Most of my life I was your typical wandering Jew, raised by divorced parents who had completely divergent views of the world and religion. My father was an Orthodox Holocaust survivor who put on tefillin every morning and prayed, and my mother was a thoroughly assimilated modern American woman who put on elegant clothes every morning and went to work. My father made sure I went to Hebrew school, and my mother made sure I went to Harvard. For most of my life Harvard trumped Hebrew, and the very few times I ever thought to pray I always began with the words, “Oh G‑d, if there is a G‑d . . .” The story of the Jewish people was, at best, a myth invented by men, who wrote it themselves to give solace and false hope to a tormented people.

I no longer feel that way.

My father made sure I went to Hebrew school, and my mother made sure I went to HarvardIt all began on a beautiful morning. The third of July, 1998. My ex-husband—who was still my writing partner—had rented a sailboat with plans to take our twelve-year-old daughter and her friend to Catalina for the long weekend. Steve and I had spent seven years writing and producing Beverly Hills, 90210. The disintegration of our marriage was a soap opera of its own. We survived the divorce, and somehow the love must have been stronger than the anger, because on that summer day we were celebrating the completion of a new pilot for MTV that promised to reinvigorate our career.

Still, I wasn’t planning to go on that Independence Day sail. A whole weekend in close quarters was still too much for our new and fragile friendship. But, it turned out, no one else could go. Without another adult, there was no way Steve could set sail with two kids on board, so once again he begged me to come along.

You have to understand . . . we’d sailed to Catalina countless times during our sixteen-year marriage, but I was not a good sailor. I hid below at the first hint of rough seas, and had always been too scared to learn more than rudimentary sailing skills. Besides, I still had lingering doubts about spending all that time with my ex. “Oh, relax,” he said. “Nothing’s gonna happen.” I look back now and I think, oh, something happened all right . . . and I can’t tell you how many times I wished I’d just said no.

But I felt bad . . . I didn’t want to spoil the weekend for my daughter and her friend, and even her dad. But as an extra bit of protection, a buffer, I called my brother David and convinced him to come along. He drove from Pasadena to the Marina while we went shopping for provisions, and by the time we motored into the channel it must have been after three. Steve taught David, who’d never been on a sailboat, how to help him raise the sails, and we took off.

It was a perfect day. Warm, but not too hot, clear . . . and then the dolphins came. They surrounded the boat. And it was magical . . . dozens of smooth, brown-skinned escorts diving in and out of our wake. Steve got his camera and videotaped the whole thing. And in my usual, anxious way I yelled at him and the girls to hang on. “Don’t lean over,” I said. “You’ll fall in.” But they didn’t, and Steve—in words that annoyed me at the time but today make me very proud—told me to stop being a Jewish mother. “Oh, relax,” he said. “Nothing’s gonna happen.”

So I did what I always did on a boat when I got nervous. I went to sleep. And when I woke up, the dolphins were gone and I heard the familiar sound of Celine Dion singing her number-one hit that year, the theme from Titanic. Our daughter was laughing at her dad, yelling at him to turn it off—she didn’t want to hear music about a shipwreck. And her father reassured her in exactly the same words and tone he’d used with me. “Relax,” he said. “Nothing’s gonna happen.”

We knew it was getting late. That by the time we got to the island we’d be anchoring in the dark. Steve decided it was better to lower the sails now, before sunset, while he still had light. And what an unbelievable light it was—distinct rays streaming through the clouds like fingers, reaching out to touch us. “Look at that,” I said, “you can see the hand of G‑d.” And believe me, between the dolphins and the light . . . even for a skeptic like me . . . G‑d was on that journey.

Steve turned on the engine and left me at the helm—the driver’s seat—while he brought my brother up to help him lower the foresail. That’s the one in front. I held the wheel steady. The girls were down below, putting on warmer clothes. I heard Steve’s voice, giving my brother orders. I heard my brother. The sail flapped in the breeze. We’d done this a million times. But suddenly, a rogue gust of wind caught the cloth of the sail and filled it with air. It was like a big balloon, and it slammed into my husband and threw him overboard.

I didn’t understand at first. I heard his screams, and my brother’s, and I turned and saw Steve getting smaller and smaller in that cold summer water as we sailed away.

