FROM HOLLYWOOD TO THE HOLY LAND
Interview with novelist Tzvi Fishman
Certainly one of Israel’s most prolific writers, the novelist, blogger, humorist, film
director, and journalist, Tzvi Fishman, has just published an autobiography, a
page-turning spiritual journey, which, true to the man himself, is always filled with
surprises and unexpected insights.
What made you write your autobiography?
To be frank, no one else would take the trouble to write my biography, so, if not
now, when? I penned a few sample chapters, and the people who read them
were very enthused, Jews with just a marginal connection to Judaism, so I decided
to continue. As I mention in the preface, I had to leave out more than I included,
but you get to meet a fellow who was far, far, far away from anything Jewish and
yet ended up in Jerusalem.
I must say the tale is very well written. The language has a fun, “Age of
Aquarius” 1970 American hippie style to it.
That’s where I came from. I wanted the reader to feel that the writer was really
there, “under the table,” so to speak.
“Under the table?”
In the famous Rebbe Nachmans story, “The Turkey prince,” the son of the king
goes crazy and begins to act like a turkey. He throws off his royal attire and climbs
naked down under the table, where he eats the crumbs which fall to the floor.
The parable refers to the Jews in Rebbe Nachman’s time who abandoned Judaism
(the royal attire of the King of Kings) for the free, everything goes world of the
Enlightenment (getting down under the table) to adopt the cultures and lifestyles
of the non-Jewish world (eating the crumbs which fell to the floor). The metaphor
remains just as relevant today with all of the increasing assimilation and
intermarriage which Am Yisrael is suffering. It is my story as well.
The book describes how you climbed back up from under the table to embrace a
life of Orthodox Judaism in the Land of Israel, but I won’t give the plot away.
Who are you trying to reach through the tale?
Excellent question. Having been “under the table” in the exile of America, and
now able to see the darkness that rules there, from the vantage point of the light-
filled palace of true Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, there are three audiences that I
would like to reach, each one further away from true Torah Judaism than the
next. First is the Orthodox community throughout the Diaspora, whether Haredi
or Modern Orthodox, who are “under the table” in their estrangement from a
Jew’s true place in the Jewish Homeland. Just like the son of the king believed he
was a turkey, religious Jews in the United State, for example, believe that they are
Americans, embracing the America culture and its values, identifying more with
George Washington and the “Star-Spangled Banner” than with Avraham Avinu
and “Hatikva.” Content with their lives in a foreign, Gentile land, they keep the
mitzvot they can, not seriously contemplating a life in Israel at all. Of course there
are exceptions, as seen in the yearly trickle of Aliyah, but, by and large, they live in
a “Truman Show” bubble, fooled by the illusion that they are living a life of true
Judaism, when in fact, Hashem wants His People to live in the Promised Land, and
not in Brooklyn, London, or Antwerpen.
The second group of readers that I would like to reach are the Jews who have a
respect for the traditions of Judaism, but who resist embracing the Torah
completely, believing that its commandments and lifestyle are inconsistent with
modern living. And the third group, by far the largest today in America, some 70
percent, are those Jews who have no connection at all to Jewish Identity or to
Israel. That’s the group that I was in. They aren’t even on the radar screen. How
do we reach them? Only by climbing down under the table. That’s what the sage
does in Rebbe Nachman’s story – he takes off his clothes and joins the son of the
king under the table, where he acts like a turkey also. Slowly, relating to the
Turkey Prince on his own level in order to win his trust, he leads the youth back to
the table in the palace. That’s what I’m saying in the autobiography – look friends,
I was just like you, chasing after someone else’s dream, estranged from my real
identity, living a lie, wasting my life, blind to my destiny as a Jew and my mission
to play a role in the incredible enterprise of restoring the Nation of Israel to its
former greatness and glory and moral splendor in the Land which G-d promised to
our Forefathers. If you can awaken a Jew to glimpse even a little of that vision,
there’s a chance to rescue them from a life of unhappiness and darkness under
Why unhappiness? I am sure a lot of Jews are happy with their lives in American
Impossible. The Jewish soul demands a connection to Hashem, to Torah, and to
Eretz Yisrael. Without these, his or her soul suffers from malnutrition, so to speak.
A person might be briefly happy with a new expensive sports car or a large villa
with a pool, but they are superficial pleasures without deep lasting value. I had a
cool apartment by Venice Beach, and a sexy two-seat convertible, famous friends,
and the fast life in Hollywood. Vanity of vanities, says Fishman, all is vanity.
Have you found success in the “under the table” approach?
