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The Religious Affiliation of screenwriter
David N. Weiss

From: Stephanie N. Henschel, "Live from Hollywood: Screenwriter discusses his spiritual journey", 7 January 2005/Tevet 26 5765, Vol. 57, No. 19, (http://www.jewishaz.com/jewishnews/050107/hollywood.shtml; viewed 6 September 2005):
How does one go from being a Reform Jew to a born-again Christian to an Orthodox Jew?

While it may seem strange, David N. Weiss knows how.

The Los Angeles screenwriter will discuss this issue at a Jewish lecture, part of the third annual Abraham Samuel Friedman Distinguished Speaker series, hosted by the Phoenix Community Kollel.

Weiss experienced firsthand the journey from Judaism to Christianity and back again.

It all started in Ventura, Calif., where Weiss grew up. His father, whom Weiss dubs "Mr. Holland basically, from 'Mr. Holland's Opus,'" was a high school band teacher and taught driver's education on the side.

"A bit of a showman," Weiss's father liked the comedy variety shows, especially the Bob Hope specials.

"I have to assume that I had an appreciation for the business because he did," Weiss says.

Weiss's mother was a registered nurse. She taught the first Lamaze classes in the state of California. One of her more memorable students, according to Weiss, was Bob Denver of "Gilligan" fame.

Weiss was always the clown, organizing neighborhood shows, which he would produce and direct.

One in particular was a "brilliant" pantomime to the James Taylor hit "You've Got a Friend."

"It was funny and yet poignant," Weiss says.

Throughout his youth, Weiss continued to perform, creating shows at his synagogue, participating in talent shows and later producing the talent shows.

"At the bottom of this, I think, I was looking for attention," he says. "I would jump high in the air and land on my butt just to make everyone laugh."

One of the pieces he is particularly proud of is the story of Esther he did at his synagogue for Purim - set like an old silent movie.

"It was a big hit," he says.

Toward the end of his high school career, the Reform Jew became a born-again Christian.

To him, Weiss explains, being a Jew was never a really religious thing, but more of a social thing. Plus, he had a lot of questions that were not being answered.

"I had a real sense of a need for deeper meaning," he says. "I had a fear of death growing up."

But Judaism as Weiss knew it didn't address that issue.

"When I asked about heaven or God and the afterlife, there was no patience for that," he says.

Though he learned the basics of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - something that made him "popular with the Christians" - he never felt that connection. As one of very few Jews in his school, he spent more time with the Christians, even attending services. To him, it was a warm, inviting place where he could find the answers he was looking for.

When his parents divorced, the idea of Christianity took root even more, as families embraced him and his brothers, giving them the support they needed.

"The upside to Christianity is, if you want people to join your club, you'd better be an inviting club," Weiss says.

Weiss spent the next few years pursuing knowledge of the Christian religion and working as a youth minister. He even had a girlfriend, and things were getting serious.

But the girlfriend's mother encouraged Weiss to go to Los Angeles. She knew he had the "show business bug," and wanted him to give it a shot before settling down.

He left for the city eight days later.

"I'm still close to the girl's mother," he says. "I feel a sense of gratitude to her."

Weiss enrolled as an undergraduate at Pepperdine University, where he studied theater. Things went well there, and he worked at a few local theaters.

It was while he was there that a film director told him to try to go to film school. So Weiss applied to University of Southern California. His was one of 60 applications accepted out of 600.

"Thank God they were very interested in people with very strong points of view," he says. When he was accepted, his church ordained him as a missionary to Hollywood.

Several projects came from that time, including "a wacky born-again Christian film, kind of a cross between 'Ghostbusters' and 'Oh God!'"

It was that film that got the attention of people in the industry, and soon Weiss had several agents knocking at his door.

So he wrote a "wacky born-again Christian action movie" that was never made, but was read by a Mormon producer. The producer liked the screenwriter's style and hired him to write a "wacky born-again Mormon" film.

That movie was never made, but the script was sent to another famous Mormon in the industry - animator Don Bluth.

Bluth asked Weiss if he would be interested in travelling to Dublin, Ireland, to do a rewrite for a movie called "Charlie's Friends" - later known as "All Dogs Go To Heaven."

Weiss took the opportunity and ended up spending two years in the Irish city.

"I get very emotional thinking of this film," Weiss says. There were many people involved in that project who have gone on to do bigger things - all of them learning under the famed Bluth.

While he was in Ireland, Weiss met a young animator by the name of David Steinberg.

"He was the first Orthodox Jew I ever met," Weiss says.

The two had several discussions, many on the Jewish-Christian debate. Weiss would try to challenge Steinberg's beliefs, but was unable to do so.

"It was those discussions that put a chink in my armor," Weiss explains. "He didn't need Jesus. His theology was complete."

So Weiss took a leap of faith, so to speak, and attended services at an Orthodox shul.

"I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the tradition of it that had been hidden from me," he says. It was then he realized his "Christian theology wasn't holding up as well as I thought it would."

Professionally, Weiss had teamed up with David Stern. The partners got a job working with Nickelodeon, which was getting ready to send one of its movies back into production.

That movie was the "Rugrats." The success of the movie prompted the studio to hire the team to run the television show of the same name.

"The first thing I wrote after I left the church was the 'Rugrats Chanukah Special.'"

Now firmly planted in his Judaism, Weiss has worked on several successful projects, including "Shrek 2." His most recent project, "Are We There Yet?" with Ice Cube, is set to be released Jan. 21.

Things couldn't be better for the 45-year-old show business veteran. He lives quite happily with his wife of 11 years, Eliana, and their two children, Channah, 8, and Sammy, 6.

And yes, he is raising his children Jewish.

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Webpage created 6 September 2005. Last modified 6 September 2005.
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