I knew I had to turn the boat around. And somehow I did. And we got closer and closer until we were circling around Steve and throwing him lines and cushions, anything to keep him afloat. But nothing reached him. We were close enough to talk. To scream. To hear each other’s cries. Close enough for me to hear him say, “I’m going to die.” And close enough—I hope—for him to hear me say, “I love you.” Because that’s the last thing I said before he went face-down and my brother wouldn’t listen anymore and dove in after him. You’re always warned that’s the worst thing to do—it usually results in a double disaster rather than a rescue—so there I was, afraid I’d lose them both. My brother was younger and stronger, though, and Steve was already unconscious by the time David reached him. He tried to revive him, but when he couldn’t, he struggled to get a life jacket on his limp and heavy body.

Suddenly, a rogue gust of wind caught the cloth of the sail and filled it with air, slamming into my husband and throwing him overboard

Throughout this ordeal, I’d ordered my daughter to stay below, get on the radio and call for help. Not only did she figure out how to do that, calling, “Mayday, mayday, man overboard,” she remembered that her father had shown her just that morning how to use his latest toy—a portable GPS device that with a push of a button showed him where we were. She read the coordinates to the Coast Guard operator, and I knew that we weren’t alone and lost in the middle of nowhere, and our rescuers were on their way.

I didn’t know if Steve was dead when I made the decision to force my brother to leave him there, floating, face-up in the water. But I knew I couldn’t risk losing them both. I dragged David up, with what felt like superhuman strength on his and my part, and sent him below to try to get warm. He was wet and shivering, and my daughter helped him get off his shoes and wrapped him in blankets to save him from hypothermia.

It gets kind of fuzzy for me after that . . . I don’t really have a clear memory of what must have been a frightening leap from the sailboat to the flat, open Coast Guard cutter . . . but I do remember huddling under a blanket, the sun setting, the wind cold . . . with my arms around my daughter and her friend, and my brother, retching, close by. And then I heard the helicopter, and saw it overhead, and knew it was there to pluck my husband from the sea.

And that’s when I started to pray. Because I still didn’t know at that moment if Steve was dead or alive. And I sensed that somehow it would be wrong for me to pray for him to live. He’d been unconscious for a long time. What if he survived but was a vegetable? Would that be better than death? Still, how could I pray for my daughter’s father to die? And then there was the slim chance that he’d be fine, and what flashed into my head was—we are gonna have the worst fight ever. I will never hear the end of this. ’Cause if he’d blamed me that time he scraped his car on the wall of the garage, I knew this whole ordeal would wind up being my fault when we screamed or even laughed about it later.

But deep down I knew there’d be no laughter. And no later. And so, what I prayed for was G‑d’s will and the grace to handle whatever happened.

The Coast Guard took us to shore, and Steve to Torrance Hospital. My stepsister came and drove us there.

A doctor told me that Steve was dead. I told my daughter, and held her while she screamed.

But she already knew. We both did, deep down, which is why—as my brother tried to rescue her father—I’d stood at the wheel and seen her standing in the hatchway, scared but strong, and I mouthed, so no one else would hear, “Say the Shema.” And she mouthed back, “I already did.”

What I didn’t know, what I didn’t learn until afterwards, was that my little girl had seen the whole thing. Through a porthole off the coast of Catalina, my daughter watched her father drown.

I saw her standing in the hatchway, scared but strong, and I mouthed, so no one else would hear, “Say the Shema.” And she mouthed back, “I already did”

Five months to the day before, my father had died, peacefully, in my arms. I’d whispered the Shema in his ear over and over until I heard his last breath. I had made a promise to myself and to him, throughout his illness and death, to do everything ethically and halachically correct for my Orthodox father. And on that day in the ocean I was saying it again. “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad.” Over and over again, just in case Steve was really dying, I wanted G‑d to carry his soul away with the same peaceful embrace I’d felt Him give my father.

I finally went on a boat again . . . last year . . . diving in Tahiti with my daughter on our last trip before she left for college.

And I married again. A couple of years after Steve died I met a wonderful man. The truth is, not only did I survive this crisis, I thrived. And so did my daughter. Yes, we cried. And we were scared. And lonely. And angry. But we never lost our faith. A dear friend of our family, an Orthodox rabbi, lost his own father when he was young. He told my daughter it’s okay to be angry at G‑d. He can handle it.

That was the first time I’d ever heard that concept. Now I understand that it’s the Jewish way. The whole point. Our relationship with G‑d, as individuals and as a people, is so intimate that sometimes, like a marriage, it involves a lot of fighting. Jacob wrestled with G‑d, Abraham argued for the innocent people of Sodom, Moses fought for the lives of his people in the desert . . .

