The Rosh Yeshiva sat me down in the beit midrash, and we started to learn, surrounded by enthusiastic young people wearing colorful, knitted kippot and speaking Hebrew with Israeli, English, French, Ethiopian, and Russian accents – Jews from all over the world. Suddenly, flanked by shelves of Mishna, Talmud, and tomes of Jewish Law, I experienced the same feeling of serenity and wholeness that I had felt in my dream of the room filled with holy books, when I was still back in Los Angeles. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with an incredible feeling that I can only describe as the presence of God. His light filled the yeshiva. It radiated out of the books. It shone from the happy faces of the students. From that moment on, I was hooked.
But after a few months of bliss, catching up on all the learning I had avoided, my parents phoned from America, insisting I come home for a big party celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary. For two weeks, I debated whether or not to go. On one hand, honoring one’s parents is a huge mitzvah. But so is learning Torah in Israel. Finally, after many guilt-laden calls from America, I decided to make my parents happy. Now get this. When the plane landed at JFK, after I picked up my suitcase, I felt I had to go to the bathroom. So I located the nearest lavatory and walked inside. Believe it or not, when I sat down in the stall, my bowels burst open and a raging torrent of blood poured out.
“Oh no!” I shuddered. “Oh no! Why did I come back to America?”
That was my immediate thought. It was a clear sign to me that God wanted me to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that America wasn’t for me. That’s the moment I understood in the depths of my soul that the one and only healthy place for a Jew, physically, mentally, and spiritually, was in Israel. When I saw my parents, I told that I was returning to Jerusalem immediately after their party. The next day, when I came home from doing some errands, I found a note on the kitchen table from my father saying that my mother had felt pains in her chest, and that he had rushed her to the hospital. When I reached the emergency room, a young doctor came out and said, “Do you know what you are doing to your mother?”
I was floored.
“She is miserable that you are moving to Israel,” the doctor declared.
“What can I do?” I responded. “I have my own life to live.”
He looked at me sternly, then grinned. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your mother will be fine. It’s just a case of palpitations, nothing serious. The truth is, I once wanted to move to Israel. But my mother was against it, and I didn’t have the backbone to stand up to her. So if you have the courage to go, then go. Your mother will be fine.”
Some eighteen years later, when it became difficult for them to get by on their own, I went to Florida, where they had retired, packed up their bags, put their house on the market, and took them home with me to Israel. My mother was showing the first distressing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. I told her that they were going to my son’s bar mitzvah, which was true, because one of our six boys was turning thirteen in another two months. Arriving in Israel, a friend picked us up in his van. My mother gazed out at the scenery. “For Florida,” she said, “there sure are a lot of signs in Hebrew.”
That’s the starting point of my new novel, Dad. I don’t know if it’s going to be a bestseller, but it sure beats writing trashy movies in Hollywood.