Rita Newborn, a singer and actress who co-founded the Plainview Jewish Center, died April 16 at age 90.
Newborn succumbed to progressive dementia and natural causes at her Plainview home surrounded by family, said her son Jud Newborn, also of Plainview.
“She accomplished a lot, and she put a smile on everyone’s face and treated all people with respect, whether they were the CEO or the janitor,” said her son Kym Newborn of Huntington Station.
Newborn was born Rita Cohen in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in June 1926.
At age 15, she planned to make her radio debut singing on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. But the Dec. 7, 1941, broadcast was pre-empted by the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor, her family said.
Newborn graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn in 1944. She received a full scholarship to attend the New York College of Music between 1946 and 1948, but did not graduate, Jud Newborn said.
Newborn, whose stage name was Rita Sorel, sang on New York City radio stations and at Catskills resorts between 1945 and 1949. In 1947, the soprano scored her own show, “Rita Sorel Sings,” which lasted for two years on the Yiddish-language radio station WEVD.
She also worked as a teletypist and receptionist at Western Union and the now-defunct PM newspaper.
In 1949, she married Solomon Newborn, who later served as Oyster Bay Town’s receiver of taxes from 1966 to 1983. They moved to Plainview in April 1953, building a house on a former potato field.
Realizing there were no Jewish temples in the area, Newborn decided to start her own. She put a sign in a Plainview development office advertising the first meeting of the Plainview Jewish Center, held at her house in June 1953. The center, which is now on Floral Drive, has a membership of about 400 families.
Newborn also helped her husband — the other center co-founder — campaign and sang at educational and political events. According to Newborn’s family, at a fundraiser honoring then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, the future president told her he had never heard the national anthem sung “so beautifully.”
“Music was the shimmering silver thread that ran through the fabric of her life,” Jud Newborn said.
Between 1975 and 1983, Newborn worked as a clerk at the Nassau County courts in Hicksville and Mineola and at the Suffolk County court in Riverhead.
At age 57, Newborn decided to try acting. She played the lead in the television pilot “Deadly Force.” She had bit parts in episodes of “Saturday Night Live” and “Guiding Light” and in movies including “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Terry Berland, a casting agent who worked on commercials with Newborn, said she “was a shining light.”
Other survivors include another son, Ira Newborn of Great Neck; daughter Eva Newborn of Plainview; sister Sheila Abrams of Brooklyn; a granddaughter; and three great-grandchildren.
A funeral was held April 19 at the Plainview Jewish Center. She was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, Fairview, New Jersey.