The Actor, Writer and Director Talks About His Journey to Faith
On Thursday, October 25, Stephen Tobolowsky came to spend the day at Yeshiva University. Tobolowsky has been in numerous movies and television shows, including Groundhog Day, Freaky Friday, Silicon Valley, Glee and Momento.
During a busy day on both the Wilf and Beren campuses, he managed to record a podcast about his newest book, My Adventures with God; meet with students in the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College; address an audience of staff, faculty and students at one of Wurzweiler School of Social Work’s Care Cafes; and converse with the Stern College Dramatic Society (SCDS) about the ins and out of “the business.”
Throughout his conversations with dozens of people at the University, Tobolowsky spoke with heart and humor about the lessons he has learned from his Jewish faith. On the one hand, for him there is a push factor, where “the power of faith comes from asking questions, not sprouting answers.” There is also a pull factor, where faith’s power comes from being rooted in the past: “A lot of moving forward involves always looking back and never forgetting where you came from, because the truth will be embedded in where you came from. And one thing that’s powerful in Judaism is that we try very much to hang on to where we came from.”
This tension between being pushed by the tumult of the world and pulled by the rootedness of faith has, according to Tobolowsky, given his life a certain ironic cast. “The way faith works, the way a prayer works, is you put it out there. You don’t know what will happen or how it will change your life, but if you don’t put it out there, nothing happens.” But while what does happen is not necessarily predictable, it may be, with right frame of mind and in the right spirit, exactly what the soul needs. “I’ve had some of my most meaningful experiences when I’ve had to improvise a holy moment in the middle of the desert.”
In his talk to the SCDS, he took a different tack as he talked shop with people who have fallen in love with the very art form that has given his life meaning.
He explained to them that if they wanted to go into this world, they would have to be extremely dedicated and need to believe in themselves. “When you’re in a creative pursuit, like acting or writing, you certainly are your own performer, you have to be your own director, sometimes you have to be your own producer,” he said. “But you are not allowed to be your own critic. You are not. It is more important for you to hear the creative voice in your head and to follow it, not kill yourself with criticism.”
He connected his advice to Judaism. “Devarim means words, but it also means things,” he said. “It means the magical connection of words becoming things, because in Judaism, there is a concept, a kind of magical thinking, that if you say something out loud, it has the power of becoming real. So don’t plough that field and plant the seeds for not succeeding. Instead, plant seeds that say you will succeed.”