A chance encounter with composer Leonard Bernstein changed the course of Oscar award-winning filmmaker Howard Rosenman’s career.
“I was in medical school in May of 1967 when Israel was surrounded by 100 million Arabs screaming for the death of Jews,” Rosenman explained. The then medical student had close ties to Israel; both his parents were in the seventh generation of their respective families to have been born in Jerusalem and he had spent extended periods of time there growing up. So a couple of weeks before the war started, Rosenman left the United States and volunteered as a medic in the Israeli military.
When war broke out, he was shipped to the southern end of the Gaza Strip.
“I was in the medical field hospital doing amputations and triage,” Rosenman said. “I did that for three days."
Noting his commanding officer knew about his family ties – "we’re called the ancients of Jerusalem, like the Mayflower generation." On the fourth day of the war, he woke me up early and he said, ‘You should go to Jerusalem because it’s going to be in our hands in a few minutes and you should be there to celebrate.’”
Rosenman still remembers Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing the ram’s horn at the reconquered Temple Mount on June 8, 1967.
Rosenman was then transferred to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, he said, where he again worked on triage and wound healing.
At the end of the Six-Day War, Bernstein came to Israel to conduct a concert on the newly reconquered Mount Scopus before Israeli troops and hospital patients.
“He came to visit the medical volunteers ... and he looked at me and he said, ‘Oh my God, you look just like this guy that I know who was my waiter at a discotheque in New York.’ I answered him, in Hebrew, ‘Maestro, I was your waiter.’ He kissed me on the lips and gave me four tickets to the concert.”
Noting his parents flew in from the U.S. to accompany him to Bernstein’s concert, Rosenman said he also brought his cousin.
Describing Bernstein as a hero in Israel, Rosenman said, at the concert’s after-party, “the maestro” asked if he wanted to work as a gopher on a documentary being made about Bernstein conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria.
“And you couldn’t get into Judea and Samaria,” Rosenman said. “It was a war zone and the only way to see it – to get in – was if you knew somebody. And I wanted to see all the Holy cities.”
So he became his gopher and while working on the documentary, got very close with Bernstein.
“He would say to me, ‘You know, you’re such a great storyteller. You should leave medical school and go into the arts, you’ll never bow to the mistress of science,’” Rosenman said.
While he took a break, he ultimately did go back for a brief time.
But during the middle of an amputation he was assisting on one day, he heard Bernstein’s voice in his head.
“I’m listening to Lenny say to me, ‘You’ll never bow to the mistress of science,’” Rosenman said. “So I came to New York and I called Leonard Bernstein and I said, ‘I listened to your advice. I’m here.’”
On Oct. 24, Rosenman will share his story of being raised in a Chasidic Jewish home in New York to becoming an activist and advocate for LGBTQ voices through his work in the film industry. He will also speak in-depth about his relationship with composer Leonard Bernstein, who is the subject of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s newest special exhibition, and how it influenced his career.
The Maltz Museum and the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland are partners of this event.