Tashlich
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Before I became a religious Jew, I lived for myself and used my writing talents to further my own selfish interests. At a young age, I had sold three original screenplays in Hollywood and published my first novel with Dell Publishers in New York. But I wasn’t happy. An inner anxiety plagued me. With every success I felt something was missing.

I grew up in the "Fifties" and “Sixties” in a typical assimilated Jewish family of the time. We lit Hanukah candles and had a Christmas tree so my brother and I wouldn't feel different from the other boys on our block. Hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah was a part of our yearly cycle, along with an obligatory visit to the temple on Yom Kippur. But while my parents always fostered a pride in being Jewish, being an American came first.

To me, going to Hebrew school meant having to miss basketball practice and being different from my friends. When bar mitzvah time came around, our Reform temple was under construction, so I conducted my bar mitzvah service in the local Unitarian church. That's right - a church. After that, I had nothing more to do with Judaism for almost two decades. It wasn't a part of my consciousness at all. I harbored some vague family pride in being a Jew, but my knowledge of Judaism and Jewish History was nil.

After graduating from the prestigious boarding school, Phillips Andover Academy, I enrolled in the NYU Film School to spend the next four years watching movies. By the time I graduated, I had sold my first screenplay to Hollywood and was about to publish a novel with a big NY publishing house. I loved to write. It was my method of making sense out of a very confusing world and dealing with a constant sense of anxiety and alienation from the world around me.

I lived a hippie, bohemian life in Greenwich Village. In short, I was Lenny Bruced, Great Gasbyed, Jim Morissoned, and Playboy Magazined out of my mind. Like my American ancestors before me, I heeded the call, "Go West, young man," ready to take my place amongst the stars. My first pad in LA was not far from the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. I sold two more original screenplays that were made into films. I had money, a cool apartment by the beach, a sexy sports car, a membership at a health club filled with beautiful California girls - in short the American Dream.

In the morning, I used to work out in the weight room with Arnold Schwarzenegger who was just starting his movie career. After slimnastics class with Susie, Wendy, Cindy, Sally, and Jane, I'd spend the afternoon stoned at the beach, working on my tan. Nights were spent prowling the discos. When in Rome do as the Romans do.

But the truth is that I wasn't happy at all. With each new conquest and success, I still felt that something was missing. I thought maybe if I sold a script for more money, or bought a fancier car, then I would be happy. But it didn't help. Each new acquisition left me feeling empty. Now I know the reason for my darkness - even though I was wallowing in physical pleasures, I wasn't giving any nourishment to my soul. Then I became physically ill with something called ulcerative colitis.

I would have to race to the bathroom with a diarrhea attack twenty times a day, and only blood would pour out. It blew my mind completely. Here I was, a good-looking young man, rocketing up the ladder of success in Hollywood, and I had to spend half my day in the bathroom. I had to take large doses of cortisone which blew up my face like a beach ball. Seeing myself in the mirrors of the health club, I didn't recognize the monster staring back. Try making a pass at a UCLA cheerleader when you have a face like Quasimodo. After a month of cortisone, the bleeding dried up, but the minute I got off the powerful medication, the bleeding returned, more furious than before. At that time, I hadn't heard about Rabbi Akiva, and I didn't realize that my bleeding was all for the best - a Heavenly wake-up call, so to speak, warning me that I was on a glamorous track to self-oblivion.

After two years, when the medicine failed to cure me, I started out on a spiritual quest. I tried everything. Health food, macrobiotics, holistic massage, yoga, I Ching, acupuncture, gestalt, Tarot cards, humanistic psychology, not to mention a variety of mind-expanding drugs. One day, I was sitting on the beach when a friend asked me why I didn't know anything about Judaism? The question hit me like a sledgehammer. I had studied world history. I had read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Kant, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Thoreau. I had studied the sciences, the arts, literature, and had checked out books about Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like. But I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. During my shrink period, I had read dozens of books about psychology, and I had studied enough Sigmund Freud to know that if you avoid something close to you, that means you have a psychological block, a deep inner fear which paralyzes you from confronting what you are trying to avoid.

