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n PAGE 16A 9 HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 20, 200~ d; By Danielle Berrin Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter of "The Twilight Saga." is 6 feet tall with straight blond hair. a pale complexion and a long, slim nose. Not exactly the most ethnic mien imaginable. "I don't look particularly Jewish." she says sheepishly, half wondering why she's on a lunch date with The Jewish Journal. "But I have a very Jewish name." Her name--Rosenberg has been strangely, if not surprisingly, advantageous to her career. Back in the 1990s, when she was first looking for an agent, one interested agency made an incorrect assump- tion about her that proved fortunate. "They said. 'We just made a deal for your mother' and I was think- ing, 'You guys are good. [My mother] has been dead 10 years.' Then I realized they thought I was Joan Rivers' daughter, who at the time was Melissa Rosenberg." In the 18 years since, Rosenberg has made a name for herself as a television and filmwriter. But her career re- ally took off in 2007 when she was anointed movie scribe of the "Twilight" franchise, based on the best-selling se- ries of young adult novels by Stephenie Meyer. The story~ about a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire, became a tween/teen phe- nomenon. Rosenberg penned the first script, "Twilight," which grossed $380 million worldwide, and has since gone on to write the sequels "New Moon." which hit the- aters Nov. 20, and "Eclipse," which wrapped production in Vancouver in late October and is set for release in June. Melissa Rosenberg Rosenberg is also the writer/executive producer of the Showtime series "Dexter," about a sociopathic serial killer who justifies his life of crime by knocking off the bad guys. Bloodlust. vampirism and ambiguous morality could be seen as decidedly un-Jewish. After all, vampire mythol- ogy, as Rabbi David Wolpe notes is philosophically at odds with Jewish values. And if you ask Rosenberg, "The Twilight Saga" in par- ticul~r is a departure from religion-based vampire lore and instead is an exercise in secular storytelling. "Vampires aren't very Jewish." Rosenberg says. "The most basic thing about them is that they are born out of Christian mythology." Nevertheless, she is quick to point out that Meyer, a devout Mormon, has created her own vampire mythology, devoid of religious connota- tion, absent the Christian symbolism of crosses and holy water. And yet, the protagonist vampires of "Twilight" are different in another way from other vampires. "They're koshervampires," Rosenberg says, laughing. To call them "kosher" may be a stretch, but the leading figure, Edward Cullen. and his family are all "vegetar- ians" which in this context means they don't drink hu- man blood,, though they do eat animals and therefore they are not killers, but hunters. Their anomalous way of life, in which diet is not simply a carnal drive but a moral choice, makes them outsiders, not only from the world of mortals but also from the larger vampire culture,~who see the Cullens as a threat to the vampire establishment. The story's human protagonist, Bella, idolizes the Cullens. and, you could say, sees them as a light unto the vampire nation. Rosenberg insists this isn't a religious film ("The minute you start espousing any religious framework, you start turning audiences off"), yet she does identify with one aspect of vampirism: "There is that sense of wanting to be a part of something but being unable to be, that sense of being the other, the outsider." she says. Rosenberg grew up in a secular community in Marin County, just outside San Francisco. "We led the whole human potential movement," she says. Her father, Jack Lee Rosenberg, is a prominent psychotherapist; her mother, Patricia, who was raised Irish Catholic. died when the fu- ture screenwriter was a teen- ager. The loss was profound, though Rosenberg quips that it made her "highly neurotic" and fixed her with a "tremen- dous fear of abandonment." Rosenberg left home for the East Coast when she was 17 and worked at a theater and dance company before she attended Bennington Col- lege in Vermont. It was there that Rosenberg says she felt "Jewish" for the first time. "There was a much stron- ger community there," Rosenberg remembers. "They really embraced me. In my world, that had never happened, so I felt the warmth and safety of it. I think I, more than anyone else in my family, really have more of a Jewish identity because of that. And also-- this will sound silly but the head 0fthe theater and dance company was married to a Jewish man. and I idolized him. I said, 'I want a man like him'--and I ended up with one." Rosenberg says she retired her dream to become a dance choreographer when she realized "I was too tall and started too late." She moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and began writing, but decided to enhance her resume by going to graduate school. "Writers don't have a lot of c.lout in this town," she says about why she chose to learn producing. "Writers are typically a very introverted group; we spend our days alone in a room typing. It's not in our nature to put our- selves out in front of a movie and demand recognition." In 1990, she graduated from USC's prestigious Peter Stark Producing Program, hoping that a producing credit might help her control the direction of her work. A year later, she got an agent. Paramount soon hired her to write a dance movie that was never produced, though the experience gave her the needed cachet to land her first television gig. For the next 15 years, Rosenberg worked continuously as a w~iter/producer on a variety of shows, including, "Party of Five," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Ally McBeai" and "The O.C.." which she also co-executive produced. In 2006. Rosenberg's first fea- ture screenplay another dance film, called "Step Up" made it to the big screen. On the set of "The O.C." Rosenberg met her husband. television director Lev Spiro, who Rosenberg claims is de- scended from 16 generations of rabbis. The couple studied with Rabbi Nell Comess- Daniel s of Beth Shir Sholom before he married them. Throughout her career. Rosenberg has demonstrated an activist streak, taking up causes to benefit writers and women. She sat on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, West for five years and served as a strike captain during the industry-crippling writer's strike of 2007. On the gender divide in Hollywood, Rosenberg is adamantly outspoken. "I don't like being pow- erless," she says. "I do not accept powerlessness." When she began working in television~ show runners employed few women typically one per show--to capture the requisite "fe- male voice." The lack of opportunities