Yes and no. Occasionally, people tell me that they returned to a life of Torah and
moved to Israel after reading my books. We live near the Machon Meir Yeshiva
for baale tshuva in Jerusalem, and I maintain contact with a lot of young students
on their own spiritual quests. But whenever you deal with truth you meet
resistance. For example, the Birthright Program used to send kids to us for
Shabbat meals. I used the opportunity to tell our guests things the probably never
heard about a Jew’s eternal connection to Torah and Eretz Yisrael. After a while,
the organization stopped sending us guests. They wrote a letter to the people in
our neighborhood who also welcomed young Birthright participants in their
homes on Shabbat, requesting families not to speak about the difference
between Gentiles and Jews because many of the program participants were not
Jewish from mixed marriages. The darkness of assimilation is so thick it even
attaches itself and seeps in to well-meaning programs of Jewish education.
Aren’t you afraid that by climbing down under the table, you may find yourself
unable to get back up?
Ha ha – that’s always a possibility, but, thank G-d, I have my wife to grab me by
the collar and rescue me if I ever get the bug to go back to Hollywood and rent my
old pad by the beach.
Tevye in the Promised Land
Book Review by Yisrael Medad
One of my family’s favorite novels, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” by Tzvi Fishman, has been reprinted after a long absence on the shelves. Since our copy at home fell apart from having been read so many times by my wife and the kids – yes, even by me – I bought a copy, knowing that the family would be pleased with the purchase. The novel is a wonderful read for all ages, not only because of the paucity of good fiction set in the early pioneer days of Eretz Yisrael, but because of the towering spirit of religious Zionism which pervades the dramatic, entertaining, and often humorous saga.
The novel brings Sholom Aleichem’s famous milkman, Tevye, to the Holy Land with his daughters to become a pioneer builder of the Holy Land in the years just preceding World War One. The story takes off where “Fiddler on the Roof” ended. As Tevye trudges away from his beloved village, Anatekva, after the Cossacks force them to leave, instead of having the downtrodden milkman journey on to America, Fishman has him join up with a troupe of secular Zionists heading toward Palestine to build a new socialist future for the Jews. Not only does Tevye have to shelter his teenage daughters from the brashness of the secular Zionists, he has to summon all of his faith to withstand the snowstorms, highway robbers, typhoons at sea, Turkish policemen, Arab marauders, plagues, and locusts which Hashem sends his way to test his faith, as he and the new immigrants to the Promised Land strive to make a new beginning in the footsteps of our Forefathers after 2000 years of wandering in alien lands.
Of course, when we think of Tevye, we all think of the magnificent portrayal of the milkman by the actor Haim Topol in the film of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Fishman has succeeded in keeping his amazing character alive, with the same nuances, the same expressions of undying faith, and the same satirical humor which allows Tevye to laugh at himself and his situation, no matter how painful it may be, always reminding himself that everything that the Almighty does is surely for the good – even when he doesn’t understand the beneficence in the Divine blows which Hashem keeps sending his way.
While Tevye’s bigger-than-life faith and personality dominate the story, the novel is rich in lively characters, including Tevye’s daughters, Hava who has fallen in love with the Gentile poet, Hevedke; Hodel who has married the Communist loudmouth, Perchik; the widowed Tzeitl; and the fiery Bat Sheva who falls for the charms of a Zionist Rasputin. A movie cast of other characters, like Baron Rothschild and Rabbi Kook, fill out the rich tapestry. What my children learned for Bargrut about the Second Aliyah, and forgot the next week, “Tevye in the Promised Land” succeeded to ingrain these heroic pages of Jewish History in their hearts. Moreover, the book succeeds in correcting the leftist propaganda which strove to rewrite modern Zionist history with the fiction that they, and they alone, built the reborn Jewish State.
Fishman, a former Hollywood screenwriter who recently directed us the enjoyable film, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman,” knows how to spin a yarn, making the novel is an exciting, page-turning read. In a time when the whole world seems to be against Israel, and when Zionism has become a dirty word to those in Israel who once proudly raised its flag, entering the world of “Tevye in the Promised Land” and its recently published sequels is an injection of faith and inspiration. In addition, for old-fashion book lovers like me, setting off on a journey into well-written, historical novels is one of the great pleasures of life. Happy reading!
From: Bold Consumeron
Fiddler on The Roof's Tevye Moves From Russia to Israel
They've Got to Make this into a Movie!
