By R.M. Grossblatt
Driving in my car, I was laughing out loud as I listened to a tape of screenwriter David N. Weiss speaking at a Torah Day School of Atlanta scholarship brunch in December 2005.
But the tape was in the middle, so I pushed the rewind button and waited to hear the beginning of his talk. That didn’t happen because I rewound the tape too far.
None of this may be relevant today unless you also have a 15-year-old car. But because I wanted to hear more, I rewound the tape with my finger, pushed the shiny brown strip through and heard most of the speech. It was worth it.
Weiss, known for “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” “Jimmy Neutron,” “Rugrats’ Hanukah,” the two “Smurfs” movies and “Shrek 2,” tells a fascinating story, and he makes me laugh and sometimes cry. Now, along with everyone else in Atlanta, I have the chance to be inspired by him again.
On Thursday, Jan. 14, Weiss is speaking at Chabad Intown about “A Shrek of a Trek,” his journey in life. The event, sponsored by Robert and Susan Freeman, begins with a dessert reception at 7:30 p.m., and the talk will include time for questions and answers.
In a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office, Weiss said he plans to share more than his tale of becoming a youth leader for a Presbyterian church and eventually returning to his roots as an observant Jew. He wants to share how his connection to Judaism has given him “incredible stability and confidence” in a Hollywood “filled with uncertainty.”
Weiss’ journey began in Ventura, Calif. As young as 10 years old, he was putting on shows. He knocked on doors to sell tickets, used a sheet for a curtain in a neighbor’s living room, and performed before a packed audience, donating his earnings to the Humane Society.
Even as a youngster, his heart was in the right place. But he was often troubled by questions such as “Why are we here?” and “What happens after life?”
Although Weiss celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple, he knew little about Judaism. “I find that a lot of Jews don’t know the Bible well,” he said. As a sensitive teenager, without answers, that situation probably made him an easy target for missionaries.
In high school where he was one of only seven Jews (in a class of 600), Weiss had mostly non-Jewish friends. At 18, he worked in a bakery, and after work one Christmas eve, while delivering leftover pies, he stopped at the home of his friend Howard.
That evening for several hours, Howard’s brother-in-law, a youth minister, spoke to Weiss about G-d. “I didn’t know I was searching for G-d,” Weiss said. Only at the end of their conversation did the minister bring up the name Jesus and ask Weiss to say a prayer accepting Jesus as his savior and the Christian faith.
Weiss was willing to give Christianity a try.
The budding screenwriter became a youth worker and for many years used his interest in media and his sense of humor to warm up the crowd at Presbyterian youth group meetings. He attended Pepperdine University, a Christian college, where one of his professors encouraged him to apply to film school. Weiss said he was accepted into the University of Southern California’s film school, which sought students with a “strong point of view,” when he wrote that his desire was to use film to promote the most powerful message to him at the time, the Gospel.
How Weiss returned to his roots as an observant Jew is an amazing story. Equally amazing is that in the 10 years since I first heard him speak, his career has soared, including his current work on the sequel to Disney’s “Enchanted,” titled “Disenchanted.” That’s the addition to his speech: sharing practical tips on how to connect to Jewish wisdom to become more successful in personal and professional life.
“It’s all about the audience,” he said. “I only want to help them find a path to enhance their journey.”
Who: David N. Weiss
Where: Intown Jewish Academy, 928 Ponce de Leon Ave., Midtown
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14
Tickets: $12 in advance, $18 at the door; intownjewishacademy.org or firstname.lastname@example.org