Andy Warhol once said that everyone enjoys 15 minutes of fame at some point in his or her life, and Rabbi Gary Davidson of Long Beach got his 15 minutes last week.From the moment California's media outlets got wind of the People magazine story listing Davidson among America's top 100 most eligible bachelors, telephones have been ringing off their hooks.
Davidson, 37, is on the same list as hunky actor George Clooney and a member of the boy band 'N Sync, plus some regular folks like a firefighter and a transplant surgeon. Davidson appears bearing a bouquet of red roses in a color photo next to singer Julio Iglesias Jr. on the last page of the section.
The Boston native is a 1985 graduate of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where he earned a degree in psychology. Intending initially to become a clinical psychologist, he worked first with emotionally troubled adults, then with developmentally disabled adults - and then, as he was wondering where his real career path lay, fate stretched out a hand. "An Orthodox friend of mine invited me to spend a weekend with him when I was in my mid-20's," Davidson recalled. "It was in a religious neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. While I was there, my eyes opened to the beauty of Judaism, and I decided that I wanted to help people by becoming a rabbi."
Davidson approached the rabbinical school of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and was told that because his background in Judaism was weak, he needed a couple of years of intensive work in Jewish studies. He enrolled at Neve Schechter, a Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem.During the school year, he applied to JTS, but the dean of the rabbinical school, he said, literally laughed at his application. "He told me that I would never make it as a rabbi," Davidson said. "I thought about quitting because I was discouraged, but I decided against it, and I finished up the year in Jerusalem."
After his Jerusalem sojourn, Davidson spent a year at home in New England working on beefing up his Judaic skills and experience, teaching Torah at a religious school and serving as a counselor at Camp Ramah. "I became more observant; I read Jewish books and did well in my studies," Davidson said. He then came to Los Angeles and spent a year as a preparatory student at the University of Judaism.
It was in the middle of that year that Davidson reapplied to JTS. The same dean who had laughed at his application two years earlier interviewed him in Los Angeles, told him he had made good progress in his studies, and set up an official interview with five other rabbis. "At the end of the interview," Davidson recalled, "[the dean] asked me the best question: 'What can you tell this committee now to prove to us that your application this time is stronger?' "
Davidson - by then at the top of his preparatory class - had waited two years to answer the dean's question, and he said he did so with great candor. " 'Dean, two years ago you rejected me and said I would never make it as a rabbi, and I almost gave up,' " he recalled saying. " 'But I decided not to quit, so I worked hard to strengthen my background,' and told him about all of the things that I had done. There was a hush in the room and he leaned back in his chair and said, 'Very good, Davidson.' "
On the way to dinner that night, Davidson ran into the dean, who stretched out his hand and said, "Mazel tov."
Davidson graduated from JTS in New York in May 1996; his student pulpits included a stint as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force's chaplain candidacy program. Upon ordination, he accepted his current position at Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach.
Since arriving in Long Beach, Davidson has been instrumental in trying to bring single Jewish people together, forming the 405 Jewish Singles. This group links 10 Reform and Conservative congregations along the 405 freeway from Fountain Valley to Westchester.
"The group has really taken off over the past two years," he said. "Many friendships have been made, lots of dating, and several marriages. I started the group to bring Jewish singles together, but also to help me meet my own soulmate."
While the group remains successful, Davidson has not met the woman of his dreams. And it is because of this unique group that word started to get around about him and many of the newspapers started writing about the group. "About a year ago, I had heard that Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight had read a story about the group in the L.A. Times and thought it was a cute article, so she passed it on to People magazine."
It was in February that Davidson got a call from editors at the celebrity magazine saying they wanted to interview him for an upcoming issue. However, they did not tell him what the story would be about."Two months later, they called back and said they were ready to do the interview," he recalls. "They asked me if I knew what it was about. They said it was going to be a special edition about the country's most eligible bachelors. I was floored."
But he, said, he was also thrilled. "When I found out that I made the magazine, I jumped for joy. ... I thought it turned out better than I expected. It was a thrill of a lifetime for me."
In his spare time, Davidson goes to the beach, movies (recent favorites are "The Matrix" and "Saving Private Ryan"), restaurants and museums. He likes popular music, from Mariah Carey to Stone Temple Pilots, and enjoys playing as well as watching sports. "I like all sorts of things, and my interests are diverse," he says.
He also likes kids and animals and has been known to be a foster parent to stray kittens and injured birds. "I've always liked helping others; even in high school, I volunteered at a local hospital. What I would really like to do is volunteer to be a big brother to ex-gang members."
He has two brothers, Leonard, 43, a lawyer and Paul, 39, a psychologist. His dad, Murray, is retired from the clothing business and his mother is a religious teacher in a Reform synagogue in Massachusetts.He said if he doesn't find his mate, he would like to adopt a little girl, "I grew up without sisters," he said.The 275-pound, 6-foot-6 Davidson said he's looking for the woman with whom he can spend his life, "a lady who is genuinely sweet, soft, feminine, has a heart of gold, is intelligent and pretty. ... who is lovely both inside and out."
Jewish women of Southern California certainly know where to find him. To date, he has been interviewed on Dateline NBC, and local TV channels 2, 4, 5, 7, and 13, with continuing cover-age in the print media."The whole experience has been incredible," he says. "The most important thing is that I hope it leads to my soulmate. I've had a wonderful bachelor hood, but it's time for me to meet the right woman to settle down and start a family."
"Davidson describes himself as warm, compassionate, loving, sensitive and intelligent. "My dream is to make the world a better place," he said.
But he hasn't let his celebrity inflate his ego. "I'm just a regular guy," he said, "who happens to have a very big heart and a good head on his shoulders."
Interested soulmates can reach Rabbi Gary Davidson at his synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, (562) 426-6413, or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Debbie L. Sklar is an Orange County-based magazine editor and freelance writer. Her e-mail address is Debbiesklar@hotmail.com