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David Unterman


1929 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
David Unterman Obituary
Cantor David Unterman

October 23, 1929 - March 26, 2016

Congregation Beth Am's beloved cantor emeritus, Dave Unterman, passed away peacefully at home in San Jose on March 26th, at the age of 86. He had been in declining health in recent years from multiple conditions, complicated by post-polio fatigue syndrome.
Born in Brooklyn NY to Max and Sarah Unterman the week of the stock market crash, he had been "conceived in prosperity and born in depression." Shortly before his second birthday he contracted polio and spent much of his early childhood in hospitals. His earliest memory was of singing in a hospital crib, surrounded by nurses. Eventually returning to his family and gradually becoming ambulatory, he sang with his older brother and sister on a weekly children's show on WEVD, a Yiddish radio station in New York. As a teen Dave attended Brooklyn Technical High School and Lincoln High, and then CCNY-Uptown for a couple of years. He dropped out when an opportunity arose to travel west to Berkeley with a good friend. Arriving in the bay area he found himself singing in various productions and venues, including in a small company's production of "Aida" in the east bay that was his first experience of opera. He went on to become a founding member of the Lamplighters in San Francisco, performing with the company from 1952 to 1955, using the stage name Dave Manning, and originating several of the lead bass-baritone G & S roles. His rich voice opened many doors and he made a living singing in churches, synagogues, the Children's Opera, and even North Beach night clubs, as well as, in 1955, the San Francisco Opera chorus. His local successes took him back to New York, where he performed with the American Savoyards as Don Manning, and sang in the secondary chorus at the Metropolitan Opera. Eventually in 1960 the stresses on his body from stage performing caused his polio-weakened ankles to disintegrate into chips. After botched surgeries it became clear that his theatrical career was over. What came next was a remarkable opportunity and new career path: becoming a Reform Jewish cantor after a five year course of study at Hebrew Union College in New York. Returning eventually to the bay area Dave served Temple Sinai in Oakland, Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, was Jewish Chaplain for a year at San Quentin, and many years later taught and sang at Temple Emanuel in San Jose. 1981 he came to Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, becoming Cantor Emeritus in 1997 but continuing teaching a weekly adult class on Jewish Spirituality until his final month of life. His engaging teaching style, warmth, and openness were legendary, as recalled by countless congregants whose lives he touched, matching the impact of his expressive and resonant singing voice. He will be missed by many, including his wife Carol Carter who survives him.
A celebration of Dave's life will take place Sunday April17th at 4:00 p.m at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Rd., Los Altos Hills. Donations in his name to the Susan Gaskill Adult Jewish Learning Fund or any Beth Am fund of your choice may be made at www.betham.org/give.

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Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Apr. 15, 2016
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