Rebecca Rosen didn’t realize she could contact the dead until 13 years ago, after she learned her father had attempted suicide. She grew up in a tightly knit Conservative Jewish family in Omaha, Neb., where her mother is executive director of the Jewish Federation and Rebecca attended religious school and had her bat mitzvah.
But soon after the day she learned about her father’s suicide attempt, Rosen, then a sophomore at the University of Florida, also learned he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her parents’
30-year marriage was crumbling under the stress. Rosen, too, began spiraling into depression. “I found a destructive habit to numb my pain,” said the self-described psychic medium, who will appear at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on April 27. “I’d sleepwalk into the kitchen and stuff my mouth full. I would wake up in the dark, not knowing how long I’d been there or how much I’d eaten.”
Over some eight months, Rosen gained 40 pounds and spent her daytime hours in a sleep-deprived daze, starving herself to make up for the nighttime calories. When anti-depressants failed to curb her pain, she prayed for someone — anyone — to help her.
The next day, while writing in her journal, she felt an intense tugging on her hand, and she began to write messages from a spirit who identified herself as her deceased grandmother, Babe, an observant Jew who had suffered from postpartum depression, undergone an ineffective form of shock therapy and eventually committed suicide.
“She said that she was my spirit guide and that she was here to help me learn what she had failed to learn in life,” Rosen said. “By helping me out of my own depression, Babe could neutralize the negative karma she had from taking her own life — a psychic ‘win-win.’ ”
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Rosen — who recounts her journey in her new self-help book, “Spirited: Connect to the Guides All Around You” — acknowledges that all this sounds “woo-woo” and that she initially thought the automatic writing meant she was “going crazy.” But after two years of her grandmother’s help, she was free from depression and had met her husband-to-be, Brian Rosen. After they moved to Detroit, she felt ready to acknowledge her psychic gift and started to do readings for $25 each at the back of a coffee shop.
In 2001, she impressed the arts editor of the Detroit Jewish News, resulting in a 2001 cover story. “I received hundreds of telephone calls, which started my business,” she said.
Now 33, based in Denver and a wife and mother of two young boys, Rosen is among an elite group of celebrity mediums who have earned a share of national attention, including John Edward, best-known for his TV series “Crossing Over”; Allison DuBois, the real psychic behind CBS’ hit TV show “Medium”; and James Van Praagh, who inspired CBS’ long-running “The Ghost Whisperer” and who also wrote the introduction to “Spirited.” She has been featured on ABC’s “Nightline” and has read for thousands of clients, including stars such as Vanna White and Jennifer Aniston (no, Rosen won’t reveal whether
spirits predicted Brangelina). She has a three-year waiting list for her private readings, at $500 per hour; group readings cost around $60 a ticket and draw up to 900 participants.
Critics believe psychics get their information in part by reading a client’s body language and from other forms of nonverbal communication. Rosen notes that she does 80 percent of her readings over the telephone, and a number of Rosen’s clients have offered written testimony that she is uncannily accurate, praising her ability to contact loved ones who offer messages and advice. Rosen begins each reading with a silent prayer for protection, which in her case involves the first line of the Shema. “I don’t see dead people,” she explained. “Spirits don’t have bodies or voices, so it’s their energy impressing my mind and body with thoughts and feelings.”
Gail Zimmerman, the Detroit Jewish News arts editor, visited Rosen with one of her reporters in early 2001 in anticipation of a possible story on the psychic. Zimmerman wanted the writer to have the first reading, but Rosen instead turned to her. “She said someone named Richard was desperate to convey a message for my sister,” the editor recalled. Zimmerman’s brother-in-law, in fact, had died of a brain tumor several months earlier. “[Rebecca] said he wanted me to tell my sister that his pain was gone — and she pointed to her head.”
Richard’s widow, Karen Tessler, followed up with sessions with Rosen, which helped her process her grief. She had been married to Richard for only 14 months; they had been high school friends who had met again at their 30th high school reunion and married in 1999. Four days after their wedding, Richard displayed symptoms and was soon diagnosed with cancer. “If it wasn’t for Rebecca, I don’t know if I could have gotten through this,” Tessler said. “I received precise messages during our readings that could only have come from Richard. I felt comforted because I knew that even though he was gone, he
was still with me and that there could be life on the other side.”
There is a strong afterlife tradition in traditional Judaism, but mediumship is another matter. “Talking to the dead is considered off limits, a form of shamanism,” said Rabbi Pinchas Giller, a kabbalah scholar and professor of Jewish thought at American Jewish University. For example, Leviticus 20:27 states, “If among the men or women there will be a medium or an oracle, they shall surely be put to death.”
An exception is made for an exclusive few in Chasidic or Mizrahi traditions — men who are so holy that they have “one foot in this world and one in the next,” Giller said. “So they sometimes come across souls in the context of other activities, but they don’t go out of their way to commune with the dead. You don’t go to a tzadik [scholar or miracle worker] to ask if he can contact your departed mother.”
Rosen — straightforward and chicly attired — said she doesn’t seek out spirits; they come to her in the context of healing others, which she regards as a form of tikkun olam. Rosen’s brother, Baruch HaLevi, a rabbi at the Conservative congregation Shirat Hayam, outside Boston, is one of her staunchest supporters: “The Talmud as well as all the midrashic and mystical literature is full of examples of Jews who are crossing over and coming back,” he said.
Is it right for Rosen to charge grieving clients $500 per session?
“Is it ethical to charge if you’re a doctor or a therapist? This is no different … you’re paying for my time and energy, which are extremely limited. There is only one of me and thousands of people coming to see me,” she said.
Rosen added that she discourages clients from visiting more than once or twice a year. “I don’t want to disempower people to think they need something outside of themselves to find the truth,” she said.
“That was the inspiration for my book — that we all have our inner knowledge and intuition to rely on.”
“An Evening With Rebecca Rosen,” Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Writers Guild Theater. 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. $25-$79. (303) 366-2288. Jewish Journal readers can obtain discounted tickets to An Evening with Rebecca Rosen for $29.50 (regularly priced at $59.00). Click on the orange “begin order” box on the event page: brownpapertickets.com/event/100208.
Enter jewishjournal.com (all lower case) in the discount code box and click “show additional prices.” A second “general” assignment will show itself at a ticket price of $29.50 and will be available until noon on Tuesday, April 27th. Tickets are $80 at the door and will not be discounted. There will be no refunds for this event.