A Miracle-Filled Journey

Tzvi Fishman,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman is a recipient of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. His many novels and books on a variety of Jewish themes are available at Amazon Books. Recently, he has published "Arise and Shine!" and "The Lion's Roar" - 2 sequels to his popular novel, "Tevye in the Promised Land." In Israel, the Tevye trilogy is distributed by Sifriyat Bet-El Publishing. He is also the director and producer of the feature film, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman," starring Israel's popular actor, Yehuda Barkan. www.tzvifishmanbooks.com ...

Corona-Free Downloads

By Mordechai Sones

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Prolific author, Tzvi Fishman, has been taking advantage of being grounded at home in Jerusalem by cranking out a timely new book called, “The Corona Bible – Coronavirus and Faith in Troubled Times.” In addition to offering the self-help guide as a free download on his tzvifishmanbooks.com website, he has posted seven other titles as Corona freebies. He hopes that to fill the long summer days and weeks of Corona restrictions, people will rediscover the joy of reading books, especially books with Jewish content, of which he has a dozen on Amazon. INN asked him about the books and his inspiration to write them.

“I think more and more people are beginning to realize that the Corona pandemic is something far beyond the realm of anything the world community has experienced in our lifetimes. People with a strong foundation of Faith and Trust in G-d have a sturdy staff to lean upon in times of crisis and confusion like this. Even so, they too often need a potent injection of Emunah (faith). For them, “The Corona Bible” comes to remind them of what they already know, but which has become routine for them over the years. A great many others, especially the “enlightened” non-believers which modern Western culture has bred, they need a guide, or guidebook, to reveal the Hand of Hashem behind the current Divine Visitation which is forcing a monumental change in human existence. Corona has the meaning of crown and kingship. The King wants mankind to recognize His total rule and mastery over the world.”

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How is the theme of faith presented to make your book different from the many books about faith that already exist?  

For one thing, my style of writing is different from other writers. And I have my own experience as a baal t’shuva from Hollywood upon which to draw. Once upon a time, I was a totally assimilated Jew, chasing after the American dream of fame and success until the Director of directors pulled the curtain aside to reveal the that material world was really a ‘Truman Show’ no more real than the Dodge City on a Hollywood studio backlot. At the same time that I quote the teachings of Rav Kook, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Rambam, and the Ramcal, I use the Coronvirus as an example of how Hashem calls to us to recognize His Kingship, not because He needs our adoration, but for our own enlightenment and good. When a person reaches the gates of Heaven without having forged a genuine bond with his or her Creator, all of the money he left behind in the bank won’t help him bribe his way into the Garden of Eden. 

You believe that the Almighty has sent the Coronavirus to the world to wake up mankind to His existence and rule in the world? 

The Master of the Universe may have a hundred reasons, but certainly, for starters, He wants us to know He is there. Many people, including the religious, accept that all of the miraculous events of the Old Testament, like the plagues in Egypt, the Exodus, and the splitting of the sea, all occurred, but they think that was the end of Hashem’s active intervention in the world, something confined to Biblical times, when in reality, as Rabbi Kook explains, the Redemption of Israel and mankind is a long, ongoing process, unfolding all the time. Coronavirus is part of that ever-active world development toward they day when nations shall flock to Jerusalem, and to the rebuilt House of G-d, to learn the ways of Hashem from the Nation of Israel. The faster we repent of our backsliding ways and return to G-d, the sooner the pandemic will stop. The world is waiting for the Nation of Israel to lead the way. If we return to G-d half way, He will reduce the epidemic in half. If we fail to hear the Call, He can inch the Corona throttle forward another wee bit and make the plague stronger, Heaven forbid. The way we react is what determines what will be. Medicine may find a vaccine soon, but is the invisible Hand of the Almighty that brings about the discovery of vaccines, just as it hurls plagues upon mankind to lead us to a new, holier, more Torah-filled stage of existence, shattering the rotten shell of the past, the material, ego-oriented world of today, to a more idealistic and wholesome lifestyle founded upon righteousness and Divine justice and truth, as envisioned by the Prophets of Israel.

Tell us something about your “Tevye in the Promised Land” trilogy which follows the “Fiddler on the Roof” milkman from Anatevka to the Holy Land with his daughters?