That very same day I bought a Bible and started to read: "In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth." When I read those words, my gaze shot up to the sky. "Oy oy oy!" I thought. "G-d really exists, and I haven't paid any attention to Him since my bar mitzvah." I kept turning the pages of the Bible as if I were reading the screenplay of an action adventure. Thanks to a lightning bolt from G-d, I suddenly understood with a flash of crystal clear knowledge that in order to hear the voice of my long silent soul, to discover who I really was and find healing for my ailing body and spirit, I would have to chase after G-d with the same passion that I had been chasing after women and fame.

In a flash of revelation, I understood that all of the world, with all its lusts and enticements, was merely a mask hiding the presence of the Creator. Indeed, the world, in Shakespeare's words, was a stage - as fake as a Hollywood back-lot of Dodge City. G-d, I realized, hid Himself behind the curtain of the material world, letting people think they were in charge of show, but when G-d pulled open the stage curtains for me, I realized that He was behind everything, pulling the strings, like the director up in the control booth in the movie, "The Truman Show." In a split second of piercing awareness, like when the sea was split for the Jews leaving Egypt, and the sky was opened for everyone one to see the Divine Hand behind Nature and History, I understood that G-d was everything and that it was time for me to reboot my life, hit “delete” and restart the system.

I bought a book about the foundations of Judaism for beginners. Rosh Hashanah was coming and I read about "Tashlich." On Rosh Hashanah day, I walked down to the Santa Monica Beach and threw my cortisone pills into the Pacific Ocean.

"Please G-d," I begged. "Accept these pills as my sins and please heal me without any more medication."

And that’s exactly what happened. To make a long story short, I will leave out the details. You can read about the miracle in greater depth in a book that I wrote about my return to the Torah.

When I returned to my apartment, I headed straight to the bathroom, as was my usual custom. But this time, there was no bleeding! The blood had vanished! Disappeared! For the first time in weeks. Without any medicine! And the bleeding never came back! A miracle! Even then, at that very moment, I knew that my sickness was over. I felt like G-d had reached out a metaphorical finger and healed my colitis. I was astounded. Could it be? "Am I hypnotizing myself with all of this religion business?" I wondered. But the bleeding didn't return. No doctor has ever been able to explain it.

I was blown away. How could I continue on with my bohemian life of beaches and Hollywood discos? The next night, after not having bled the whole day, I prayed a heartfelt bedtime prayer. "Dear G-d," I said. "I don't know why You have come into my life and done this great miracle for me. But I am certainly grateful, and I would like to make You happy some way in return. Tell me what You want me to do, and I will do it. When I read the Bible, it seems clear that You want the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel. So if You want me to go there, give me some kind of sign and I'll go. If You want me to stay here in Hollywood, I'll do that too. Maybe I can write Jewish movies or get a job at some Jewish newspaper. Just give me a sign from Heaven, and I'll do it."

The very next morning when I was leaving my apartment, I noticed that I had mail in my mailbox. It turned out to be a large travel brochure. On the cover was a big picture of the Western Wall. The caption read: "JERUSALEM, MY CHOSEN." I got goose pimples all over my body. The very morning after I asked G-d for a sign whether to go to Israel or not, I found this travel brochure in my mailbox! Never in my life had I ever received any kind of Jewish mail from any kind of Jewish organization or synagogue. Up till that time I was totally assimilated. Once again, my head started spinning in circles. "There is a director greater than Steven Spielberg," I thought. Not only had G-d answered my prayer for a sign, He had obviously known in advance that I would make such a request, because He had to arrange that someone would mail me the brochure, so that it would arrive in my mailbox the very morning after my midnight request!

That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel. I went straight to a yeshiva. I’ve been studying and teaching and writing about Torah and spiritual themes ever since. I even directed a feature-length film. My colitis and anxiety are gone. A rainbow of happiness now illuminates my life. I've come home to the Torah and to the Land of Israel! To the place where Jews belong. I no longer feel that something is missing.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."