I went to a class the other night called "The Holocaust, a View From the Soul," given through the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI). Now, on the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz, Jews are attempting to deal with some of the burning questions of our generation, including . . . where was G‑d in the camps? Why did He allow so much suffering to befall his chosen people? These are, at their very core, unanswerable questions. And for me, as I began to allow G‑d into my life, that’s the position I took about anything bad that ever happened to me or my family, including Steve’s death: G‑d had a plan; I just didn’t know it.

That may be true, but it turns out it’s not enough…The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, took the position regarding Auschwitz that we are supposed to be enraged at G‑d. When Moshiach comes, he said, Hashem will have a lot of explaining to do.

He told my daughter it’s okay to be angry at G‑d. He can handle it

Anger is a difficult emotion for me. I’m always stifling it. With my ex-husband, he was the angry one. The yeller. But my passive-aggressive stoicism didn’t get me anywhere. And it certainly didn’t help our marriage. He yelled; I stayed self-righteously controlled. That’s not good for a marriage, and it’s not good for our relationship with G‑d. You may sleep well letting G‑d have His unknowable plan, but your life won’t actually improve, your relationship with Him won’t deepen, unless you let out the anger you feel. As our friend taught me, G‑d can handle it.

The question is, can we? One of the reasons we sometimes don’t express our anger is that we’re afraid—afraid of abandonment. But we have to have the courage to stand up for ourselves with G‑d. He’s not going to abandon us if we say, enough’s enough. Stop hurting me. Stop putting me through these terrible trials. And if it doesn’t stop . . . there’s another way to talk to Him. Pray for His help. Pray for Him to be your guide or your supporter through the rough times. You may be surprised at the gifts you receive.

I finally did get angry after Steve’s death. I was enraged with G‑d, but I was also furious with Steve for his carelessness, his clumsiness, at the fact that he wasn’t wearing a life jacket—that none of us were. I was furious that he didn’t listen to me. That he didn’t hold on. That he didn’t teach me how to sail. But then I realized . . . that wasn’t his fault. That was mine. And the fact that I couldn’t throw to save his life—that was my fault too.

Or was it?

Maybe it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Maybe it was all G‑d’s plan. As the months and years went by, I began to wonder if maybe this plan wasn’t even so secret. With the benefit of time I was able to look back and start to see a hint that there was some good even in one of G‑d’s harshest deeds. At first I was ashamed to admit I was even having thoughts like this . . . that I was even considering the possibility of a benevolent hand in any of this. But today I know, deep down, that my daughter is the brilliant, free, spiritually strong and dedicated young woman she is today because of her father’s death, not in spite of it. She got angry with G‑d, all right. And her own search for meaning led her to Chabad of NYU, where she began to find direction for her growing personal commitment, not only to G‑d but to a life of faith and service. She is now studying at Machon Chana, a Lubavitch yeshivah for young women in Crown Heights. She dreams of becoming a shlucha, a Chabad emissary, who will bring Torah and mitzvahs to Jews somewhere in the world. I keep telling her to think Montecito not Montevideo, but you never know.

Even looking back on the day her daddy died, I can glimpse the good within the bad. I knew Steve died a happy death, on the best day of his life, doing what he loved, with the two people he loved most in the world, and his beloved dolphins to guide his way. He always used to tell me, “If I go, I want to go on a sailboat. And if I’m ever missing, find out if anyone rented a boat, ’cause it was probably me.”

G‑d wants us to be His partner in a life that in this world will not be free of pain

I have come to believe G‑d wants us to be His partner in a life that in this world will not be free of pain. He will share our burden if we share His, and frankly, even if we don’t. We cannot know His purpose, but we can pray for His help, and pray for Him to ease the suffering of others. And then, as a collective whole and as individuals, it is time to get to work. To do what it takes to heal the world He gave us. Heal His people. Heal His planet. Heal each other. And heal ourselves. We can live the Torah He gave us, and do the mitzvahs He promises will lead to our redemption. It is not enough to say, “I believe in G‑d but I can’t know his ways.” That’s true, but it doesn’t let us off the hook. Instead, the believing is what gives us the strength and the responsibility to do whatever it takes to find meaning in our own complicated lives.

For me, it was teaching my daughter, nurturing her, caring for her, helping her through recovery from our ordeal that gave my life meaning after the accident. Now, she’s the one who’s teaching me as she calls to tell me what she’s learning, or to teach me new prayers, or to show me new insights into a Torah I’ve only just begun to understand. I light candles every Friday night now . . . and I thank G‑d for every blessing, for every wonderful surprise.

Someone could look at my life and say how sorry they are for my family’s tragedy. I say how thankful I am for our blessings.