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Just as the Jews who journeyed to the Land of Israel underwent a transformation from national weakness in the Diaspora to becoming courageous fighters and builders of a powerful Jewish State, so too Tevye is forced to discover strengths in himself that lay dormant in our People for nearly two-thousand years because of our subjugation to foreign nations in foreign lands. In my trilogy, he and his daughters become pioneer builders of the Holy Land and freedom fighters for Jewish independence in the battle to chase the British out of Palestine. The new Tevye clutches a Bible in one hand and a Thompson machine gun in the other. 

What are some of the free-download books on your website.

“Days of Mashiach” is a collection of humorous and thought-provoking short stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora. A translation was published in France by a non-Jewish publisher and the storytelling was compared to Voltaire, Kafka, and Samuel Beckett. The novel, “DAD,” tells the poignant and comic story of a baal tshuva with five hyperactive children, who has to also take care of his mother with Alzheimer’s and an ailing and super-anxious father, not to mention his pregnant wife. The novel, “Fallen Angel,” tells the fun story of an angel who is sent to Manhattan to warn a spiritual conman and bestselling-author to mend his deceitful and whoring ways. “From Israel with Love” is a spicy, off-the-wall collection of blogs about the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael and about the hollowness of Jewish life in the Diaspora. “From Hollywood to the Holy Land” describes (with accompanying photos) my miracle-filled journey from being an assimilated Jew in America to my discovery of the Director of all directors and true Jewish life in the Holy Land.

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Your personal odyssey is truly an inspiring saga. If I remember correctly, you were living the good life in Hollywood when you became ill with ulcerative colitis.  Can you provide our readers with a condensed version of the story?

Before I turned thirty I had sold three original screenplays that were made into films and published my first novel with a big New York publisher. I had money, a cool apartment by the beach, a sexy sports car, a membership at a health club filled with beautiful California girls – in short the American Dream. In the morning, I used to play racket ball with the great basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, and workout in the weight room with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was just starting his movie career. After slimnastics class with Susie, Wendy, Cindy, Sally, and Jane, I’d spend the afternoon at the beach, working on my tan. Nights were spent prowling the discos, may the Almighty forgive me. When in Rome do as the Romans do.

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But the truth is that I was not particularly happy. With each new conquest and success, I felt that something was missing. I thought maybe if I sold a script for more money, or bought a fancier car, then I would be happy. But it didn’t help. Each new acquisition left me feeling empty. Now I know the reason for my darkness – even though I was wallowing in physical pleasures, I wasn’t giving any nourishment to my soul. Then I became physically ill. I would have to race to the bathroom with a diarrhea attack twenty times a day, and only blood would pour out. It blew my mind completely. Here I was, rocketing up the ladder of success in Hollywood, and I had to spend half my day in the bathroom. I had to take large doses of cortisone, which blew up my face like a beach ball. Seeing myself in the mirrors of the health club, I didn’t recognize the monster staring back. Try making a pass at a UCLA cheerleader when you have a face like Quasimodo. After a month, the cortisone dried up the bleeding, but the minute I got off the drug, the bleeding returned, more furious than before. After a year of being sick, I started to see a shrink, figuring I must be screwed up. I didn’t realize that it was America that was screwed up, and that I simply didn’t belong there, a holy Jewish soul trying to keep up with the celebs in Hollywood and all of their unholy ways. At that time, I hadn’t heard about Rabbi Akiva, and I didn’t realize that my bleeding was all for the best – a Heavenly wake-up call, so to speak, warning me that I was on a glamorous track to hell. For almost another year, even though I was bleeding my guts out, I kept on living my same sordid Hollywood life.

Like me, I am sure our readers are on the edge of their seats.

After two years, when the medicine failed to cure me, I started out on a spiritual quest. I tried everything. Health food, macrobiotics, holistic massage, yoga, I Ching, acupuncture, gestalt, Tarot cards, not to mention a variety of mind-expanding drugs. One day, I was sitting on the beach when a friend asked me why I didn’t know anything about Judaism? The question hit me like a sledgehammer. I had studied world history. I had read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Kant, Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Thoreau. I had studied the sciences, the arts, literature, and had checked out books about Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like. But I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism. Ever since the reform rabbi’s preposterous explanation of the splitting of the sea, I never thought to open any Jewish text. During my shrink period, I had read dozens of books about psychology, and I had studied enough Sigmund Freud to know that if you avoid something close to you, that means you have a psychological block, a deep fear which paralyzes you from discovering who you really are. My friend, Daniel Dayan, happened to be an Israeli. He was born in Morocco, to a religious family. They moved to Israel when he was nine. After seeing his first Charlie Chaplin film, he was hooked. When he finished his Israel Army service, he set off to America to become an actor. Today, he has a beard longer than mine. He lives in Safed, studies Torah all through the night in tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and organizes the Breslov community’s Rosh HaShanah extravaganza in Uman. But way back then, he was just another screwed-up Jew like me, trying to make it big in Hollywood. Except he still had his childhood love and respect for the Torah.

