Broadway actor meets 9/11 rabbi he plays

The British rabbi featured prominently in the hit Broadway show “Come From Away” refuses to see the musical while in the Big Apple this week because he’s being directed by a higher authority.

Leivi Sudak, 61, said he was a huge fan of the production, but that the show itself was a minefield under his strict Hasidic interpretation of Jewish law — which among other things prohibits him from watching women sing.

“A Jewish man should not be listening to other women’s voices singing. The nature of a musical is you have men and women acting and singing,” he said.

“But my wife, mother and daughter have all been to see the musical.”

The show tells the story of airline passengers whose planes were grounded during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sudak has been among the thousands stranded in Gander, a small town in Newfoundland.

Sudak stopped by the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Thursday for a friendly kibitz with Paul Whitty, the actor who portrays him in the show.

For more than an hour before the curtain went up, Sudak told Whitty how he had been on his way from London to visit the gravesite of Brooklyn’s Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a highly influential rabbi who died in 1994 and is buried in Queens.

Sudak cannot see the show himself because it is against his faith to watch women in singing.
Matthew Murphy

“The pilot gets on and says, ‘You may have noticed we’ve been diverted. There’s been an attack in mainland US,’” he recalled. When the plane landed, Sudak said Canadian mounted police patrolled the aisles for 14 hours.

“Years later I discovered from someone … that there were four people [on the plane] who were suspects and they were keeping an eye on them,” he said.

During his time in Gander, Sudak looked after the roughly two dozen other Jews he found there and operated a kosher kitchen for anyone with dietary restrictions. His work is memorialized by Whitty in the musical.

One of the show’s most memorable scenes — when Sudak meets a local Jew named Ed who escaped Nazi Germany — is also based on reality.

At the time of his fateful journey, Sudak was flying to New York to visit the grave of an esteemed rabbi.
At the time of his fateful journey, Sudak was flying to New York to visit the grave of an esteemed rabbi.
Brian Zak/NY Post

“He said he was a little boy of about 8 when the Nazis came to power. They were living in Berlin in 1935,” Sudak recalled. “In 1938 his parents paid a vast sum of money to an English couple who would adopt Ed and his brother.”

The pair eventually ended up in Canada where their new parents warned them never to speak of their Jewish heritage — a warning Ed followed until meeting Sudak.

They stayed in touch for a few more years and when Ed died, he was buried with a number of Jewish artifacts the rabbi gifted him.

“It’s a real honor to get to tell this story and an honor to hear the story firsthand” said a choked-up Whitty. “I’m very emotional right now. That is a lot to process.”

Sudak has never been back to Gander, but it’s on his to-do list.

“I wave from the window every time I fly over,“ he said.