a “monodrama”) follows Broude’s life from the west side of Chicago and the Orthodox Judaism of his grandfathers, to his questioning of orthodoxy and, ultimately, his decision to become a Reform rabbi.
He titled it “Listening for the Voice” for a reason.
“I hope this won’t sound too naïve, but I do think God speaks to us,” Broude says. “Not directly, but through encounters: what we hear from teachers, associates, from human voices. There were occasions I heard what I needed to hear. When I was [leaning toward not] being a rabbi, every decision I made seems to have led me back to being a rabbi.”
In the show, he not only recounts much of his early life, he also sings songs in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. The musical moments are holdovers from his days as cantor, before his ordination.
Though there is much to tell of his life after becoming a rabbi — from meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. in Cleveland, to serving as a rabbi in South Africa after his retirement — his show only goes through the first 30 years, to the point at which he became a rabbi.
“I decided at an early age to become a rabbi,” Broude says. “It may have started at age 3, but around 11, around the time of the Nazis, I decided I would become a rabbi.”
That took a while. First he graduated from the University of Chicago, and then moved to Pasadena in the late 1940s, where he got a job as a part-time cantor and Hebrew teacher at a small Reconstructionist congregation.
Two years later he became full-time cantor at Los Angeles’ University Synagogue, a liberal congregation that embodied what Broude calls “California Reform.”
“Reform with a lot of tradition back in,” he explains. “Reform had changed. I had changed. Then the thought occurred to me that I could still be a rabbi: a Reform rabbi.”
After completing his training, he landed an associate rabbi position at one of Cleveland’s large Reform synagogues. His six years there were marked by social activism, especially in the realm of the civil rights and Vietnam War movements. Then, in 1966, he moved back to California to become the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai.
While at Sinai, he showed theatrical flair. One year, he commissioned choreographer Anna Halprin to devise a dance performance for Kabbalat Shabbat. Titled, ”Kadosh,” the piece included dancers twirling down the aisles of sanctuary, pulling audience members out of their chairs to dance along.
“Half the congregation loved it, half hated it,” Broude recalls. “But I thought it was one of the most moving Shabbat experiences of my life.”
Though he technically retired in 1989, Broude never hung up his rabbinical robes. Over the years, he has filled in at synagogues across the Bay Area, and regularly teaches at Berkeley’s Lehrhaus Judaica. In 1990, he spent three months serving at a synagogue in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, an experience made more exciting as Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison.
Broude and his wife, Judith, have two grown children and three grandchildren, all of them living in the Bay Area.
One of his other retirement projects was an autobiography. Eventually it occurred to him his story might make a good theater piece, and “Listening for the Voice” was born. For good measure, he enrolled in a workshop with the principals of Traveling Jewish Theater, which helped him lock down the bells and whistles.
Thus far, Broude has performed the show at Temple Sinai and Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek.
And when he performs it at Temple Isaiah, he will have the same goal he had every time he took the pulpit for a Shabbat sermon all those years in Oakland.
“I just put it out there,” he says, “and hope that someone will pick up parts of it, and maybe it has something to say to their own lives.”
“Listening for the Voice” by Rabbi Samuel Broude will be performed as part of the Stanley Harris Memorial Lecture series Jan. 24 at Temple Isaiah, 3800 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. 4 p.m. reception, 5 p.m. show. Free. Information: (925) 283-8575 or www.temple-isaiah.org.