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      Hollywood to the Holy Land
      by Tzvi Fishman
      Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Creativity and Culture

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      Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.


      Sivan 11, 5767, 5/28/2007

      Prophets of Assimilation

      The reunion engagement of Simon and Garfunkel, 2 lost brothers who sold their souls to the goddess of American success, reminded me of one of my short stories...

      Prophets of Assimilation

      Gazing out the bus window at the Biblical hillsides of Judea, he had realized that to be true to himself, he had to make Israel his home.

      Listening to the lecture in the Yeshiva University classroom, Johnny's gaze was drawn almost mystically eastward. Across the street, a police car was stationed by the pizza parlor that anti-Semites had shot up two weeks before, slightly wounding two students. Over the drab brick buildings of Amsterdam Avenue, Johnny pictured the busy expressway leading out to Long Island where his engagement party was to be held that evening. As usual in his afternoon classes, the lecturer's voice grew dim in his ears. Magically, the New York cityscape vanished like a movie set that workers disassemble the day after filming is finished. Call it a daydream or a spark of something Divine, Johnny was back in the land of his forefathers, riding in an Egged bus on the road to Hevron. There, gazing out the bus window at the Biblical hillsides of Judea, he had realized that to be true to himself, he had to make Israel his home.

      Remembering those two months in the Holy Land, Johnny felt the same shiver of love he had experienced on the bus. It was a shiver he had never felt with Linda, his fiance, the girl he was going to marry. What was it about vineyards and terraced hillsides that could affect someone in such a powerful way? It was something that words couldn't capture – the feeling that he had been there before, in a different lifetime, the feeling that he had found his way home. The land seemed to whisper, to call out, to sing with a voice of its own. Branches of olive trees seemed to be raised upward in prayer. Over these hillsides and down these same valleys, King David had strolled as a youth. Gazing out the bus window, Johnny felt that time had stood still. As if David was still grazing his sheep beyond the next orchard, around the next bend. The love that Johnny felt toward this land was beyond any doubt. Beyond any question. Not like his feelings towards Linda. Or towards New York. Or towards getting a Masters in Business. On that bus ride to Hevron, an unmistakable feeling of love had illuminated his being, creating him anew.

      "More visions of King David today, Johnny?" the instructor of Talmud inquired. "Or perhaps I've interrupted you from building a new yishuv in Samaria?"

      At first, Johnny didn't notice that the rabbi-professor was speaking to him. But then the laughter of fellow students shattered his revery, yanking him two-thousand years forward through time. With a cry of silent protest, his soul shrunk back into the oppressive four walls of a classroom in New York and his final month at Y.U.

      "I'm sorry, sir," he said.

      "Would you like to share your tiyul with us?" the teacher asked.

      "No, sir," Johnny answered.

      "Then would you care to summarize the argument that we have been discussing?"

      Johnny looked around the room for the answer, as if it were scribbled on the forehead of one of his friends.

      "I'm sorry, sir," he repeated.

      "So am I," the instructor replied. "If you make a concerted effort to join us back here in America, you may still be able to pass this course and continue on toward a Masters Degree next year. Otherwise, you may find yourself in Tzahal faster than you think."

      Once again, his classmates shared a good chuckle. A friend summarized the argument between Hillel and Shammai, two of the great rabbis of the Mishnaic era, even though neither had graduated from Y.U. The respected institution had been his home for four years – a place where a young Orthodox student could enjoy the best of both worlds, Judaism and America; Shabbos in shul and Motzei Shabbos on Broadway. Throughout his four years, Johnny had loved it. And Part II was just beginning – Columbia Business School, just a couple subway stops away. What he would lose in Gemara, he would gain in a leap up the ladder of corporate success.

      "It isn't the end of the world," his realistic grandmother had noted. "Going to a goyisha school isn't such a terrible thing. After all, studying in Yeshiva doesn't put bread on the table."

      When the afternoon class finally ended, Johnny hurried back to his dorm room and changed into his best Sabbath suit. Posters of Israel were scotchtaped to all of the walls. The engagement party was scheduled for eight o'clock that evening. Since his younger brother had smashed up his car, he had to catch a train out to Long Island. He had known his fiance, Linda, for years. They had practically grown up together in the same Great Neck community, attending the same shul, going to the same parties. Their parents were good friends. Johnny had never felt a great flame for the girl, but everyone said it was birshert, "a heavenly match." True, she was pretty, and her family was loaded, and she was crazy about him. But for his part, for someone who was getting married, he felt strangely unmoved.

