Have Rabbi, Will Travel

Ricky Nelson, whose hit “I’m a Traveling Man,” put him on the map decades ago, has a lot in common with Rabbi Marc Rubenstein.

Like the character in the song, Rubenstein spends a good portion of his time traveling the county in various capacities, from acting as a self-appointed social worker to serving as the rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach.

Rubenstein, 52, born into a Conservative family in New York City, studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem before obtaining his bachelor’s degree in religion and history from the American University in Washington, D.C. His rabbinical training was conducted at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.

“I got my so-called traditional background from my Jewish grandmother who I could do no wrong in front of. If you don’t have a Jewish mother, you have a Jewish grandmother. We lived in the Orthodox section of New York and my mom rebelled against her Jewishness and didn’t want to keep kosher.”

A single father of three grown children, Rubenstein said the biggest problem that Orange County Jewish singles face is finding a mate. “We have more elderly and more Jewish singles than ever before. A lot of people who want to join congregations are finding rabbis who will provide for them a social and religious interest — they are looking for it on a personal level rather than at a synagogue level or pleasure level. Most people are looking today for religion one-on-one with God and they want something New Age or contemporary.

“They are looking for their soulmate,” he continued. “The other day a single mom called the administrator at the synagogue saying she was looking for a husband; that’s my case in point.”

There are a lot of venues for finding a mate outside the synagogue, Rubenstein said. “Usually, I wind up interacting with a lot of singles. I go to the Santa Ana Courthouse on a weekly basis to help women get through a divorce. A lot of people will come to me because they don’t want to pay their attorney or they don’t want to pay a therapist, but the rabbi is always accessible. My cell phone is on 24/7, so I’ll answer a call from the general public in need. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say I build spiritual bridges and help people get to be where they want to be.”

When he was younger his favorite shows were “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel.”

“You know, the lone spiritual ranger who helps people in distress get out of their chaos or misery,” he said. “I do about 10 to 20 conversions a year, spiritual counseling, helping settle family issues.”

In addition, Rubenstein serves as the Jewish chaplain at Hoag Hospital. “Maybe because I’m single myself, I think I’m the only unattached one in Orange County, that singles feel comfortable with me,” he said. “A lot of the work I do is in and outside the congregation, as well as interfaith work.”

Rubenstein doesn’t mind traveling from one border of the county to the other, spreading his good word. “I think the ‘have rabbi, will travel’ business started because I never limited myself to just congregational work,” he said. “I’m always out and about helping where I can. My one detriment is that I can’t sing, so I’m not really a performer, but an informer.”

Prior to his stint in Newport, he was a rabbi in Ohio, Michigan and Northern California before coming to Southern California in 1990. He left Temple Isaiah in 1995 and returned again in 2000.

“Our temple is unique in that we have an older congregation, but we also have a lot of singles. My message to singles in Orange County: retain your Jewishness.”

Licensed in 22 states to perform weddings and funerals, he also serves as the official Disneyland rabbi. Rubenstein likes to golf, spend time with kids, sail and go to the movies in his spare time. “I have a five-year rule: if you’re not going to worry about something five years from today, why worry about it now?”