September 8, 2001. It was a Friday night, and I had already worked 60 hours that week as a story editor in Hollywood. Sure some of that week’s work was glamorous (walking the red carpet alongside Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the premiere of “Rock Star”) but most of it was not (fixing broken copy machines in which scripts were stuck). But the work didn’t stop at sundown for a non-observant Jew trying to make her way up the ranks. First there was a business dinner and two mandatory parties to attend, and finally, a few minutes to catch my breath with a close friend at a diner afterwards. She offered for me to sleep over, seeing how exhausted I was. I declined knowing I would be home in 15 minutes if I just kept going.
I remembered getting onto the 101 onramp at Laurel Canyon, but not much thereafter as I fell asleep at the wheel. Suddenly, I heard a terribly loud crunch and felt the car shake. I somehow knew that I was in huge trouble and woke up. I had swerved in front of a big rig, which clipped my gas tank as I did. It sent me into a spin and I crashed, head on, into the retainer wall at Woodman. The driver of the rig had pulled over and helped me out of my car, just before it caught on fire at both ends. It was beyond totalled and looked as if no one could have come out of it without an airlift. I was severely shaken, but there was not a single scratch on me. As I watched the firemen douse what was left of my car, I realized how narrowly I had escaped mortal danger. How had I been saved?
For two days, I remained at home, licking my wounds. How could I reconcile what had happened? I had taken that Monday off and was getting dressed to finally return to work that Tuesday morning September 11th, having finally secured a rental car. As I watched “The Today Show,” I was as curious as the rest of the world as to how the billowing smoke was pouring from one of the Twin Towers, when I saw the second plane hit in real time. The country was under attack.
As the news went wild with speculation, I drove from the Valley to Beverly Hills, shaking harder and harder as details poured in. A high school classmate’s mother had been on the Boston flight. They were having trouble evacuating the higher floors of the towers as the cloud of smoke encased Manhattan. We were sent home from work soon after we got there. NPR urged caution across the country. I took the back roads home through Roscomare in Bel Air, barely registering the gorgeous mansions as I passed them. What were they all for? At home, I was shocked as the news reported the collapse of the first tower. Thousands were dead. Guilt flooded me. All those people were dead, and somehow, despite every indication that the accident should have dictated otherwise, I was still alive. I was determined to find out why.
Despite the dark time that followed, there was light throughout it as my search for meaning led me closer and deeper into my Jewish roots. I believed there was a God and that my life had purpose. I just had to slow down and discover it. I stopped working 60+ hour weeks and started devoting more time to myself and my search. It took five years of further rising up the Hollywood ladder before I decided to pursue my purpose for living full-time. I went to Israel to study, and the rest is history.
Every year, just before Rosh Hashana, I make a meal of thanksgiving, a seudas hoda’ah, grateful to Hashem for saving my life. Chanukah is a time where the entire Jewish people get to make a seudas hoda’ah for a week straight. We can renew our national purpose for living, enjoying delicacies and family all the while. Why did Hashem save me? I don’t know and may never truly know. What I do know is that my life isn’t about fame, fortune or being a “rockstar” in Hollywood. I was asleep at the wheel long before that fateful night that Hashem woke me up. I’m forever grateful that He did.