created severe competition among women writers. And for feature films, women were hired for "chick flicks" and not much else. On the rare occasion when a woman was hired, she first had to combat stereotypes to prove her talent. "Apparently women are not funny," Rosenberg says facetiously of the prevailing belief in the industry. "And we don't know how to write action, and we don't know how to write men. Whereas men can write everybody." But women's status in Hollywood is finally chang- ing, she says: more and more women are writing in a variety of genres, and now there is group advocacy. Rosenberg is a member of the League of Hollywood Women Writers. a collection of female show runners "'a good portion of which are the breadwinners in their families." Rosenberg notes. "Every battle is ongoing," she adds. "Women are in a better situation than they were 50 years ago, and yet, we're still making 78 cents on the dollar." Rosenberg's credo is "'a writer is a writer," and she believes gender should have little impact on content. So could a man have written "Twilight?" "A man would have written a different 'Twilight,'" she says. "It may have been as good, or perhaps better, but I mean in the same way that you know I could have possi- bly written 'Transformers.'" If Rosenberg once con- sidered herself a "solidly middle-class working writ- er." "The Twilight Saga" has catapulted her into the Hol- lywood big leagues. Instead of waiting for projects or writing spec scripts, she is now part of a club of writ- ers who get offered prized material. "I'm the longest overnight success in the history of writing," she says. But Rosenberg's favorite perk comes on the red carpet: "My stylist is able to get some dresses loaned by some won- derful designers," she says. "When I first hired her for the last premiere, she said. "So-and-so designer will loan us a.dress." And I said, 'They do understand I'm just the writer, right?'" Reprinted by permission of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. By Adam Sosnik NEWYORK(JTA) Itwasa bar mitzvah for the ages--or, rather, the aged. A handful of residents from an Ohio retirement com- munity visited Israel for a 12-day mission culminating in a group b'nai mitzvah in Jerusalem's Old City. For some of the octogenar- ians at Cedar Village in Mason. near Cincinnati, it was their first bar/bat mitzvah. "I never dreamed this could happen to me," said Ethel Regberg, 86, who was among those celebrating their first bar/bat mitzvah. Her husband, Paul, 87, had a bar mitzvah, too. The Regbergs were among nine residents, one family member and 13 staff members who went on the Cedar Vil- lage B'nai Mitzvah Mission to Israel last month. The average age of the residents was 86; the oldest participant was 96. In a ceremony broadcast live on the Internet, allowing friends and family to watch, the residents and four staff members had their b'nai mitzvah at Robinson's Arch. Dressed in their best at- tire, the celebrants chanted and sang prayers, and recited passages about creation from the Book of Genesis. They Residents and staff members of Cedar Village gather in mitzvah mission trip to Israel. were called in groups to the stops andbreaks in the activi- Torah; one by one their He- ties,"said Rachel Festenstein, brew names were called and Cedar Village's director of each read a verse in Hebrew. marketing and community "I felt like I was reborn," outreach. Regberg said. Each celebrant also read a prepared d'var Torah, shar- ing thoughts and emotions. Following the religious cer- emony, the participants went to the Western Wall to tuck prayer notes into the ancient wall's cracks, Aside from the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, the group also visited sites in Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv and the Sea of Galilee--though at a slower pace than most trips to Israel. "There were plenty of rest Cedar Village front of the Knesset in Jerusalem during their 12-day b'nai nurse who managed the medications. Walkers and wheelchairs were brought along, but par- ticipants said no one fell ill on Before the trip, organizers the trip or could not meet the said, residents got into shape mission's physical challenges. with daily exercise regimens to promote cardiovascular health and endurance. "We had to take a lot of walks around the grounds of Cedar Village," said one resident, Blessing Sivitz, 89, who celebrated her first bat mitzvah in Israel. "We had to change our speeds, pretend like we were marching, and climb and descend stairs." Each staff member on the mission was assigned a resi- dent to look after individually. One staffer was a registered "We -were tired but well I(aken care of," Sivitz said. "I felt healthy the entire trip." It was Cedar Village's sec- ond mission to Israel in two years and coincided with the retirement community's own bar mitzvah. "What better way to cel- ebrate and commemorate our 13th year than with the idea of bar or bat mitzvah," said Carol Silver Elliott, Cedar Village's CEO and president. Two rabbis who traveled with the group, Ruth Alpers of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religi0n and Gerry Walter of Cedar Village, put together a special service for the b'nai mitzvah celebration with a prayer booklet that in- cluded the d'var Torah written by each bar or bat mitzvah. A festive luncheon and tree plantings at the Jewish National Fund forest around Jerusalem followed the cer- emony. Despite their years, the Cedar Village residents hardly let up during the trip. At Masada, after ascending to the top on a cable car, resi- dents made their way through the dusty exhibits using wheelchairs and walkers. On the Sea of Galilee, participants danced on a moving boat. And they safely navigated the uneven cobblestone streets of cities such as Jerusalem and Zich on Yakov. When help was needed, such as at the Dead Sea, staff provided assistance. "With challenges like cobblestone streets and un- familiar places, we want to guarantee that our residents stay healthy," Elliot said. The mission also included stops tailored to the interests of staff members, who were mostly Christian. The group visited the Christian Quarter of the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Christian archeological sites. "This leg of the trip helped us to understand the various faiths and traditions that all originated here in Izrael," Elliot said. The group also visited Netanya, a sister city to Cin- cinnati, where participants surprised the children of Bet Elazr~ki ChildreB's Home with handmade blankets and plush toys. Back in Cedar Village, the group plans to screen slide shows of their trip to inspire more mitzvah missions to the Jewish state. "The trip was a dream come true," Regberg said. "And the grandchildren got plenty of souvenirs!"