      "Love isn't like in the movies," his father said. "You have to work at it."

      "If you don't love her now, you'll love her in time," his mother assured him.

      As for his grandmother, she had a way with words that couldn't be beat. "Love, shmov," she said with a shrug. "Love doesn't put bread on the table."

      Before he hopped into the subway heading downtown, he stopped into the now-famous pizza parlor to wolf down a slice.

      "With olives, nachon?" the Israeli who owned the place asked.

      "Nachon," Johnny answered.

      Ever since he noticed that the owner used olives from Israel, Johnny had become hooked on pizza with olives.

      "Going to a wedding?" the owner asked, commenting on Johnny's attire.

      "I'm getting engaged," Johnny told him.

      "Mazel tov!" the man said. "In that case, the olives are on the house!"

      Sitting in the subway car, dressed in his Sabbath suit, Johnny started to squirm. Across the aisle, a row of Blacks, Hispanics, and Poles from the Bronx were all staring at him with cold looks of hate in their eyes. Ever since returning from Israel, Johnny made it a point to wear his kippah wherever he went, even on late-night subway rides back to Y.U. after seeing a film with Linda in the city. Opposite him, the train's passengers glared at him like attack dogs ready to pounce. The word "JEW!" seemed to flash in their pupils. Johnny realized that G-d, for the moment, had switched their kill buttons to off. If not for that Heavenly Kindness, they surely would have torn him apart to the bones.

      That was one of the reasons why Johnny wanted to go live in Israel. Intifada or not, that was the home of the Jews. At least there, the Jews had an army. Johnny had spent a month on an army base in the Negev cleaning warehouses and washing down tanks. Wearing a Tzahal uniform had done more for his Yiddishkeit than all of his years at Y.U. After his summer in Israel, the difference was clear. America was great for Americans. Israel was the land of the Jews.

      The problem was Linda. She wanted to live near her parents.

      Johnny agreed that her parents were nice people. They were wealthy, they lived in a beautiful house, they gave Linda everything she wanted. After the wedding, they would buy them a house and set Johnny up with a job in a top Wall Street firm when he finished his Masters in Business.

      "Our children can be bar-mitzvahed in Israel," Linda agreed.

      "I want my children to grow up in Israel," he said.

      "Then find them some other mother, not me."

      For months, he had dropped the issue completely. But now, as the train stopped at 72nd Street, and a man stepped into the crowded subway car holding a copy of the Hebrew newspaper, Israel Shelanu, Johnny was reminded of the sensitive subject again. For a split moment, their eyes connected in recognition, fellow travelers in a foreign land. Across the ocean, a car bomb had exploded in Tel Aviv, leaving three people dead.

      "Is that the future you want for your children?" Linda would say. "Car bombs and wars?"

      Johnny knew she meant well. Perhaps she was right. Maybe when things settled down, when peace came, or when Israel defeated the Arabs in an all-out encounter, maybe then his wife would consider making the move. Not that New York was a haven for Jews. The drive-by shooting at the pizza parlor on Amsterdam Avenue proved that a Jew wasn't safe anywhere. But attacks like that didn't take place every day. Linda's fears weren't groundless. He couldn't fault her for that.

      At 34th Street, posters of Simon and Garfunkel were plastered all over Penn Station. In another week, they would appear at the Garden for a historic reunion. Sure, they had married shicksas, but man could they sing!

      As usual, the train to Long Island was packed with an army of laptop and newspaper Jews. They were an army of lawyers, accountants, brokers, and businessmen flocking back to their suburban fortresses after a pressured day of work in the city. It wouldn't be long until Johnny joined their ranks. He could picture himself now, riding on the train with his Toshiba, Bloomingdale sport jacket, and button-down shirt, heading home to Linda, a hevruta, and a flick. It certainly wasn't the worse fate in the world. And if he hit the jackpot on Wall Street, like Linda's father assured that he would, Johnny could drive home in luxury, listening to Torah tapes in his Jaguar after rush-hour traffic had ended.