This is an amazing book! The writer, Tzvi Fishman, has done a magnificent job of taking the characters we loved in “Fiddler on the Roof” and transporting them to The Holy Land. It's like experiencing the return of the dispersed Jews to Israel. Tevye and his daughters, sons-in-laws, and friends take us through what Jews from all over the world have experienced as they come home to The Promised Land. Through them we get a better understanding of what it was like to be pioneers in Zion. It provides an education in the history of pioneer settlers in Israel. It also gives us a chance to catch up with a family many of us love.I can see Tevye now, expressively praying for understanding and guidance. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, a sequel to 'Fiddler On The Roof', if anyone out there will make it. I LOVE this book!
I loved this book, probably because I loved “Fiddler on the Roof.” All the same characters are here after the Pogrom chased them out of their village of Anatevka. After much difficulty they finally reach the "Promised Land" of Israel. But their troubles don't end here! Oh, no. They go on and on, but Tevye takes them in stride as he always did and makes the best of every awful situation. For me it was a very heartwarming story of a man whose faith is undaunted no matter what happens. It may be unrealistic but it is refreshing. You certainly don't have to be Jewish to love this book.
From: Eileen S Goverman
I Loved it. It made me laugh and cry.
From: Amazon Customer
Having seen “Fiddler on the Roof” more times than I can count, I was very interested in reading what happened To Tevye after he left Russia. This book is wonderful. It gives you deep insight into the beginning of Israel and how much has been accomplished in a little over 100 years. I read the original book by Sholom Alecheim and the author follows Tevye from the end of the book. I have recommended Tevye in the Promised Land to my family and friends. Definitely worth reading.
From: Eli Maurx
A wonderful story mixed with historical happenings.
It made me really remember and cherish all the displaced people in the world and how the tenacity and faith of those before me have made my life possible as it is today. The writing was very easy and enjoyable yet complex and deep, a very difficult balance to find. The humor and fresh storyline fulfilled me all the way to my toes!
Much has already been written about why this is a great book, so I will just say that if you are a fan of “Fiddler on the Roof,” you will love this book and long to see it made into a sequel movie. The author did a wonderful job of recreating the flavor of the original.
Best book I have read all year! I would love to see this turned into a mini-series that would cover the entire book.
Rarely have I read a sequel that I have enjoyed as much as this one!! After watching “Fiddler on the Roof” numerous times over the years, I can just picture, as Mr Fishman has related, Tevye and his family as they continue on their journey and arrive in the Promised Land!! I can hear him speaking to his family and his horse. I can picture the daughters after they are married. I can see his joy in life, and feel sorrow for his disappointments. It just flows along with what happened after the movie ended. High praises to Mr. Fishman and his continuation of the story! I highly recommend this book!
Tevye in the Promised Land gave me a window into a world and a part of history that I knew very little about, the settlement of Israel by Orthodox Jews in the early years of settlement around 1905. Not only did this book show me a unique perspective into history by it is an entertaining and engrossing story with much humor, tragedy, and adventure woven in. All of the characters are fully developed and come alive in this well written novel. It really was a page turner for me and I hope there is a sequel. It was one of the best books I have read in the last year. I was sorry when I reached the last page.
From: Robin Kaphan
Great book, really enjoyed it! Couldn't believe all the heartache and misfortune Tevye had to endure! But he persevered. L'Chaim!!
From: La Languedocienne
This was a wonderful, engaging story & it brought life to a particular period of time. We really got to know the characters & what made them tick. I know many Jews of that time experienced hardships, but I wonder whether Tevye was cursed with more than his fair share; it was sometimes hard for me to bear all of these events happening to him. Overall, I highly recommend this book.
From: Patricia A. Morrill
Anyone who enjoyed “Fiddler on the Roof” will find this an awesome expansion and continuance in the lives of Tevye and family! Although a novel, historically sound for the times that made the desert bloom in Israel! Beautifully written. I loved it!
From: Jeffrey A. Foreman
This is a wonderful book. You laugh and cry with Tevye. Just when I expected Tevye and his family to be in New York, they are in Israel. There are many plots and you will love them all.
From: Amazon Customer
This book left me in awe of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Who is forever faithful to His Covenant people, the Jews. The re-birth of the Nation of Israel proves over and over that He will, despite all odds, keep His part of the Covenant He made with Israel. As a Bible believing Christian my walk of faith has been enriched.
From: Judy Goldman
As the cover states, if you enjoyed “Fiddler on the Roof”, you will LOVE Tevye in the Promised Land! This is one of the best books I've read in years. It was funny, poignant, extremely human and very painlessly inserted real information about the history of Israel in the early 20th century. For those who already know the history of this period, the book will provide a review while keeping the reader thoroughly engaged in the funny and endearing story of Tevye, as he negotiates the ups and downs of Israel's early immigrants. For those who are not familiar with this history, you will learn a lot, but mostly, you will enjoy!