Your description rings a bell. Didn’t your friend play different roles in the feature film you made a few years ago, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman?”

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That’s him. Daniel Dayan. After I moved to Israel, he became a baal t’shuva too, and moved back to Israel as well. He was the one who influenced the actor, Shuli Rand, to start a new life of Torah.

Why don’t the three of you do a film together?

We are waiting for INN to go into the film business.

Good idea. But let’s get back to the beach in Santa Monica.

His question blew my mind. The same day I bought a Bible and started to read: "In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth." When I read those words, my gaze shot up to the sky. "Oh, no!" I thought. "G-d really exists, and I haven’t paid any attention to Him since my bar mitzvah." I kept turning pages as if I were reading the screenplay of an action adventure. G-d tells Avraham to go to the Land of Israel. Then He tells Moshe to free the Jews and take them to the Land of Israel. Over and over again, G-d tells the Jews that He is given them the commandments of the Torah to do them in the Land of Israel. The Land of Israel, the Land of Israel, over and over again. At the time, I knew nothing about Eretz Yisrael. Sure, I had probably had heard about the Yom Kippur War, but as a super assimilated Jew, Israel was simply not a part of my weltanschauung. Yet according to the simple, straightforward reading of the Bible, it was clear that G-d wanted His People to live in the Land of Israel, and not in Los Angeles or New York.

What happened then?

I bought a book about the foundations of Judaism. Rosh HaShanah was coming, and I read about the custom of Tashlich. So on Rosh HaShanah day, I walked down to the beach and threw my cortisone pills into the Pacific Ocean. "Please G-d," I begged. "Accept these pills as my sins and please heal me without any more medicine."

Wow! That was quite a drastic step, throwing your cortisone into the ocean.

I had tried everything else, and I was convinced that my separation from G-d was the source of my problems. But without the medicine, I became sicker and sicker. I started bleeding profusely. Within a short time, I lost twenty pounds. Finally, I had to be hospitalized.

Back to the cortisone.

That’s right. At least for the ten days that I was in the hospital. The minute I got out, I stopped once again. I figured that by relying on the cortisone, I would never get down to the source of the problem. Once again, I started to bleed. One evening, I became really scared, thinking that if I kept up this insanity, either I would bleed to death, or I would have to have my colon surgically removed. That night I had a dream. I was in a second-hand clothes shop, looking at old clothes when I spotted a door to another room. Curious, I stepped inside. The room was filled with books in Hebrew, four walls of bookshelves stacked with holy Jewish texts, like the study hall of a yeshiva. I couldn’t read Hebrew at that time, but I was filled with a profound sense of peace and calm. I just wanted to stand there and soak in the holiness of the books. But the shop owner appeared and said he wanted to close the store. I begged him to let me stay another five minutes, just to stand there and look at the books. Grudgingly, he agreed. That’s when I saw another door to yet another room. Venturing forward, I stepped inside. The room was empty except for a huge black box in the center of the floor. It was a giant tefillin, looking like some gigantic oversized prop in a Woody Allen movie. Gazing at it, my heart swelled with love. Man how I wanted that tefillin. Suddenly, I heard a tremendous thunderous Voice From Above, like a Voice out of Sinai, proclaiming, "THIS IS THE ANSWER! YOU HAVE TO ATTACH YOURSELF TO G-D!" I woke up, startled. My heart was pounding. The Voice still rang in my ears. It was the clearest, truest, most real experience I had ever heard in my life.

You know your dream is amazingly similar to the dream of the King at the beginning of the book, "The Kuzari." In his dream, an angel appears and tells him that his desire to get close to G-d is pleasing, but that his actions are not the right actions. That’s the catalyst that sets the King off on a quest to find the actions pleasing to G-d, which turn out to be the commandments of the Torah.

