Susie Solomon took a wild ride through the dramatic world of Hollywood and high fashion until her life took an unexpected turn and she became Sarah Weintraub, a woman with a mission to raise her family according to Jewish values and traditions. Whether it was organizing Bob Mackie fashion shows (in a past life) or running banquets for every Torah day school in the city, Sarah throws all of her passion and energy behind everything she does. This is her story.
Growing up in the Valley, we had almost no sense of our Jewishness - no involvement with a shul, no involvement with Israel. We had Rosh Hashana and Passover dinners but they had no Jewish content.
After I graduated high school, I got married at 18. He was older, he was Jewish and he was nice and I just fell into it. I totally didn't think it through. I remember walking down the aisle thinking, “Well if this doesn't work out, I'll get divorced.” I had no idea what I was doing. Then I gave birth to Jennifer when I was 21. I was going through the motions of life but it wasn't working. I got divorced when I was 24, and I started a life.
Through a set of strange and fortuitous circumstances (the Almighty was always watching over me), through men I dated and people I met, I was introduced to Diana Ross. She wanted to open a dress shop and she needed someone to manage it. I was working at Alan Austin's, which was a well-known clothing store in Beverly Hills. I was only a salesgirl but I said, “Why not?”
Diana and I liked each other. She was 27 at the time; she had just left the Supremes and was really at a high point in her life.
She was offered the movie “Mahogany” and asked me if I'd like to help her with it. It wasn't based on any special talents or skills I had, it just happened. So I said, “Okay. What do you want me to do?” And we decided together that I was going to be her assistant and that I was going to go shopping and buy all the clothes for the movie that Bob Mackie did not create. Talk about protectzia and access; you can't even imagine the doors that opened for me
Then Diana said to me, “I'd like you to come with me on this film. To Chicago and to Rome."
So I went. But poor Jennifer. I left her a lot and it wasn't good. I made a lot of bad choices, unwittingly. I left for six weeks - first we went to Chicago, then we went to Europe together. Anything Diana did, I did. It was a very different kind of life - everything first class - the most gourmet meals, the most luxurious villas… I could never have envisioned Susie Solomon from the Valley ending up there.
When the movie ended, I needed a job. I just couldn't leave Jennifer anymore. My traveling was destroying her. Diana moved to New York and I settled back into my life in California. But we stayed in touch…
Then we produced a fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the likes of which the industry had never seen. It just kept getting bigger.
Someone mentioned the idea of licensing to me. I had never done anything like that before but I thought it worth a try. So I went to Bob Mackie (he was very famous at the time - designing wardrobes for Cher, Ann-Margaret, Mitzi Gaynor, Carol Burnett - and the winner of five Emmy awards and three Oscar nominations for his costumes) and approached him about becoming his licensing agent. And he accepted it.
With the help of a graphic designer I created this big book on Bob Mackie and took it to New York. I had zero idea what I was doing. But everyone recommended I go to Cole of California, the premier swimwear company in the country. I made the very first licensing deal for swimwear in America for Bob Mackie swimwear. Then I made a fur deal for him. This was just unbelievable. Then we produced a fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the likes of which the industry had never seen. It just kept getting bigger. I worked for him for seven years, traveling all over the country (for short stints at a time so as not to disturb Jennifer) doing fashion shows. When I met Charlie Rose at that time, he was doing a daytime show in Dallas, Texas.
Backtracking a little, Diana had a box at the Alan King tennis tournament in Las Vegas and she got sick and asked me to take her place. So I'm sitting in this celebrity tent and Howard Cosell introduces me to this man sitting next to him, a powerful man in the entertainment industry who I then dated for many years. He was a very special man who saw some potential in me that I certainly didn't appreciate at that time. He was kind and caring and happened to move in a very exciting world. He just picked me up and added more glamour to my life. We met Prince Philip, we met Prince Charles, we went on the QE2...
We moved in the Hollywood inner circle, yet he had none of the questionable character of some of today's movers and shakers. He never yelled at anyone and always behaved with consideration. But for some reason - the age difference, other psychic scars - we were never able to make real contact. He was a prince to me but I didn't know myself well enough to know what I wanted. I wasn't interested in getting married again because I had blown it so badly the first time.
My first real exposure to any sense of Judaism was at a wedding. All the guests were participating with Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and others as they studied Torah in preparation for Barbra's role in “Yentl.”
My first real exposure to Torah and any sense of Judaism was at a wedding. All the guests were participating with Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and others as they studied Torah in preparation for Barbra's role in “Yentl.” They were connected to friends and it was briefly the “in” thing to do in the strange world that is Hollywood. Two years later I was hired by a major swimwear company and then left for a bigger firm and yet a bigger firm. When I was working for LaBlanca, I was doing a fashion shoot and the photographer came over to me on a Friday afternoon and said, “We have a small problem on our hands. The photo stylist has to leave.”
Well, as I climbed up the ladder, I became tougher and tougher. Who knew how to be kind and considerate? So I said, “I don't care. She's not leaving.”
“But she's gotta leave,” he said.
“I hired her and she's not going anywhere!”
The photo stylist was crying. “What's the big deal? Why does she have to leave?” I finally said in exasperation.
And I'll never forget his response. “Because she's observant.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “She's observant of what?”
I was so angry, but she left. What chutzpah.
She came back that Monday in mortal fear of me because I wasn't very nice. I looked at her - she was very attractive and dressed to the height of fashion - and I said, “What is this? What is this leaving early on Fridays when I need you?”
She explained that she was religious and learning Torah. She gave me a card and invited me to class if I ever had any time on my hands. I shoved it in my wallet, never planning to do anything with it.