      A taxi took him the rest of the way to Linda's. The three-story mansion was lit up like a cruise boat. There were spotlights all over the lawn. Lively, Hasidic pop music filled the air. A fleet of expensive, sleek cars lined the block. Johnny recognized his parents' modest Buick sticking out amongst the Cadillacs and Lincolns. Linda promised it would be a small affair, just for relatives and their families' very best friends. Next week, they would be having a separate party in the city for their classmates. But from the line-up of cars on the street, it seemed like Linda's father had invited all of his Nasdaq and Dow Jones accounts.

      Johnny paused outside on the street, feeling butterflies swirl in his stomach. No doubt, the glass table in the foyer had turned into a Mount Sinai of presents – silverware, candlesticks, kiddush cups, mezuza cases, lithographs, Smith Barney checks, and everything a young couple needed to set up a frum Jewish house.

      "Johnny's getting his Masters in Business at Columbia," Linda's father would say a dozen times, introducing him to each new account.

      "Communication hardware," one guest would tell him. "Internet is a thing of the past."

      "Keep your portfolio mixed," another CEO would advise. "Never put all of your eggs into one basket."

      "My present to you, boy, is two words. Zenith Optics. Its a sure-fire winner," a big smile would say, handing over an envelope with stocks.

      Johnny would nod his head and answer with his best Columbia Business School smile, "Yes, sir, thank you, sir, that's really good advice."

      And of course, Linda would look beautiful. And his parents would be so proud. And his young brother would make faces while he recited the short Dvar Torah that he had prepared.

      And all of the while, Johnny would be thinking of the car bomb in Israel and the fate of the wounded.

      "Is something the matter?" Linda would ask.

      "No, of course not," he'd answer. "Everything's great."

      They would be happy. They would be rich. He would donate lots of money to Israel. When their son grew up, if things were quiet, they would make a big bar-mitzvah party at the King David Hotel.

      As his future spread out before him, a bus rounded the corner and came down the street. When he saw it, the words of a Paul Simon song rang in his ears....

      "Just get on the bus, Gus. No need to discuss much. Just get yourself free."

      The bus stopped in front of him and the bus driver opened the door.

      "Where to?" Johnny asked.

      "Kennedy Airport," the bus driver replied.

      Johnny turned back for one last look at the house. Linda stood in the brightly lit doorway, as if searching for a boat lost at sea. In her engagement gown, she looked like a queen.

      "I ain't got all night, pal?" the impatient bus driver prodded.

      Quickly, before Linda could spot him, Johnny climbed on the bus.

      "Coming from a wedding?" the driver inquired.

      "I'm getting engaged tonight," Johnny answered.

      "Congratulations!" the bus driver said. "In that case, the bus ride is free."

      Back down the street, the band continued to play... "Once again will be heard on the mountains of Judea and the streets of Jerusalem, the song of joy and happiness, the song of the hatan and the kallah."

      Excited, a happy Johnny sat down on a seat. Outside the bus window, the hills of Judea rose up to greet him.

      Sivan 10, 5767, 5/27/2007


      Ehud was a happy man, truly content with his lot. He had a lovely wife, three lovely children, and a lovely house in a lovely community. He had a good job and good friends. He liked and respected all people, and all people liked and respected him. He was friendly, optimistic, and always tried to see the good side of things, believing that everything that happened in life was for the best. He did whatever he could to help people, and he avoided quarrels and fights, believing that peace was life's most precious value. He was a smart man, an educated man, but humble, never thinking he was better than anyone else. He had his opinions, but he respected all points of view, except for the radical. He kept to the middle path in life and followed the rule, "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." He wasn't a religious man, practicing rituals and the like, but he lived a very moral, principled life.
      It was only a house. There were other houses. What did it matter where they lived? It was only walls, floors, and furniture. The main thing was that everyone should live somewhere and that there shouldn't be a fight.

