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Born for the Role

Azriela Jaffe

If Jerome Bethea’s name is familiar from his ten-year acting career or his high-profile national fitness training programs, today he’s moved into a new realm — taking his own leap of faith together with his wife Rina, as they have become Orthodox Jews integrated into Baltimore’s frum community. Acting, he says, was always in his blood. What else was genetically imprinted on his soul?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

yisroel jeromeSince he was a kid, Yisrael Jerome Bethea suspected he’d be acting professionally someday. He and his dad would act out scenes from their favorite shows, and it came to him as naturally as breathing. Still, he wasn’t one of the guys trying out for lead roles in the high school musical. He was an athlete, much more interested in basketball and football than in joining the drama club. Little did he know that his passion for sports and fitness would actually get him his first professional film role.

And if he could have fast-forwarded the reel then, he would have been even more surprised at the twists of fate that have made up the palette of his multifaceted life to date: at 31, he’s already made his mark as film star and theater actor, and, with a degree in premedical exercise science, he’s created a “fitness boot camp” in which he’s trained numerous celebrities. But the most impactful of his journeys was the spiritual one, on which he embarked with his wife Rina, culminating in their conversion to Orthodox Judaism this past year.

Jerome’s acting career was jump-started as a fluke when he was in college, after hearing that a film crew was in town looking for high school basketball and football players to act in an upcoming movie.

“I decided to go for the audition,” Yisrael Jerome recalls. “There were a lot of other people there but none as tall as me, and none with a ten-inch Afro. The movie director thought I looked too old with my goatee but the Afro got me a second audition call back. The film was set in the 1970s, and my hairdo would be a perfect match for the era.”

Although Jerome sprained his ankle before the audition and, at 21, didn’t really look like a high school student anymore, the producers found what they were looking for.

“The next day I was leaving biochemistry and checked my voice mail. I was shocked when it said, ‘Come down on Monday for hair and makeup.’ I got the part acting as a basketball player in a popular film, together with famous actors Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Ed Harris. So that vision I had held since the age of eight, knowing that someday I was going to be famous, suddenly came true.”


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