Diana and I drifted apart. Simultaneously, my long-time relationship ended. At the time, I didn't appreciate the kindness he did for me. He helped shape me so that I was open to Torah when I heard it, perhaps by making me feel that I was a worthwhile human being and that I could trust my instincts. He helped me bring out my inner potential.
I had a beautiful daughter who bore the burden of my lifestyle, my catering to myself, my lack of understanding of the damage I was doing.
Yet, I was still unable to be the kind of mother I should have been; I just didn't have the tools. I had a beautiful daughter who bore the burden of my lifestyle, my catering to myself, my unconsciousness, my lack of understanding of the damage I was doing.
I was alone with my daughter and I had nothing but time. One night I went through my wallet and found that card. It was just before Rosh Hashana and I went to a class sponsored by Aish HaTorah, just like it said on the card.
It was in an upstairs duplex. I remember walking up the stairs, opening the door and falling over all these people sitting on the floor with these blue books in their hands. I sat down and I was trapped. It was a class on Adam and Eve and it was really interesting. And people invited me to a million different things; one of which was a class the next night with Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, of blessed memory. He started talking and there was just something about who he was and how he spoke…He spoke about teshuva (repentance) and matters that were hidden and deep - the Divine spark within us, our soul and its intimate connection with the Almighty. A light bulb went on… He was saying everything I was feeling. It was like a laser; a direct hit. It was truth and I knew it. It resonated in my body and soul. So I started exploring and going to classes.
I was 38 years old and scared. I didn't jump in quickly. But I chose to stay involved and go to Shabbos meals a lot. Then I started taking classes with Rabbi Nachum Braverman, particularly his "Love and Marriage" class, and I realized that I had made a big mistake. I did want to get married again. And I wanted more kids. But I thought, “Who is going to marry me? How am going to figure this out?”
I would go on dates and interview people. They all thought I was proposing to them!
One day my father became very ill after a routine bypass went awry - they couldn't get his heart to restart. We were all gathered at the hospital and I told my family to stop crying and start praying! Ask the Almighty to turn daddy's heart back on! And the surgeon walked out the doors, looked at us and said, “It's a miracle.”
At that point I decided I would give up shellfish. I wanted to do something in response. That was my first recognition that our prayers can be answered.
Then I got fired from my job as an Advertising Executive. It was a really big job and they just didn't like me. I was devastated. I felt so vulnerable and scared.
But the gift of being vulnerable was that it opened me up. I began dating Peter during this time. We had been occasional friends for about 14 years, but there was never any romantic interest - at least on my side. He was shocked by my newfound interest in Judaism and came with me to a couple of classes.
Now I was able to cut through all the nonsense and see Peter for the blessing that he was, for the goodness and kindness that he embodied. I was able to open my eyes to the good in my life - like seeing the pickle man in “Crossing Delancey.” And I opened my eyes and kept them open.
I also saw in Judaism truth and wisdom, and that it was for me. At age 40, I realized you have to make a commitment - to get married, to live a Torah lifestyle. You can't dance around the edges. You have to let the world know you want this. You have to put out the positive energy that says I want to get married, I want to lead a meaningful and spiritual life. I want to create a God-centered home with a husband and children and friends. You may not get it, but you have to open yourself up to it or you definitely won't get it and take that risk of being vulnerable. I decided to stay with it and a lot of blessing came into my life.
I knew that I wanted to live a life centered around Torah. I got very lucky and connected with my wonderful husband, Peter, who was willing to go with me.
I knew that I wanted to live a life centered around Torah. I got very lucky and connected with my wonderful husband, Peter, who was willing to go with me. When I was walking towards the chuppah I felt like I was coming home. And I felt like I earned it. I wanted to savor every moment. I finally felt like I was on the right path. There I was in my Bob Mackie wedding dress with Rabbi Braverman marrying us - the juxtaposition of the old and the new - I had come full circle.
My life is so much richer - not necessarily easier - but richer, deeper and more meaningful. None of my prior life was really me. When I started studying Torah, people were interested in me, not who I knew, or what access I could provide. That gave me so much encouragement and pleasure. It was a transforming experience. Nothing else really belongs to you.
Peter and I were blessed to have a daughter, Lauren, right away. And then I worked so hard to bring my daughter Ariela just over six years later.
I think that all the praying and preparation I did to bring Ariela into the world kept me connected to the Source. That's where my tremendous energy comes from. I feel connected to a Power Source that's far greater than any physical limitation.
Looking back I see that Jennifer was unfortunately put into a very difficult situation. I was unprepared to be a mother. It was so difficult for me to nurture her and take care of her. It was a big challenge for both of us. Through my transformation, through getting in touch with what's really important to me and how to view the world and view my daughter, I was able to recapture myself and to really help her. Now there's communication and love, along with the pain. There's a sense of gratitude - gratitude for how far she's come, what a miracle she is, and gratitude for each other. She's an incredible person, a mature woman in her 30's with two lovely daughters, and she has that fighting spirit she inherited from me! We miss each other terribly and yearn to be together. It's a total miracle.
Throughout my life the Almighty's hand has guided me into the most amazing situations - some of them quite difficult, some of them quite challenging, some of them quite painful - but all of them amazing. I didn't always realize that He was guiding me, but now the clarity is stark.
I'm so grateful for all the gifts I've been given - for the time with Diana and Bob which taught me about beauty and led to my passion to beautify every mitzvah! - for my family, for my friends and teachers, for the Torah, and for the ability to now see God's presence hovering over everything I do.