I became a rabbi, because I was the sixth generation of rabbis in my family, says Rabbi Jerry Cutler, pointing to the Rabbi Abraham I. Cutler nameplate on his desk. That was my father’s nameplate, and I keep it as a tribute to him.
Raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Cutler says that he also always felt very drawn to show business. While I
was studying for the rabbinate, and while I was teaching Jewish studies on the faculty at NYU, I couldn’t shake and I didn’t want to shake the show business lure.
At that point in his life, Cutler was offered the opportunity to edit a motion picture magazine and became the Associate Editor of the Independent Film Journal. From there he went on to become a publicist for American International Beach Party pictures, and then into personal management, representing comedians Stanley Myron Handelman, Slappy White, Stiller and Meara, and Jackie Vernon.
But I didn’t give up being a rabbi, Cutler recalls, and while I was working as a personal manager, I started the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in my living room. I envisioned it as creating a place for people in the performing arts to go and be rewarded in a house of worship for their accomplishments.
You see, he explains, my love for Judaism is primarily ethnocentric. I love what we’ve done as a people, and I am
proud of what we’ve given to the world at large despite our small numbers. Not just in show business, but, in medicine, the sciences, show business, finance, law, politics, and many other fields of endeavor. I want to share my strong feelings of love and pride. That desire to share emerges in emotional ways, rather than the strictly educational ways many other rabbis choose. Teaching, says Cutler wryly, is not my forte. I prefer to share, so if I teach, it informal, in my home. What I want to do is share the benefits I’ve had in the study of Judaism.
He describes his rewards as the satisfaction of bringing people back to Judaism, back to the Temple. Some of the people I want to reach have been gone from Judaism for 20 or 30 years. They may have an awareness of Yiddishkeit, but it hasn’t been a central part of their lives. I want to offer to the unaffiliated the kind of dynamic Jewish alternative they may not even be aware they’ve been searching for.
Today, Cutler’s Creative Arts Temple describes itself as Unorthodox. We do an awful lot of things that aren’t the ordinary, Cutler says, but for us, they become the norm. Years ago, I brought my father into one of my services. He was ordained in Warsaw, and his practices are different from mine, but everything I do rabbinically is a testament to him. He said that he didn’t approve of the way I was doing it, but that I must be doing something right, because he saw how full, how enthusiastic my services are.
As an example of the unconventional nature of the Judaism Cutler encourages, two years ago he and his congregation held a brief one-hour service on Rosh Hashana , then got on buses and went into downtown Los Angeles, where they fed more than 3,000 homeless people. That’s Judaism in action, says Cutler.
That’s the kind of reaching out that makes people feel good to be a Jew. This past May, CAT held a Hollywood Canteen with entertainment, the giving of gifts and stars like James Caan, Valerie Harper, Jack Klugman, serving our brave veterans and their families and thanking them for their valor and contributions to our country.
Cutler says that all of his services are very up, not at all somber. After all, Judaism has always been blessed with a great sense of humor. We are People of the Joke, as well as People of the Book. And humor is a blessing in itself. Part of my reward is not only bringing people back, but seeing them do things of the heart.
Rabbi Jerry Cutler is Founder and Leader of the Creative Arts Temple, now conducting once a month services in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and Palm Desert. He is also a writer and movie reviewer for The Beverly Hills Courier and Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and with his CAT Executive Director wife, Jefferson, has two beautiful daughters Chelsea and Creative Arts Temple | the Joy of Judaism through the Creative Arts