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Queens Chronicle

Taking tragedy and creating something beautiful

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Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2013 10:30 am

Anyone who calls his memoir, “The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah,” must have a strong sense of humor.

And so it is with Astoria resident Joshua Rivedal, an actor, playwright and international public speaker, who has turned a rough time in his life into an uplifting personal story.

The book, published in September by Skookum Hill Publishing, is the young man’s tale of love, loss, struggle and survival, including his escape from tortured thoughts that nearly led him to take his own life.

Born in New Jersey, Rivedal, 29, came to New York eight years ago, seeking musical stardom on Broadway.

But his career got sidetracked by the 2009 suicide of his father, a lawsuit from his mother over his inheritance and a break-up with his long-term girlfriend.

Years before Rivedal was born, his paternal grandfather had also committed suicide, though Rivedal only learned the truth about that incident many years later.

“We weren’t allowed to talk about it,” he said at a book reading and signing at the Center at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens on Nov. 6.

In the book, Rivedal recalls climbing onto the ledge of a fourth-floor window, intending to inherit his family legacy by ending it all. Instead, a voice in his head told him to reach out for help.

The book is based in part on Rivedal’s acclaimed one-man show, “The Gospel According to Josh,” which is set to return to an Off-Broadway theater in May.

In the play, which he wrote over a period of four months between 2009 and 2010, Rivedal portrays some 30 different characters, including his own father and mother and such unlikely other participants in his life as Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

He even sings a solo duet as the famed musical pair.

“Most of the play is light, airy, with some heart to it,” he said.

The title, he explained, is a homage to his father, “a very religious man.”

The subtitle, which he added for the book, he said, refers not to religion — Rivedal, incidentally, is not Jewish — but to his own coming of age.

Moving beyond the most difficult period in his life, Rivedal has used the experience as a way of helping others.

The author said he took the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshop through the New York State Office of Mental Health and did a lot of research on the subject on his own.

He has taken an abridged version of his 90-minute show on the road to colleges, high schools, middle schools and community centers throughout the United States and Canada. Focusing on suicide prevention, the presentation includes a performance and discussion with the audience.

“You’re not hitting them over the head with a mallet,” he said of the approach. “It helps bring out awareness. It helps them heal.” Rivedal plans to continue the tour for “at least a couple more years,” saying, “It’s been working.”

The evening at Maple Grove was to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit grassroots foundation that focuses on understanding and reducing suicide.

The group delivers innovative prevention programs, educating the public and reaching out to those individuals who have lost someone to suicide.

Gary Kuchmeister, who runs a life skills program at Forest Hills High School called Council for Unity, came with several of his students, some of whom have either attempted suicide or have lost friends to suicide.

“I really have been thinking about how much suicide has been in my life and how important this book is,” said Valerie Keane, an author and Middle Village resident. “I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I appreciate how courageous he is to tell his very honest story and the inspiration of every leap of faith he took to build his life.”

For Rivedal, constantly replaying his story is not an easy thing. “Carrying that emotion is exhausting, but I like helping people.”

The best way to honor loved ones who have taken their own lives, he said, is “to help ourselves and help other people.”

‘The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah’

Where: Available on amazon.com and major retailers

Price: $13.99, joshuarivedal.com

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