I first met Devorah Schwartz at The Cookie Corner in Lakewood. It was the perfect example of how one article is goreret another. I was interviewing the ladies of the mAb Squad, who were profiled in the Pesach edition of AmiLiving. I was in the café’s private room and my baby was with me, but she kept escaping from the room, half-crawling and half-walking to the middle of the café, where there was a baby who caught her interest.
The baby she found was Devorah’s 11-month-old son. Devorah even offered that we “pull up a highchair” so our babies could keep each other company while I finished my interview!
I met her again a couple of weeks later and watched her perform. That was when we made plans to meet again, only this time she would be the one I would interview. And my jaw dropped as we were speaking. It was not what I had expected, and I loved her story so much.
Devorah Schwartz is one of the most talented frum female singers in the Jewish music world today. But she did not grow up wanting to sing, channeling her talent in a kosher way. No, that is not what happened. Rather, her story is a journey that is so human, so real; it’s a journey toward finding oneself. It’s a lesson in persistence, and it speaks to all of us.
Devorah’s performances are not about glamour and not about attention.
So now I’ll let you listen in so we can all get to know her together.
* * *
“Did you want to be a singer when you were young?” I ask her.
“No, I was going to be a doctor. ”
That’s because, as far back as seventh grade, she had a love for biology and chemistry. But she knew she wanted to be a doctor because she also spent a lot of time in emergency rooms.
“I broke bones in my body so many times. I’d go out in the Brooklyn streets with my rollerblades and play hockey, and I always got hurt. When I was in 12th grade, I went snowboarding and broke my tailbone. I had to sit on a doughnut in class for the rest of the year. I suffered two concussions after doing headstands on beams in gymnastics. Then I’d do flips and land on the wrong ankle and break my foot.
Another time, I broke my foot in camp. There was always a brace somewhere. So I had this dream of being a doctor and helping people.”
Devorah’s mother felt she must have been exposed to an ayin hara because she was always in the limelight; she spent a lot of time on stage, but not as the lead soloist.
“I was always heading the dances. I’d also have main parts, and sometimes I’d have a song to sing. But I wasn’t in choirs. I wasn’t the girl about whom they’d say, ‘Pick her, she sings.’ I was in dance, and I painted all the color war banners. I was a painter and a dancer.”
“You didn’t know you had a good voice then?”
“My whole family sang. I didn’t stand out musically at all. My siblings were more musical than I was.”
Devorah’s mother believed in investing in her children’s talents. Her siblings got piano lessons; Devorah had art lessons, and at other times she did dance and gymnastics. But it was never singing.
When Devorah was 19, she was hired as the dance director at Camp Raninu. That summer, she taught five dance activities and choreographed all the dances in the camp’s show. Malky Giniger, who runs the Ratzon music program, was there and offered Devorah a winter job at the Sunday program. Devorah was to be the dance teacher, teaching ballet, tap dance and freestyle to girls ages six to 15.
“‘Oh, if you want to join a voice class once you’re working here, you can take any classes for free,’ Malky told me. That was my first introduction to singing. I sat in the class with some of my dance students. It was awkward, but I went for it. It’s interesting to learn new things.”