I see you’ve done your homework. That similarity is one of the reasons I wrote "The Kuzari For Young Readers." But way back then in Hollywood, I had never heard of "The Kuzari," and I was still a long way off from making a commitment to Torah. I was so shaken up by the dream that the next morning, I went to an Orthodox shul and asked the rabbi to show me how to put on tefillin. He happily agreed and told me to say the Shema Yisrael prayer, which I still remembered from Hebrew School. But even though I would return to the synagogue every morning to put on tefillin, I was still bleeding profusely. Finally, I decided that I had to continue taking the cortisone. That very same morning, my uncle phoned, asking if I could drive him to the hospital. He had to have laser surgery on a cataract, so he needed someone to drive him home afterward. Since my aunt was a doctor, I asked him if she could write me out a prescription for the cortisone, because I wanted to avoid the tortuous medieval examinations I always had to suffer whenever I went to the gastroenterologist. When I met him later that morning, he handed me the prescription. At the hospital, all during his treatment, I stood outside the operating room and prayed the same mantra over and over, "G-d, please heal my uncle. G-d, please heal my uncle." For forty-five minutes straight. When I returned to my apartment, I headed straight to the bathroom, as was my usual custom. But this time, there was no bleeding! The blood had vanished. Disappeared! No more! I felt like G-d had reached out a finger, touched my belly, and healed my colitis. I was astounded.

Our Sages teach that when you pray for someone else, you are answered first. We learn that from the story of Avraham and Avimelech.

I didn’t know that back then. I was absolutely dumbstruck by the miracle. "Am I hypnotizing myself with all of this religion business?" I thought. But the bleeding didn’t return. No doctor has ever been able to explain it. The cortisone had always taken ten days to turn off the bleeding, and here the bleeding stopped without taking cortisone at all.

That certainly isn’t an everyday event.

That’s putting it mildly. I was blown away. How could I continue on with my bohemian life of beaches and Hollywood discos after that? The next night, after not having bled the whole day, I prayed a heartfelt bedtime prayer. "Dear G-d," I said. "I don’t know why you have come into my life and done this great miracle for me. But I am certainly grateful, and I would like to make You happy some way in return. Tell me what You want me to do, and I will do it. When I read the Bible, it seems clear that You want the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel. So if You want me to go there, give me some kind of sign and I will go. If You want me to stay here in Hollywood, I’ll do that too. Maybe I can write Jewish movies, or get a job at some Jewish newspaper. Just give me a sign from Heaven, and I’ll do it."

What suspense! This even beats a Hollywood movie.

The very next morning, when I was leaving my apartment, I noticed that I had mail in my mailbox. It turned out to be a large travel brochure. On the cover was a big picture of the Western Wall. The caption read: "JERUSALEM, MY CHOSEN." I got goose pimples all over my body. The very morning after I asked G-d for a sign whether to go to Israel or not, I find this travel brochure in my mailbox! Never in my life had I ever received any kind of Jewish mail from any kind of Jewish organization. Remember, I was totally assimilated. Once again, my head started spinning in circles. "There is a director greater than Steven Spielberg," I thought. Not only had G-d answered my prayer for a sign, He had obviously known in advance that I would make such a request, because He had to arrange that someone would mail me the brochure, so that it would arrive in my mailbox the very morning after my prayer!

Are you sure this is something that really happened, and not one of your imaginative short stories, like the ones in your book, “Days of Mashiach?”

That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel. Before going, I decided to visit my parents for a week, since who knew how long I was going to be in Israel? The first morning at home, my Dad called from work, saying that he bumped into an old friend of mine who wanted to see me. So I drove over to the bookstore where the guy worked. As I am talking to him about my upcoming trip to Israel, a very attractive woman enters the store and starts browsing up and down the aisles. "That’s a coincidence," he says. "She’s an Israeli." She came to the cash register, holding a book on Kabbalah. When my friend introduced us, her face lit up, ecstatic to meet the writer of the popular novel that everyone in my hometown was talking about. Nationwide, sales had been disappointing, but in my hometown everyone had read it, certain that the novel’s characters and scandalous intrigues were based on the people of our town. When my friend told her that I was on my way to Israel, she invited me to her apartment, saying she would give me the names of a lot of influential people. She said her divorced husband was a TV celebrity who knew everyone in Israel. When we arrived at her pad, she excused herself, saying she wanted to change into something more comfortable. "Uh oh," I thought. At that time, I hadn’t learned about Yosef and Potifar’s wife, so I had to resist on my own. It was another miracle that I didn’t succumb to her charms. I was rewarded with a long list of names of people in Israel, one being an old lady in Jerusalem, an incredibly holy saint, like a prophetess out of the past, who let me stay at her home, as if I were part of the family. Every morning, she would wake me at five and push me out the door, tefillin in hand, to pray at the Kotel.