Arise and Shine!
Book Review by Baruch Gordon, Founder, Israel National News
Novelist and movie director, Tzvi Fishman, knows how to tell a story. Before making Aliyah to Israel, he sold four original screenplays to Hollywood, published his first novel with Dell Publishers in New York, and taught Dramatic and Visual Writing at the New York University Film School. Among his many books is the wonderful family-saga, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which brings Sholom Aleichem’s famous milkman, Tevye, to the Holy Land to become a pioneer builder of the Land. The novel, enjoyed by young readers and adults alike, concludes at the end of World War One, as British troops, along with Tevye and the Hebrew Brigade, oust the ruling Turks from Palestine. The saga’s new sequel “Arise and Shine!” continues the great Zionist adventure up to the Arab Pogroms of 1929, and according to Fishman, the next novel, “The Lion’s Roar,” in the planned five-book series is soon to follow. The pentalogy, Fishman says, will end with the establishment of Medinat Yisrael and Israel’s War of Independence.
“Arise and Shine!” is a great joy to read. In a style Fishman calls “histortion,” combining history and fiction, the story’s characters include colorful portraits of Rabbi Kook, Yosef Trumpledor, Zeev Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and “Yair” Avraham Stern, head of the “Lechi” Jewish Underground, just to mention a few. The infamous Jewish gangsters, Meir Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, also play a part in the exciting drama, and Tevye interacts with them all.
Fitting the Jewish People, the book’s main characters are not mere action heroes, but deep ideological thinkers, motivated by the two-thousand-year dream of re-establishing the Nation of Israel in its Divinely-promised Homeland. Like the heroes of ancient Israel, the skillfully-painted characters are larger than life, pulsating with a reborn Jewish valor which remained dormant through centuries of exile in alien lands. The revolutionary ideology of Zionism’s leading personalities, combined with the always compelling storyline, make the reading a fun and fascinating way to learn about Modern Jewish History, and about the charismatic figures who shaped our Nation’s miraculous revival. Just as the Jews in the last century underwent a dramatic transformation from being a scattered and helpless people in foreign lands into becoming a powerful, sovereign Jewish State in the Land of Israel, Tevye the Milkman undergoes a similar rebirth in this always gripping adventure, as he becomes a fearless freedom fighter, dedicated to liberating the Promised Land from the British. Interspersed throughout the fast-moving narrative are the poems of Uri Zvi Greenberg and Avraham Stern which sparked a spirit of rebellion among the Nation’s youth. An inspiring dose of Rabbi Kook’s enlightening teachings, which recognized G-d’s guiding hand in the historic events of the times, is also to be found. In the fierce rivalry between David Ben Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky, the reader will become acquainted with the socialist and Revisionist theories that divided the Zionist camps. Unexpected romances, and the author’s sense of humor, add spice and richness to this delicious literary chulent. It turns out that the aging Tevye still has the roar and bite of a lion, and as his children and grandchildren grow older, they take the torch of rebellion from him - and the rifles - to battle the Arabs and the British in the fight for Jewish independence – a conflict which eerily resembles Israel’s struggles today, both from without and within.
Unlike the supposedly “official” accounts of the period, documented by historians with clear-cut leftist ideologies, Fishman’s point-of-view is unabashedly rightest. This in itself is a refreshing discovery, offering readers a chance to hear the “other side” of the story of Zionism, without the distortions and propaganda which filled the textbooks put out by Labor Party governments in Israel. For instance, while the political Left has traditionally taken credit for the establishment of the Hagana, its founder and initial commander was Zeev Jabotinsky, a leading proponent of “Greater Eretz Yisrael” and later founder of the Revisionist and Betar Movements.
Though I have studied a fair share of Zionist history, I am saddened to say that my children have only the superficial knowledge that comes with preparing for Israel’s bagrut high-school examinations – a knowledge that is forgotten as fast as it is learned. In “Arise and Shine!,” the events that constitute the triumphs and tragedies of Modern Zionism, with its bold cast of characters, come alive on the page, making the novel a truly “novel” and exciting way to learn about Jewish History. I recommend the book highly. Both the new novel, and “Tevye in the Promised Land,” are available on Amazon Books.
