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On a Mission to Enlighten

Novelist David Shapiro explores Jewish religious tolerance and spirituality.

October 07, 2000|ANN SHIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When first-time novelist David Shapiro lost his sister to breast cancer in 1996, he had transcendental experiences that eventually led him on a spiritual journey. Was anything left undone if God were to take him now? he asked himself.

"I realized that, besides my wife and children, which I really live for, the great passion of my life has been combating anti-Semitism," Shapiro said. He also wanted to enlighten the world about Judaism--how tolerant it is, he said.

He said he spent 10 months writing in a white heat to finish his visionary novel, "The Promise of God," (Simcha Press, $12.95). Already optioned by a major movie studio, the book, about religious tolerance, has been described as a political thriller set among the religious and power structures of several countries.

His publisher, Simcha Press, is a new imprint of Health Communications Inc., best known for the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. Launched last spring, Simcha--the symbol of celebration and joy--is on a mission to publish books in the realm of Jewish spirituality.

Shapiro, who will be at Borders on Wednesday for a reading and signing, said he set out to write a film script, but a friend suggested that he turn the idea into a novel.

"It really was written in the service of God--and as kind of a wake-up call to all Jews," Shapiro said. "The Jewish mission was always an extrapolation of what Abraham did. He traveled around his area and said, 'Look, there is one God and how you get to him is your business. I'm just alerting you to the fact that there is one God that rules the world.' "

Although he didn't grow up with it--his father was a drummer in the big-band era and his mother was an English teacher--he said he had been an observant Jew some years before his sister's death. But it was after his first child was born that he and his wife realized that they had everything, yet wondered why they felt empty, he said.

"There is a great chasm between believing God is there and knowing it," he said. "If someone says they're 99% sure God is there, what they are really saying is, he's not there. It's largely experiential--once you know God is there, you see it everywhere and say, how did I miss that?"

Shapiro already is piecing together a sequel to the book in his mind, he said.

HAPPENINGS

* Today: 11 a.m. Robert S. Levinson will discuss and sign "The James Dean Affair" at Mysteries to Die For, 2940 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 374-0084.

* Today: 7 p.m. "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss will be featured at Pajamamania. Borders, 125 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 497-8159.

* Sunday: 7 p.m. Poetry night with a featured poet, followed by an open mike at 8 p.m. Borders, 497-8159.

* Tuesday: 9:30 a.m. Storytime featuring mouse stories, including "Mouse Soup!" Ventura Barnes & Noble, 4360 E. Main St., 339-9170.

* Tuesday: 7 p.m. The Second Tuesday Contemporary Book Group will discuss "Empress of One" by Faith Sullivan. Borders, 497-8159.

* Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. The Ventura County Writers Club will hear Nina Wiener, editor and director of publicity and marketing of Really Great Books, an independent small press that publishes books on the Los Angeles experience. Free and open to the public. For details, contact Joanne Sehnem at 579-9414, or Borders at 497-8159.

* Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. Sports anthropologist Robert Sands will discuss and sign "GutCheck! An Anthropologist's Wild Ride into the Heart of College Football." Borders, 497-8159.

* Wednesday: 7 p.m. Wednesday Nite Readers will discuss Barbara Kingsolver's "Bean Trees." Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

* Wednesday: 8 p.m. Poetry workshop. Open to all. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

* Wednesday: 7 p.m. The Shakespeare Group will discuss "Julius Caesar." Borders, 497-8159.

* Wednesday: 7 p.m. David Shapiro will read from "The Promise of God," with signing to follow. Borders, 497-8159.

* Thursday: 3:30 p.m. Harry Potter Fan Club for third- and fourth-graders, followed at 4:30 by a group for fifth-graders and up. Thousand Oaks Barnes & Noble, 446-2820.

* Friday: 7 p.m. Storytime about Madeline featuring "Madeline in America" and "Madeline's Rescue." Ventura Barnes & Noble, 339-9170.

* Friday: 7 p.m. Franklin the Turtle fans can see a video of "Franklin & the Green Knight." Borders, 497-8159.

PLAN AHEAD I

The Ventura and Thousand Oaks Barnes & Noble bookstores will conduct workshops exploring the process of writing at 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Local author Tom Prinz will lead the workshop in Ventura and Michael J. Mason, an author from Loyola Marymount University, will lead the Thousand Oaks workshop. Books and magazines published by Writer's Digest will be used as resources for this event, which is free and open to the public. For details, check with Phyllis McBeth in Ventura at 339-9170 or Michele Kantor in Thousand Oaks at 446-2820.

PLAN AHEAD III

Thomas Aquinas College will host a Ventura County Catholic Writers' Conference on Oct. 14 at its Santa Paula campus. The daylong conference will feature seven local writers and journalists who will talk about the craft of writing. Interested parties should RSVP to Amy Dragoo at 525-4417, Ext. 340. The conference fee, including lunch and a continental breakfast, is $20, or $10 for students with ID.

Information about book signings, writers groups and publishing events can be emailed to anns40@aol.com or faxed to 647-5649.

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