So that’s when you made aliyah?

No. On that first visit, I traveled all over the country trying to find G-d. I prayed at the gravesites of all of the tzaddikim and holy rabbis of the past, dunked myself in the Arizal’s holy mountain-spring mikvah again and again, and hung out for hours at the Kotel whenever I was in Jerusalem. A lot of times, Rabbi Schuster would approach me and ask if I wanted to learn in yeshiva, but I always said no. In my mind, going to yeshiva was like going back two hundred years to the ghettos of Poland. I didn’t want to learn Torah. I wanted to find G-d. See what a knucklehead I was! One thing was certain. I knew I had to make Israel my home. Everything here was Jewish. The language, the street signs, the food, the bus drivers, the soldiers, the cities, the Biblical mountains of old. For someone who wanted a true Jewish life, Eretz Yisrael, and not Los Angeles or New York, was obviously the place to be. As Tevya would say, to make a long story short, one day, a rabbi whom I had befriended grabbed me by the collar and took me to a Zionist yeshiva called Machon Meir. He sat me down in the beit midrash, and we started to learn, surrounded by enthusiastic young people wearing colorful, knitted kippot and speaking Hebrew with Israeli, English, French, Ethiopian, and Russian accents - Jews from all over the world. Suddenly, flanked by shelves of Mishna, Talmud, and tomes of Jewish Law, I experienced the same feeling of serenity and wholeness that I had felt in my dream of the room filled with holy books. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of the presence of G-d. His light filled the yeshiva. It radiated out of the books. It shone from the happy faces of the students. From that moment on, I was hooked.

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That was it? Goodbye America?

Not quite. After a few months of bliss, catching up on all the learning I had avoided, my parents phoned from America, insisting I come home for a big party celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary. For two weeks, I debated whether or not to go. On one hand, honoring one’s parents is a huge mitzvah. But so is learning Torah in Israel. Finally, I decided to make my parents happy. When the plane landed at JFK, on the way to pick up my luggage, I felt I had to go to the bathroom. Believe it or not, my bowels burst open and a raging flood of blood poured out. "Oh no!" I shuddered. "Why did I come back to America?" It was a clear sign to me that G-d wanted me to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that America wasn’t for me. That’s the moment I realized in the depths of my soul that the one and only healthy place for a Jew, physically, mentally, and spiritually, was in Israel. When I saw my parents, I told that I was returning to Jerusalem immediately after their party. The next day, when I came home from doing some errands, I found a note on the kitchen table from my father saying that my mother had felt pains in her heart, and that he had rushed her to the hospital. When I reached the emergency room, a doctor came out and said, "Do you know what you are doing to your mother?" I was floored. "She is miserable that you are moving to Israel," he declared. "What can I do?" I responded. "I have my own life to live." He looked at me sternly, then grinned. "Don’t worry," he said. "Your mother will be fine. It’s just palpitations. The truth is, I once wanted to move to Israel. But my mother was against it, and I didn’t have the backbone to stand up to her. So if you have the desire and courage to go, then go. Your mother will be all right."

If I remember correctly, your parents eventually moved to Israel too.

That’s right. Some fifteen years later, when it became difficult for them to get by on their own, I went to Florida, packed up their bags, and took them home with me to Israel. That’s the starting point of my novel, “Dad.”  

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What are you working on now?

I’ve just sent my new novel, “The Book of Hirsh,” to my old literary agent in New York. I decided to try to reach an audience not yet connected to Israel or Judaism, so I wrote it in the popular style of Philip Roth. It tells the story of a successful celebrity lawyer in New York, a typical liberal Jew who travels to Israel for the engagement of his baal t’shuva son to a religious Israeli girl. I hope the surprises will keep readers turning pages. Hopefully, if the book sells, I will be able to find the time to bring Tevye up to the declaration of the State of Israel in volumes 4 and 5 of the “Tevye in the Promised Land” series. “If I were a rich man….”