O'Hara native finds a glamorous life can get dull

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 8:53 p.m.

A chic Manhattan lifestyle was the dream for Rebecca Dana.

The O'Hara native emulated Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City” fame.

But it was from living with a jujitsu-practicing rabbi in an Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood where she found true inspiration.

Dana's memoir — “Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde” — tells of her journey from her vision of a perfect life to what's really important.

The book will be released Jan. 24.

“For me, at first in New York, I felt I was lucky I got this dream job that was so Carrie-like,” says Dana. “It was so close to my fantasy I thought I would live when I grew up, but I realized something was missing from that fantasy. I wanted to go to New York and look pretty and wear nice clothes. And I did all those things, but I still felt I missed out.”

Through the pages, the 30-year-old pulls in readers with the tale of the woman who had the glamorous life.

For a time, her carefully constructed life was all going according to plan: She was a Yale-educated journalist who had worked at the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Observer, The Daily Beast and Newsweek writing about New York-based fashion, culture and entertainment. She went to all the right parties. She learned how to make charming conversation and get into the right nightclubs. She worked her way into the perfect job, the perfect apartment and a storybook relationship with the perfect-seeming man.

She writes that she was so pleased with her lot that if life were a movie, it could suggest only one possible outcome: Doom.

And suddenly, it all came crashing down.

The relationship ended.

Her career lost its luster.

Parties became boring.

Beauty and fashion seemed over-rated.

So, she did a 180-degree turn.

The Manhattan girl moved to the most remote part of Brooklyn — Crown Heights — into a cavernous apartment shared with a most unusual roommate: Cosmo, a 30-year-old bass-playing, jujitsu-practicing Orthodox rabbi.

“The book is about an insane year I spent living with a rabbi in Crown Heights while working as a fashion writer for (The Daily Beast's) Tina Brown,” Dana says. “It was only nine months actually, and it nearly killed me.”

Writing about it wasn't so easy either.

“In fact, it was a nightmare putting words to paper ... and a death wish,” she says. “But I hope this book is an easy read. Sometimes, a book just overtakes you. I was shipwrecked in my life — just out of a relationship that ended terribly, and I felt adrift at work. So, I found myself in this crazy situation living with a Hasidic rabbi. He was part of this community that I didn't realize until I got there.”

Dana found herself reeling in this new world as a glitz-and-glam kind of girl living in one of the most traditional communities.

“My life had taken a turn for the absurd,” says the blonde turned brunette. “I was seeing a part of the world that I thought I would never see.”

The people there made her realize the importance of family and community of Jews.

She had felt vaguely ashamed to be in the same religion bucket as “black hats.”

“I'm not proud of that, but it's the truth,” she says. “Getting to know some of them has mitigated that. There are a lot of wonderful, kind, smart, people in that community, and so I don't do a big internal eye-roll when I see them on the subway anymore. Life made more sense after spending time there. I was happier and more fulfilled and less distracted by shiny and pretty things.”

Life is much better these days. She has since married “the best man in the world,” Jesse Angelo. She works for herself, back in Manhattan.

“I am trying to be good and kind to everyone,” says Dana, an only child, who attended The Ellis School and Shady Side Academy before going to Yale. ”I want people to enjoy reading this book and to laugh.”

Dana is working on a second book with lots of first-person stories. It is expected to be released in next year.

“When people come to book signings, they get to meet the main character — me,” she says. “The book is hilarious. “When you tell people it's about Jews and fashion and the media, people laugh, and I hope they will laugh. I hope I don't disappoint. This is my first book. It is all very exciting and terrifying. There is almost no better feeling in life than having written something good, and that's why I do it.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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