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July 2, 2015 / 15 Tammuz, 5775
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Hollywood to the Holy Land (Part 2)


"Please, G-d, accept these pills as my sins….”

"Please, G-d, accept these pills as my sins….”
Photo Credit: Tzvi Fishman

We left off the first part of my story with me bleeding my guts out in Hollywood. Shaken by my friend’s question why I didn’t know anything about Judaism, I rushed to a Jewish bookstore in the Fairfax neighborhood and bought a book about the basics of Judaism. Rosh HaShanah was coming, and I read about the custom of Tashlich. So on Rosh HaShanah day, I walked down to the beach and threw my cortisone pills into the Pacific Ocean. “Please God,” I begged. “Accept these pills as my sins and please heal me without any more medicine.”

During my quest to discover what lay at the bottom of my colitis, I had tried everything. Suddenly I realized that my separation from God was the source of my problems. But without the medicine, I became sicker and sicker. I started bleeding profusely. Within a short time, I lost twenty pounds. Finally, I had to be hospitalized. I was given cortisone intravenously for a week. Just to emphasize how far away I was from Judaism, the book that I brought with me to the hospital was a manual about yoga. Though my first readings of the Bible led me to understand that God wanted Jews to be in Israel, I was hoping to find God on a journey to India.

The minute I got out of the hospital, I stopped taking the cortisone once again. I figured that by relying on the medicine, I would never get down to the root of the problem. Once again, I started to bleed. One evening, I became really scared, thinking that if I kept boycotting the medicine, I would either bleed to death, or I would have to have my colon surgically removed. That night I had a dream. I was in a second-hand clothes shop, looking at old clothes when I spotted a door to another room. Curious, I stepped inside. The inner room was filled with books in Hebrew, four walls of bookshelves stacked with holy Jewish texts, like the study hall of a yeshiva. I didn’t understand Hebrew at that time, but I was filled with a profound sense of peace and calm – what the Hindus call “Nirvana.” I just wanted to stand there and soak in the holiness of the books. But the shop owner appeared and said he wanted to close the store. I begged him to let me stay another five minutes, just to stand there and look at the magical tomes. Grudgingly, he agreed. That’s when I saw another door to yet another inner room. Venturing forward, I stepped inside. The room was empty except for a huge black box in the center of the floor. It was a giant tefillin, looking like some gigantic oversized prop in a Woody Allen movie. Gazing at it, my heart swelled with love. Man, how I wanted that tefillin!

Suddenly, I heard a tremendous thunderous Voice From Above, like a Voice out of Sinai, proclaiming, “THIS IS THE ANSWER! YOU HAVE TO ATTACH YOURSELF TO GOD!”

I woke up, startled. My heart was pounding. The Voice still rang in my ears. It was the clearest, truest, most real experience I had ever had in my life.

Several years later, when I finally made it to a yeshiva, I discovered that my dream was amazingly similar to the dream of the king at the beginning of the book, “The Kuzari.” In the king’s dream, an angel appears and tells him that his desire to get close to God is pleasing, but that his actions are not the right actions. That’s the catalyst that sets him on a quest to find the actions pleasing to God, which turn out to be the commandments of the Torah.

But way back then in Hollywood, I had never heard of “The Kuzari,” and I was still a long way off from making a commitment to Torah.

Nevertheless, I was so shaken up by the dream that when morning came, I went to an Orthodox shul and asked the rabbi to show me how to put on tefillin. He happily agreed and told me to say the Shema Yisrael prayer, which I still remembered from Hebrew School. But even though I would return to the synagogue every morning to put on tefillin, I was still bleeding profusely. Finally, I decided that I had to continue taking the cortisone. That very same morning, my uncle phoned, asking if I could drive him to the hospital. He had to have laser surgery on a cataract, so he needed someone to drive him home after the procedure. Since his wife (my aunt) was a doctor, I asked him if she could write me out a prescription for the cortisone, because I wanted to avoid the tortuous medieval examinations I always had to suffer whenever I went to the gastroenterologist. When I met him later that morning, he handed me the prescription. At the hospital, all during his treatment, I stood outside the operating room and prayed the same mantra over and over, “God, please heal my uncle. God, please heal my uncle, God, please heal my uncle.” For forty-five minutes straight. Fortunately, the treatment was a success. 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! No more! I felt like God had reached out a finger, touched my belly, and healed my colitis. I was astounded, dumbstruck by the miracle.

“Am I hypnotizing myself with all of this religion business?” I thought.

But the bleeding didn’t return. No doctor has ever been able to explain it. The cortisone had always taken ten days to turn off the flow, yet here the bleeding stopped without taking any medicine at all!

I was blown away. How could I continue on with my bohemian life of beaches and Hollywood discos after that? The next night, after not having bled the whole day, I prayed a heartfelt bedtime prayer.

“Dear God,” 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 will go. Or, 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.

Jerusalem, My Chosen!

As if the first miracle wasn’t enough, this one really blew my mind – the very morning after I asked God for a sign whether to go to Israel or not, I find 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. Remember, I was totally assimilated. My head started spinning in circles.

“There is a director greater than Steven Spielberg,” I thought.

Not only had God 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 prayer!

That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel.

(to be continued)

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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