Until my recent visit to L.A. I had no idea that the vibrant Chabad community and the paltry Hollywood stomping ground are neighbours. My daughter loved the freedom to walk the streets (something we don't get to do much in Johannesburg), so we padded down Pico Boulevard and hiked up La Brea. Quite accidentally, we stumbled onto Hollywood Boulevard.
Hatted Chassidim are incongruous on this noisy stretch of celebrity-crazed buskers and tourists. A Yeshivah student, cycling home stopped me to say he was surprised to find a rabbi on this street. I doubt I was the first.
We walked down past souvenir shops and posed for a photo with Robert Wadlow's likeness outside the Guinness Book of Records Museum. We also found ourselves traipsing along the well-known "Hollywood Walk of Fame".
I always knew such a thing existed somewhere in that sprawling city, but had not given a thought to where it might be until it appeared at my feet.
Certain I would recognize most of the names molded into the floor, I was surprised to see very few familiar ones. My celeb-knowledge is clearly outdated.
Finally, I spotted a familiar name! Admittedly a shadow-hero in my childhood, but certainly a character that every six year-old (at least in my day) would agree deserved to be immortalised in the "Walk of Fame": Woody Woodpecker!
In my now-adult mind, the wonder of the "Walk of Fame" dissolved right there. To equate human talent and fictional creatures surely undermines the value of the former. Or perhaps, Hollywood intrinsically understands that everything about itself is make-believe.
I looked down at the stars stretching out underfoot and was immediately reminded of G-d's promise to Abraham that his descendants would become "as the stars of the heavens and the dust of the Earth".
The commentaries detect innuendo in that promise: "Follow what G-d says and you will rise as stars and illuminate the world; ignore His directions and you will be reduced to the dust that people walk upon." In Hollywood, the stars lie on the ground, as hundreds of people walk over them every hour.
I was glad to be headed to New York for the Shluchim conference to meet real heroes, who have dedicated their lives to illuminating the lives of others.