Friday, November 13, 2015

Real Rabbis Playing Fictional Rabbis

The list of well known actors who have played rabbis in the movies and on television is quite long and includes Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Gene Wilder, Sam Waterston, Alan King, Rod Steiger, Kevin Pollak and Meryl Streep.

A much shorter list is made up of actual rabbis who have played rabbis in movies and on television shows. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Chuck Diamond of Pittsburgh, plays the rabbi role in the upcoming film "American Pastoral," which is based on the Philip Roth novel.

Rabbi Chuck Diamond with Ewan McGregor on the set of American Pastoral

In fact, in a Google search I tried to identify other rabbis besides Rabbi Chuck who who have been called upon to act as rabbis in movies (talk about being typecast!) and I came up empty. What I did find is that the actress Molly Parker, who was on Deadwood and plays Jackie Sharp in House of Cards, not only was "Rabbi Ari" on the HBO series Six Feet Under, but coincidentally also will be in American Pastoral with Rabbi Chuck Diamond. Maybe Parker can give Rabbi Chuck some tips on how to be a rabbi!

An even bigger coincidence is that, according to an article in the Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Chuck's big scene in American Pastoral will be in a Jewish cemetery, which is where Parker played Rabbi Ari on Six Feet Under, a television show about a family that owned a funeral home. Chuck Diamond won't be the only guy playing a rabbi in a 2016 movie. Actor Stephen Singer will play a rabbi in the upcoming TV movie called "Madoff" about Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.

Actress Molly Parker as Rabbi Ari on Six Feet Under
Actress Molly Parker as Rabbi Ari on Six Feet Under

The story of how Rabbi Chuck Diamond, a Jerry Garcia-looking mensch of a guy whom I've known since I was in high school, got the part of rabbi in American Pastoral is pretty funny. He was first contacted by Zane Weiner, the co-producer of the film to be a consultant. He met with Weiner and the actor Ewan McGregor, who stars in the film and is the director. Originally, Rabbi Chuck was only going to consult on a Jewish funeral scene, but then McGregor asked if he'd be interested in playing the role of rabbi -- not much of a stretch for a guy who's been a rabbi for thirty years.

Rabbi Chuck Diamond with Rabbi Jason Miller in Ukraine in 2013
Rabbi Chuck Diamond with Rabbi Jason Miller in Ukraine in 2013

Rabbi Chuck was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1985, the same year as the first woman rabbi, Rabbi Amy Eilberg. I first met Rabbi Chuck, as he is known, when he served as the education director at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in suburban Detroit. From there, he went on to Pittsburgh, where he first worked as education director and rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom and then started his own congregation called Or L'Simcha, which recently merged with Congregation Tree of Life. For decades, Rabbi Chuck has been a staple at Camp Ramah in Canada, where I had a chance to work with him in the summer of 2005. We've stayed in touch over the years and traveled to Ukraine and Israel together a few years ago.

I'm proud of Rabbi Chuck (and a bit envious of course) that he had the chance to be in a movie alongside such actors as Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Ewan McGregor, Peter Rieger (of Animal House), Rupert Evans, Molly Parker, Uzo Aduba and David Strathairn.

According to the article in Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Chuck had to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish about 30 times to get the Jewish funeral scene perfect in American Pastoral. He says he now plans to join the Screen Actors Guild. I'll be sure to remind him to also set up his IMDB account, since he currently isn't listed in the cast for the movie there. I can't wait to see Rabbi Chuck's big debut on the silver screen when American Pastoral comes out next year.

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