The Lion’s Roar
Book Review by Yisrael Medad
Menachem Begin Center, Jerusalem
“The Lion’s Roar,” the third volume in Tzvi Fishman’s “Tevye in the Promised Land” series, continues the Zionist saga, placing Tevye and his family in the eye of the storm as the Irgun and the Lehi underground abandon the Jewish Establishment’s longtime policy of restraint in the face of Arab terror, and set out to chase the British occupiers from the Land. If you want to remember Tevye as the beloved downtrodden Jew of Anatevka, powerless to overcome the blows that Fate sends his way, then Fishman’s updated version of Tevye is not for you. Just as the vicissitudes of history forced the Jewish People to re-awaken their long-lost valor in returning to Zion, so too is Tevye transformed into a new kind of milkman who is willing to pick up a rifle and fight back when his family and freedom are threatened.
Fishman, who was a screenwriter in Hollywood before becoming a devout religious Zionist and moving to Israel, knows how to spin a spell-bounding story. The great drama of the Modern Zionist enterprise provides him with ample material. Not to detract from his talents, he only needed to shape all the struggle and intrigue, and find the thread which puts it all together, and that he has done through the character of Tevye, and through his skill as a gifted storyteller. I can’t think of a more exciting adventure than the return of the Jews to their ancient Homeland. The novel succeeds in capturing the great courage, self-sacrifice, and heroism that went into the creation of the Jewish State. Reading this compelling series of historical novels, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” “Arise and Shine!”, and now, “The Lion’s Roar,” the reader finds himself in the middle of the battle for Jewish sovereignty in in Palestine, and discovers himself involved in the fierce ideological debate which accompanied our modern revival.
It is obvious that Fishman not only wants to tell a gripping tale. Ever since the establishment of State, the history of Modern Zionism has been told through the distorted and manipulative glasses of the Socialist-Labor-Mapainik regimes which ruled the country throughout the first decades of Statehood. Films, textbooks, historical treatises, and biographies were aggressively disseminated, all with a generous dose of Leftist propaganda and blatant untruth. For instance, it is commonly presumed that Ben Gurion founded the Haganah, but its true founder was the father of Betar and the Revisionists, Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Fishman’s novels come to shed a new light on the Zionist drama, presenting events from a clearly Rightest and Religious Zionist perspective. In old Zionist textbooks that I remember, Rabbi Kook might have received a passing mention, Jabotinsky was pictured as a radical extremist who threatened chances for peace, and Hashem wasn’t mentioned at all. In Fishman’s novels, Rabbi Kook, “Jabo,” and the Almighty are all leading characters.
One of the most frightening episodes of Modern Zionist history was the murder of Haim Arlozorov, and the subsequent trial of Avraham Stavsky, who was framed in a well-oiled blood libel created by the Leftist Socialist camp against the Revisionists, in order to damage Jabotinsky politically and seize control of the yishuv – the Jewish settlement in Palestine. In the novel, “The Lion’s Roar,” the dramatic story is told in authentic detail, with a clear intent to rectify the “Fake History” fabricated by the Leftist media and leadership of the Jewish Agency. In Fishman’s tale, the murder victim is Perchik Aronov, Tevye's former communist son-in-law, but it's the Arlozorov case all the same. The sinat chinam (gratuitous hatred) which surrounded the witch hunt to convict and execute an innocent man, threatened to destroy the entire Zionist enterprise, and the reader cannot help but compare the shameful affair with the political schemes and unholy agendas which still mark the political Left in Israel until today.
“B’kitzor,” as Sholom Aleichem would say, the novels in the “Tevye in the Promised Land” series are engrossing and edifying reads. And there is a lot of humor and romance thrown in to balance the action. I especially enjoyed how the author squeezed gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meir Lansky into the Zionist yarn. Fishman says he hopes to bring the saga to a climax in two upcoming novels which will bring the ageless Tevye and the Jews to sovereign Statehood in the Promised Land. If the author continues with the same flowing prose and concern for the Rightest side of the story, he will have created a great literary treasure for Am Yisrael.
FROM HOLLYWOOD TO THE HOLY LAND
Book Review by Baruch Gordon, Israel National News
"If you have someone in the family who isn't religious, especially young people who are estranged from Judaism and Israel, get them to read this book! Like many of us, Tzvi Fishman was far far away, an assimilated Jew chasing after the American Dream, when a vague inner uneasiness kept telling him that something was missing. With a fun and flowing writing style, he puts the reader in the Twilight Zone of Diaspora emptiness, and brings him, discovery after discovery, to the mind-blowing awareness that Hashem exists, that the Torah is Truth, and that the Land of Israel is, for a Jew, the only place to be. A truly exhilarating reading experience!"