BRADENTON -- She had no idea why at first, but 34-year-old Bradenton opera singer Deborah Suta noticed one day her conversation was spiced with Yiddish, a language that borrows from Hebrew, German and Slavic tongues.
Suta was German, but as far as she knew, she was not Jewish.
It wasn't until some family research that Suta, who performs all around the area, discovered that her grandmother was Jewish.
That makes it particularly special for Suta when she performs at Jewish functions, as she is scheduled to do at a free event in downtown Bradenton at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Suta, a soprano, will sing two songs at the Fourth Annual Temple Beth El Downtown Bradenton Hanukkah Lighting Celebration in front of the old Manatee Players Riverfront Theater, 102 12th St. W., Bradenton.
The annual event has traditionally drawn hundreds to share in the celebration of the Festival of Lights, which Temple Beth El Rabbi Harold Caminker calls "the first military struggle for reli
gious freedom in history," referring to a successful rebellion of Jews more than 21 centuries ago to drive out occupying Syrians.
Hanukkah, which is celebrated for eight days, began at sundown Wednesday due to Leap Year in the Jewish calendar, coinciding with Thanksgiving in an extremely rare event that won't recur for 70,000 years.
Once again, Caminker will speak to the crowd about the holiday, leading up to the lighting of the candles themselves, said Irving Zamikoff, Temple Beth El's vice president of community affairs.
Temple Cantor Alan Cohn will also lead the crowd in some beloved songs. Joining Suta are roughly 18 members of the First United Methodist Church choir.
"This excellent choir will perform the first song and close the event," Zamikoff said.
Marianne Barnebey, whose singing has brought tears to eyes at previous downtown Bradenton Hanukkah lighting events, will once again be on hand to sing, Zamikoff added.
"I was raised in a German family, but I knew there was something strange about me," Suta said Tuesday. "I could speak Yiddish. The older I got, the more I knew it wasn't German. I became more and more interested until I found out my grandmother was Jewish and had spoken Yiddish around me. Now, I know I am part Jewish. When I go to a temple, I can speak Yiddish with the ladies. For me, it's like coming home."
Suta will sing "One Special Night," by Phillip Kern and the traditional Hebrew "Rock of Ages."
"My Jewish grandmother was from Berlin and escaped the Holocaust by proclaiming she was Lutheran," Suta said. "I'm exploring the possibility of conversion, I am very proud of my background."
Suta knows she will be emotional singing on Monday because of what Hanukkah means and what the Bradenton event has come to stand for.
"I'm amazed how faith comes into our lives in so many ways," Suta said. "When we feel life is too much for us, there it is for us. Through all adversities, there it is. To be singing at such a beautiful event is a huge honor for me. I truly feel blessed to be able to honor my faith and my city at the same time. It's quite a feast for my heart and career."
Temple Beth El officials hope Jews and non-Jews will attend the event, for which a crowd of 80 is expected.
"We welcome the community to celebrate with us what Hanukkah stands for, which is the perseverance of the Jewish people against a formidable foe, which, had they not possessed that quality, there may not be a Jewish people today," Zamikoff said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond