Although Hollywood writers and many others in the entertainment industry are still reeling from the impact of lost revenue from a five-month strike that ended last week, some are making a point of experiencing a special zeman simchateinu (“the season of our rejoicing”) at Chabad during the holidays of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah this week and expressing their gratitude for the help they received from the get-go from area Chabad Houses.

For months, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries handed out food packages, provided free High Holiday tickets and abundant holiday meals, but most importantly, provided Jewish writers and others out of work with spiritual solace and support to carry them through.

Roger Wolfson, who has a long list of prime-time television writing successes and has been an active member of the Writers Guild of America for 20 years, reached out to Rabbi Zalman and Chaya Partouche, directors of Chabad of Hollywood, soon after moving to the neighborhood from Washington, D.C. The writer has been in contact with Chabad throughout the strike, attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there, and plans to return for Simchat Torah.

Wolfson says Chabad has been “a security blanket, and a measure of hope and possibility,” especially during the long-lasting writer strike. “Rabbi Zalman has always looked out for my well-being,” he tells Referring to the rededication of the Second Temple, Wolfson says with great affection that “Chabad keeps the candles burning in the Temple. They are the Chanukah miracle.”

Wolfson says he deeply appreciates the positive experiences he has had at Chabad Houses worldwide, as well as the “genuine community when I want or need it that Chabad provides.” Although he is “not particularly observant,” Wolfson says that when enjoying Shabbat dinners at the Partouches, “there is no judgment—only warmth, family, good connections, and deep concern and care.”

He says “knowing there’s a community waiting for me if I’m in ever need has given me great support and encouragement.” And it’s never been truer for him than in recent months.

Screenwriter Roger Wolfson has been in contact with Chabad throughout the strike, attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there. He plans to return for Simchat Torah.
Screenwriter Roger Wolfson has been in contact with Chabad throughout the strike, attending Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there. He plans to return for Simchat Torah.

Partouche says that between 70 percent and 80 percent of the people he meets in the community are connected to the entertainment industry. He notes that while writers have been hit hardest by the strike, producers and casting directors have also been impacted, as have others including cameramen, make-up professionals and wardrobe specialists.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi gave an aliyah to a striking writer who told him that during this difficult time being called to the Torah “helped fulfill a deeper need for spirituality in his life.”

More than 100 people showed up for Rosh Hashanah services, says the rabbi, and many stayed for a holiday meal that followed. He’s expecting almost as many on Simchat Torah. “You don’t need to pay to pray, to eat or to celebrate at Chabad. Everyone is welcome. No one has to worry about celebrating the holidays and not being able to afford meat,” he says.

In addition to holiday dinners at the synagogue, the Partouches host Shabbat meals at their home, continue to distribute food packages to all in need and have spent many hours on the phone with men and women in the community. “While spirituality is a vital need that needs to be fulfilled, the writers’ most immediate concern was “when will I start working again? When will I get my paycheck?” offers the rabbi.

The Greatest Challenge

In Burbank, Calif., television writer Zach Calig, says that “aside from the financial hardships of the strike, the greatest challenge was staying productive in a satisfying and fulfilling way.”

Calig first became involved with Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles about 10 years ago, with Rabbi Moshe and Rivky Greenwald. Nine years ago, he and his family moved to Burbank and became part of the community led by Rabbi Shmuly and Elana Kornfeld, directors of Chabad of Burbank.

“My connection to Judaism and Chabad inoculated me to some of what I would imagine to be the severe emotional and spiritual effects of the strike. No matter what’s going on, every Friday night, I’m unplugged. Sitting at the Shabbat table with my family, blessing my kids, looking into their eyes and soaking up their childhood. My wife and I saw the family connection at the Kornfelds’ and Greenwalds’ Shabbat tables early in our journeys, and it was something we wanted to emulate.”

Six miles away, Rabbi Liebel Korf, director of Chabad of Greater Los Feliz in Los Angeles, has also been making himself approachable and has focused on positive messages, encouraged those affected by the strike to attend classes on emunah and bitachon—having faith and trust that G‑d is involved in every activity and situation.

The rabbi wanted them to know “that their trust in G‑d will certainly help them have a successful work year ahead of them.” While taking care not to dispense any financial advice he encouraged his congregants also “to have faith in their personal capacity and talent.”

He believes that this focus—for both observant and non-observant Jews in the film and television industries—left the synagogue with a greater sense of spirituality.

Rabbi Liebel Korf at the Havdalah ceremony following the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Liebel Korf at the Havdalah ceremony following the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

Glad to Be Moving Forward

Despite going back to work, many writers continue to have “existential concerns” about whether there will be television writing jobs with an increased use of artificial intelligence. “All of us in the creative field are concerned,” says Wolfson. “We’re painters at the advent of photography, we’re calligraphers at the advent of the printing press—only it’s more dangerous for us than it was for them.”

His rabbi says he understands the uncertainty people are experiencing and hopes that everyone knows that no matter what the future brings, “Chabad is here for them and that they can count on us,” says Partouche.

In the meantime, Wolfson is glad to be moving forward. “For now, it’s back to the screens. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to hear the shofar at Chabad on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and I plan to be dancing there on Simchat Torah.”