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A Hollywood Connection

A screenwriter learns that the Lord works in mysterious ways on a flight from Los Angeles to New York.

Mysterious Ways

Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant said. “Would you mind switching your seat?”

I was traveling alone to visit my two daughters in New York, one of whom had recently given birth to her first child. A young woman stood behind the flight attendant, awaiting my answer. “Sure,” I said. I stood up and shuffled to my new seat, next to an older man with a long white beard, black hat and long, curly sideburns.

I’m an orthodox Jew, and I recognized the man as Hasidic, a particularly pious branch of our faith. We had a long flight ahead of us and I figured we’d get to talking. I wondered what he’d say if he knew I was a screenwriter. Hollywood movies are sometimes frowned upon in that community. I once wrote a film set in a Hasidic neighborhood, and I’d never been certain how it was received.

“Shalom,” I said to the man as I sat down. Hello in Hebrew. A smile lit up his face. After takeoff, we introduced ourselves and made some small talk. Finally he asked the question.

“What do you do for a living, Robert?” I was a writer, I answered.

“You write what, novels? Technical manuals of some sort?”

“Movies,” I confessed.

To my surprise, the man didn’t frown. “I was in a movie once,” he said.

“Really?”

“A big Hollywood movie. I was an extra. It’s called A Stranger Among Us. Have you heard of it?”

“I wrote that film.”

The old man did a double take. “No…”

“Yes,” I said, bracing myself for a critique.

“That time in my life was very difficult,” the man said. “My wife and I, we didn’t know how we’d pay the rent that month. Then your movie came to town and offered jobs for Hasidic extras. You can imagine what the community thought. But my wife urged me to go. I wasn’t the only one. We were treated well, our beliefs were respected and the money helped us get by. I always wanted to thank you properly for how much that movie meant to me. Is there anything I can do for you?”

There was. A few days later, on Shabbat, the holiest of Jewish days, in a Hasidic synagogue, my newest friend gave a blessing over my new granddaughter.

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