June 21, 2001
Didi Carr Reuben was not keen about the idea of dating a rabbi, and on her first official date with Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, she was desperate for a way to get out of it.
"He's a cute guy, but I couldn't see cuteness," says Didi in her husky voice and Bronx accent. "All I [imagined] was a guy who was 98, 3 feet 2 inches, with a white beard, smelly; three teeth, davening in another language."
Little did this aspiring pop star know that two years later she would marry the rabbi, and eventually serve by his side as a rebbetzin of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades for more than 15 years.
The rabbi had noticed her striking looks and spirit when she auditioned as an entertainer for a banquet at his former synagogue. In the middle of their first date, Didi, thinking she had found an ingenious way to ward him off, looked him straight in the eye and said: "I'm an atheist, hard-core."
She waited for him to immediately scamper out, but instead, he assumed a rabbinic pose and simply said, "Frankly, I don't give a --."
For Didi, that's when the date began, she told The Journal. At that point, she found out she and Steven had a lot in common -- in particular, that they both think outside the box. "He introduced to me a new notion of God," she says.
At the time, Didi was an actress (appearing in ABC's 1977 television series "Sugar Time," among other shows) and a divorced mother of one. She had not stepped foot in a synagogue for 20 years. But after that magical first date, Didi found a new love, a new God, and ultimately a new career -- that of a rebbetzin.
"If I had known what it was like to be a rebbetzin, it would have been exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up," she says.
That is, if she went by a nonstandard definition of the term. Didi, now 52, doesn't act -- or look -- like the stereotypical modest and shy rebbetzin.
The license plate on her car reads "REBOTZN" -- with the "O" in the shape of a heart. She is opinionated, provocative, sometimes raunchy; and her attention to fashion and appearance lends glamour to a role that is often considered devoid of glitz.
Her musical talents, sense of humor and boldness are useful in her social activism and community service. She works on the musical aspects of synagogue life, visits and entertains the sick, and is very active with her community's teenagers, openly discussing sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll as part of their confirmation classes.
She seems to be doing something right. Since the couple moved in at Kehillat Israel in 1986, the number of families has risen from 225 to over 900. And Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben was recently installed as president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis and received honorary doctorates of divinity from both Hebrew Union College and the Reconstructionist College in Philadelphia.
But the added prestige and growing community haven't tempered Didi's outspoken personality.
Her husband laughs off his wife's unconventionality. "She's a New Yorker; she speaks her mind," he says. "I'm proud of who she is and I love who she is -- all of her -- you can't separate one piece from another."