Before Arthur Rosenberg became a rabbi he played one on TV.He
starred as an Orthodox rabbi on "Chicago Hope" and as a Reform rabbi on "The District," in addition to playing doctors, lawyers and police chiefs on shows like "Knots Landing," "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The X-Files."
, sitting behind his
desk in a chaplain's office that could easily double for a closet."This job that I have here is not about getting more, and it's not about me. It's about being present for other people and helping them to find a connection with the Divine." Rosenberg
entered the rabbinate last year, at an age when most rabbis are considering stepping down from the pulpit.And while his
journey from bar mitzvah to smicha (ordination) wasn't an easy road, he
has found his
second calling among his
entertainment industry peers at the Woodland Hills campus.His
attention is now focused on aiding families with reconciliations and farewells, while also trying to foster a sense of community among retirees who require regular care.
"When I came here there were people who lived next door to each other who didn't know each other," he
Early in his
acting career Rosenberg assumed Judaism wouldn't play a large role in his
life, especially as he
didn't encounter observant Jews in the industry."My deal was to be an actor," he
said."Being in show business, you couldn't say, 'It's Friday night, it's Shabbos, the show don't go on.' If you're doing 'Hamlet,' you're doing 'Hamlet' Friday night and Saturday evening."
Not that he
was particularly interested in his
faith at the time.Rosenberg
stopped going to his
family's synagogue in Forrest Hills, N.Y., the night he
came home from his
bar mitzvah in 1959.He
father told him to put the money, checks, bonds and gifts on the family table.
"I thought we were going to see what treasures we got, sort of like after Halloween," he
said."My father said, 'OK, you can keep the gifts and the savings bonds.Sign over the checks and give me the money.'"
asked why, he
father responded, "Who do you think is going to pay for all of this?"
"I felt like I was a man in the morning because I could read from Torah, and I was a boy again in the evening," he
said."I projected that onto being Jewish and going to temple.I went as far away from Judaism as you could go for the next 33 years." Rosenberg focused his attention on acting, attending the School of Performing Arts High School and Stella Adler Studio in New York and Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, and working summer theaters in New Hampshire.
In addition to stage work, Rosenberg
spent more than three decades in television and feature films, with parts in "10," "Being There" and "Cujo."
In 1992, his
life was shaken up once again by a bar mitzvah.This time he'd been invited to watch his
friend's son read from the Torah at Temple Judea
, a Reform congregation in Tarzana.It was the first time in 33 years he
'd set foot in a synagogue, and he
left that foot sticking out in the aisle as he sat in the last pew at the back of the shul.
"When Rabbi Akiva Annes stood up on the bimah, he
looked over the congregation and he
didn't say a word, he
just smiled and I started to sob," Rosenberg
crying as a sign, and the next day when he
saw the rabbi taking a shower across from him at the Mid Valley Athletic Club
, it confirmed to him that this was more than just a coincidence."I ran over and said, 'You're the rabbi!' He
said, 'I'm naked, go away.'" Rosenberg continued attending services at Temple Judea, and then started taking adult education classes.It wasn't long before he joined the pararabbinic program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), and when he returned from the college's Cincinnati campus he told Temple Judea's clergy he wanted to become a rabbi.
"They all looked at me and said, 'You're too old,'" he
said, adding that the rabbis pointed out to him it was a five-year program and that he
'd be close to 60 by the time he graduated. After serving several terms as head of Temple Judea's adult education, Rosenberg eventually tracked down a school in Manhattan that was willing to transfer completed course work from HUC-JIR and the University of Judaism.
The interdenominational Rabbinical Seminary International allowed him to study with rabbinical mentors in Los Angeles and online.
When it came time to do his
yearlong internship prior to his
thought back to the Motion Picture and Television Fund's
Wasserman Campus, where he
had had his
gall bladder removed in 2001.He
remembered that no rabbis had stopped by to visit him before or after the surgery, so he
called the Woodland Hills campus and asked to speak with the rabbi.Instead, he
got the chaplain, the Rev. David Grant, who has been with the home for 13 years.
got together with Grant a few days later, he
expected to chat over coffee.Instead, he
found himself leading a discussion on the Torah portion of the week, Vayigash, in front of five residents in wheelchairs.
"I had the Jewish baptism by fire," he
said."We had a good conversation, and I got a call the following week asking when I wanted to start doing Shabbat services." After his yearlong internship, the Motion Picture and Television Fund hired Rosenberg for a 20-hour per week permanent position.He
leads 40-minute Shabbat services on the last Friday of the month for long-term care, and a campus-wide morning service, as well as a 45-minute Torah study, on the first Saturday.Rosenberg also leads the center's holiday services at the Katzenberg Pavilion.
isn't serving on the center's bioethics committee or its palliative care team, Rosenberg's time is devoted to one-on-one time with patients.
"Most actors don't work long enough to get pension credits to get into the home," Rosenberg
Mort Schwartz, 80, has been living at the Woodland Hills center for more than two years.Wearing a red kabbalah string around his
wrist -- a gift from one of his
children -- he
is a regular at Shabbat services, which have grown from five or six to 20 or 25 people each week since Rosenberg
first arrived in 2004.The former costume designer is mostly irreligious, yet he
shows up to Shabbat services and disagrees regularly with the rabbi.
"I still don't believe what he
has to say ... yet," Schwartz said.Rosenberg
describes Schwartz as the perfect Jew -- someone who participates, learns what he
wants to learn and rejects what he
wants to reject.
a committed person, and that's what I love about him," he
has taken it upon himself to get Kramer socializing with other residents.
simply reached a point in his
life where he'd rather give back to others, especially those who share a show business connection.And, he
says, the Wasserman Center
is the perfect pulpit for him.
"I'll stay here as long as they want me.And then when they don't want me, I'll move in," he