      One quiet evening, while Ehud was reading his newspaper, there was a knock on the door. A man stood outside. He was a tall man, a big man, with a nondescript face. He might have been a Gentile, or an Arab, or a Jew.
      Ehud greeted him with a smile and a pleasant hello. The man seemed surprised that Ehud didn't recognize him.
      "The other day in town, I lent you twenty shekels," he said.
      Ehud didn't remember. He thought and thought, but he couldn't remember a thing. It wasn't like him to forget, but the man seemed quite certain. It wouldn't be polite to argue, Ehud thought. It was only twenty shekels. And apparently he had given the man his address. Ehud apologized for forgetting, gave the man twenty shekels, and said goodnight.
      The very next night, he returned. The same man. He appeared at the door while Ehud's wife, Tzipora, was cooking dinner in the kitchen.
      "I came for my television," the man said.
      "Your television?" Ehud asked.
      "The television set that I lent you," the man said. "I want it back. My children don't have a TV to watch."
      "What will my children watch?" Ehud asked.
      "I'm sorry, but that isn't my problem," the man replied.
      "But the television is mine," Ehud protested. "I bought it, and I have a warranty to prove it too."
      Ehud walked to the cabinet where he kept all of his papers in alphabetically arranged files. But the television warranty wasn't there. He searched through his old bank statements, phone bills and medical records, but the warranty was nowhere to be found. Embarrassed, he returned to the door.
      "For the moment, I can’t seem to find it," he said.
      "That proves it then," the man said. "I’m sorry, but I don’t have much time, and I really don’t want to fight. Please give it to me now."
      Ehud didn’t want to fight either. Ehud didn’t like fighting. Fighting was barbaric. Fighting was cruel. Perhaps the man was too embarrassed to admit he was poor. And maybe the man’s children really didn't have a TV to watch. If so, the situation truly wasn’t fair. After all, Ehud's children watched every night. It was, Ehud finally decided, the right thing to do. So he walked to the den, pulled out the television plug from the wall, and to the cries of his startled children, he carried the set to the front door and handed it to the man, feeling in his heart that he was doing something noble, something majestic, something good.
      When the man left, Ehud sat down with his unhappy children to explain why it was so important to have done what he did. Everyone in the world was equal, he told them, and it was important for everyone to share things equally. When there were differences between people, there was envy, and envy led to fighting, and fighting brought an end to peace. Just as they had enjoyed watching television, so would some other children now. Ehud's wife stood listening in the doorway, a soft smile on her lips. This was the reason she loved her husband so much. He was so caring, so open-hearted, so good. More important than the television was the example her husband was setting for the children, and the valuable lesson they would learn.
      "But what will we do now?" the older boy asked.
      "Read," Ehud said. "From now on, I'll read you books."
      The very next evening, Ehud sat in his armchair, reading a book to his children, almost awaiting a knock on the door. When it came, he sprang up and hurried across the room.
      "Good evening," the man said. "I came for my clothes."
      For a moment, the two men stared at each other. Ehud sensed his wife and his children behind him, watching to see what would happen.
      "They are upstairs in the closet," Ehud said.
      He invited the man inside. He felt he was being tested. To see if he could really practice what he believed; that all men were brothers; that everyone was equal; that his claims on the world were the same as all other peoples, without firsts or seconds, better or worse.
      Ehud led the man upstairs to his bedroom. Maybe, he reasoned, the man really didn't have any clothes besides the same very nice suit he wore every night. Maybe he had no job, and no money to buy what he needed. Ehud opened his closet, took out his clothes, and spread them out on the bed: pants and shirts, sweaters and jackets and shoes.
      "A suitcase would help," the man said.
      Ehud gave him two. The man filled them both. Ehud wasn't worried. He was glad. He had a job. He could always buy more clothes. And even with all the man took, Ehud still had more than he needed. Magnanimously, Ehud helped him carry the suitcases downstairs. With smiles on their faces, Ehud, his wife, and his children said goodnight to the man at the door.
      The next night, the children were waiting at the windows, but the man didn't come.
      "Where is he, Dad?" one son asked
      "I don't know," Ehud answered.
      "I wish he would come," the girl said. "I like him. I think that he's fun."
      His wife also seemed disappointed. She had even prepared something for the visitor to eat. Ehud felt glad that they all liked the man, but when the man didn't come, he felt unquestionably relieved.
      But the very next day he was back.
      "He's coming! He's coming!" the boy called from his post at the window. The little girl ran to the door. Ehud greeted him with a cordial hello.
