In honor of Book Week in Israel, which stretches out in bookstores for most of the month, Arutz Sheva spoke to author and movie director Tzvi Fishman, to learn what it’s like to be a writer of Religious Zionist novels and books.
If you get to the Sifriyat Bet El booth at the Jerusalem Book Fair, you’ll find Fishman’s two new sequels to his popular saga, Tevye in the Promised Land. The exciting Zionist adventures, Arise and Shine! and The Lion’s Roar, contain colorful portraits of the larger-than-life heroes of the dramatic era, including Yosef Trumpeldor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Rabbi Kook, David Ben Gurion, Avraham Yair Stern, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Menachem Begin, and more. The always-surprising author manages to weave the infamous Jewish gangsters Bugsy Segal and Meyer Lansky into his tale as well.
I know you sold a few original screenplays in Hollywood and published a novel with Dell Publishers in New York before you became a baal t’shuva. Can you tell us something about them?
"One of the films was called Law and Disorder, produced by Columbia Pictures and starring Carroll O’Conner of Archie Bunker fame. It received some good reviews and did pretty well at the box office. Another was an action film called The Hitter with an all-Black cast, which I wrote in one week during the Black Power days of the Seventies. The other was a trashy horror film with zero merit where someone gets brutally killed every five minutes. I received 100 thousand dollars for that. My novel was rather mundane family saga set on a Caribbean island. One of the sons is a power-hungry adulterer, the daughter marries a Black man, another son is gay - the usual bestselling dribble. The family was Jewish but there was nothing Jewish about the novel."
When you became religious, did you think you would continue to pursue your career in creative writing?
"Not really. I was happy to dump the emptiness of Hollywood and my dream of becoming a famous American novelist. I thought that maybe I would one day write for a Jewish newspaper, nothing more than that. After making Aliyah, and learning Torah in the Machon Meir Yeshiva for a year, I started to feel that I had to write about what I was experiencing, to share my joy with others. I asked Rabbi Shlomo Aviner what to do and he advised me to continue learning Torah for another few years. That way, he explained, when I returned to writing, everything I produced would have a much deeper meaning and impact. He suggested that in the meantime, I continue to write short stories and essays so that I wouldn’t forget the craft. 'It's written that the Children of Israel came out from Egypt with great wealth,' he told me. 'You came out of Hollywood with the wealth of knowing how to write stories. That is a talent that Hashem wants you to use, but for now, keep learning Torah'."
What was the first book you wrote when you once again picked up the pen?
"The novel, Tevye in the Promised Land. After finding so much happiness in Israel, I felt sorry for the famous Sholom Aleichem character, Tevye the Milkman, who was still back in galut. So I wrote a big adventure saga, bringing him and his family to Eretz Yisrael to become pioneer builders of the Holy Land, hoping that it would inspire Jews around the world to muster the courage to make the journey themselves. After that, I wrote a series of commentaries with Rabbi David Samson, on the teachings of Rabbi Kook: Torat Eretz Yisrael, Art of T’shuva, War and Peace, and Lights on Orot - Eretz Yisrael.”
What are some of your other books?
“Days of Mashiach is a collection of off-beat short stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora. The Discman and the Guru is a novel about a Jewish, Holden Caulfield-like character who journeys around the world searching for Hashem. Arriving in Jerusalem, he innocently ascends to the Temple Mount and nearly triggers the Third World War. Dad is a novel loosely based on the years I took care of my aging parents when my mother developed Alzheimer’s Disease. There are a bunch of other books available on Amazon.
"Over the years, people kept asking me, 'When will the sequel to Tevye in the Promised Land be published?' So recently, I wrote two sequels, in which Tevye and his children, and grandchildren, become central figures in the underground battle to free the Land of Israel from its Arab and British occupiers. Hopefully, if I have the financial liberty, I will write another two volumes to bring the incredible Zionist adventure up to Israel’s War of Independence."
Have you been able to make your livelihood from your creative writing?
"No. To pay the bills at the mini-market, I made small public-relations videos for different Jewish institutions, and a series of docudramas on Medicine and Jewish Ethics. My parents, of blessed memory, came on a visit from Florida. My mother told me they were taking a hotel suite so that I could sit every day and write a new screenplay to sell in Hollywood. To honor them, I agreed, quickly writing a modern-day retake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame set in New York City, years before Disney came out with their animated version of the classic tale. My former Hollywood agent sold the script for over a million dollars.
"The company, Carolco Pictures, signed Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in the film, but they went bankrupt during the year, and I only received the first payment of the deal. But it was enough to keep our family going for a few years to come."
I can’t imagine there is a lot of financial reward writing books with Zionist and Torah themes.
"You’re right. Torah and Zionism aren’t the world’s most popular topics, but in the future that will all change when Israel’s Redemption goes viral."
In the meantime, where do you find satisfaction writing books about Torah, T’shuva, Religious Zionism, and Aliyah?
"Every month, I receive a few emails, or messages on Facebook, from readers who were inspired by one my books to embark on a journey of t’shuva, or to come on Aliyah. There is a great deal of satisfaction in that."