As a writer, a dream of mine has been to have one of my screenplays made into a movie. (Another is to play for the Lakers, which may be more feasible.) Unfortunately, there are so few movies produced these days, that getting one made is akin to winning the lottery. It’s only slightly less difficult to get a play produced.
I try to block out that reality when I’m writing. Otherwise I tend to hear John McEnroe’s voice in my head, “You can’t be serious!”
For me, writing is all about rewriting. (Even with these columns.) Finishing a play last year, it took me 15 drafts. Then began the tedious task of shopping it to theaters, agents and rabbis. Rabbis? I’ll try to explain.
“The Last Dance” was set in a remote fishing village in Mexico. It features a Hemingway-like ex-CIA agent who claims to have been involved in the crime of the century. Since I had envisioned Jon Voight as the lead, part of me thought why not get it to him personally? (Another part thought, “You can’t be serious!”)
I struck out calling Voight’s agent and business manager etc. (“Struck out” as in being politely hung up on.) Often when I pitch my writing to agents it seems like it’d be easier selling vacuums door to door. (Does anybody do that anymore?)
Then a brainstorm hit me. I was watching KTLA’s broadcast of the 30th annual Chabad Telethon. (Or, as I jokingly refer to them, “The Good, the Chabad, the Ugly.”)
In 1980, the Chabad House in Westwood, a cultural center for Orthodox Jews, was destroyed by fire. To raise funds to rebuild, a television telethon was staged, “Chabad: To Life.” The original host was the late (and wonderful) Jan Murray. Featuring, among other acts, the “dancing rabbis,” the Chabad telethon was hilarious, though I’m not sure by design.
This year’s event was hosted by Larry King. Elliott Gould, Howie Mandel and Bob Saget were among the many stars. Included in the non-Jewish contingent, and donning a yarmulke, was none other than … Jon Voight! He was dancing wildly with the rabbis like he’d just been Bar Mitzvahed. Suddenly, it dawned on me. Maybe the best way to reach Voight would be through the Chabad?
Later in the week I was at the beach contemplating my dilemma when I had a vision. It wasn’t exactly a burning bush, but it was close enough. Out in the waves with kids half his age, was a bearded Hasidic Jew — surfing! Was it a coincidence, or a sign from the Big Kahuna in the sky?
When the surfing Semite came ashore I introduced myself, as did he. Nachum Shifren, the self-labeled “Surfing rabbi,” is a large man with a ready sense of humor. He’s also the Republican nominee for the State Senate from California’s 26th District (Culver City, Ladera Heights, etc.).
Unfortunately for me Rabbi Shifren didn’t know Jon Voight. (So much for the “Big Kahuna” theory.) But, before he left the beach, he asked if I could mention that comedian Jackie Mason has endorsed his candidacy. To see for yourself go to: www.rabbiforsenate.com.
Undaunted, I remembered that Rabbi Chaim Teleshevsky on Montana Avenue had contacted me early in the summer about publicizing his teen alcohol and drug prevention programs. At the time our schedules had conflicted but luckily I saved his card. When I called about Jon Voight he insisted that we meet in person.
So there I was in the Shores lobby visiting with Rabbi Chaim. He suggested saying a prayer for me but I hesitated. Don’t get me wrong, I can use a prayer as much as the next guy. It’s just that in my shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, it seemed a bit unorthodox. (Pun intended.)
Lightning fast, Rabbi deftly slapped a yarmulke on my head and wrapped tefillin (thin leather straps) around my left arm. He recited a prayer, which he had me repeat out loud, and then did what looked like a Jewish version of an Irish jig. As my neighbors stared incredulously I thought to myself, “I wonder if Eugene O’Neil started this way?”
I finally asked Rabbi Chaim the burning question, did he know Jon Voight. “Wouldn’t know him from Adam,” he replied apologetically, which seemed to give the question a biblical-like closure. Before leaving, he asked politely if I could mention his classes for adult Jews wanting to be Bar Mitzvahed and his website www.Chabadonmontana.com.
I’m hoping my little PR work for the rabbis cuts me a little slack for decades of missing High Holiday services (and that “Big Kahuna in the sky” joke).
Apparently, I’m not going to find Voight via Chabad. Curiously, however, on the Internet I noticed that Kirby still sells their vacuums door-to-door and guess what, they’re hiring. Hey, I wonder if Jon Voight needs a new vacuum?
Until he’s too busy selling vacuums, Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.