      "I've come for my house," the man said. "My family wants to move back tonight."
      Ehud's voice stuck in his throat. He felt dizzy. He felt weak. Giving up his house was too much.
      "He wants to take our whole house, Mommy!" the little girl yelled, running to tell her mother.
      Ehud felt his sons' eyes upon him, watching to see what he would do.
      "It isn't your house," Ehud said.
      "Yes it is," the man answered.
      "We bought it. We have a deed," Ehud insisted.
      "I have a deed too," the man answered, and he reached in his pocket and pulled out a deed. "The people you bought the house from weren't the legal owners. I lived here before with my family and have the original lien."
      How could it be, Ehud thought? Hadn't he received the house from its original owners? Quickly, he examined the man’s deed. Superficially, it seemed all in order; including the right address and plot number, the name of the builder, the seal of the notary, and signatures of lawyers and witnesses. Once again, Ehud felt faint. Little white dots swirled in his brain. The man had to help him into a chair.
      "I’ll bring you some water," Tzipora said.
      She returned with two glasses and offered one to the man.
      "The deed seems all in order," Ehud said. "But I'm not a lawyer. Of course, on something like this, I'll have to have legal advice."
      "I really don't care for lawyers," the man said. "I'd much prefer to solve this ourselves. Lawyers always get ugly, and I really don't want to fight."
      "Of course we don't want to fight," Tzipora said. "But..."
      "I'll handle this," Ehud said. He stood up from his chair and told his children to go up to their room.
      "We want to listen," his older boy said.
      "Let's give him the house. Dad," the younger added. "We can all live outside in my tent."
      Ehud looked at his wife.
      "We could go to my mother's," she said.
      His wife really meant what she said. Ehud’s heart moved toward her with a surging of love. She was so beautiful. She was so pure. He remembered how happy he had been on their wedding day to have found a partner who believed in all the principles that he cherished.
      It was true, Ehud reasoned. They could go to her mother. It wasn't as if they would be out on the street. And maybe the man didn't have his own home or anywhere to live. And it was also true that lawyers could get ugly. And it was only a house. There were other houses. What did it matter where they lived? It was only walls, floors, and furniture. The main thing was that everyone should live somewhere and that there shouldn't be a fight.
      Ehud reached into his pocket. With trembling fingers, he handed over his key. In the morning, he would decide what to do about lawyers. Now the important thing was for his children to learn the great lesson of kindness and fairness and peace.
      He told his family to gather what they needed for the night. He collected his important papers, including his mortgage and deed to the house, a change of clothes for work, pajamas, his toothbrush, and the small handgun in his bedside table, which he was afraid to leave in the house lest the man's children find it. He handed the man his mother-in-law's phone number in case he had any problems. Then, carrying two small bags, he led his wife and his children out from their home.
      The next day, Ehud was typically busy at the office. He spoke to his lawyer, but there was nothing to do on the phone, except to schedule an appointment for some time later in the week. For the moment, Ehud decided not to go to the police.
      Life at his mother-in-law's apartment was crowded, but the elderly woman seemed happy with the unexpected visit. That evening, Ehud was trying to distract himself with the newspaper when he heard a familiar knock on his mother-in-law's door. Tzipora glanced up from the television. Husband and wife exchanged looks.
      "He's back!" the girl said, running to open the door.
      Tonight, the man was dressed in one of Ehud's nicest suits. He stood in the doorway and said with a big happy smile.
      "I've come for my wife."
      His wife? Had Ehud heard right? Tzipora?
      Slowly, Ehud stood up. Again he felt dizzy. Again he felt weak. His mind struggled to reason. Of course every man deserved a wife. But Tzipora was his wife.
      "But I married her," Ehud said.
      "I married her too," the man answered.
      "I have a ketuba to prove it," Ehud argued.
      "So do I," said the man.
      "Her ring," Ehud gasped.
      "Anyone can buy a ring."
      "But we have pictures from the wedding."
      "Pictures can be faked."
      "Our children," Ehud said. "What about our children?"
      "The children are mine," the man answered.
      Ehud trembled. He was speechless. He was afraid to talk, afraid to reason. He would say white, and the man would say black. He would say up, and the man would say down. Both things were true. But his wife. He looked at his wife. His beautiful wife. She too was silent. She too was confused. Why belong to one man? Why not belong to two? Why should she be Ehud's wife and not someone else's? All people were the same, weren't they? And weren't all men brothers?
      "I'm afraid I don't have much time," the man said. "Are you coming, Tzipora?"
      Ehud looked at his wife. He knew she was his. More than that. She was him. He didn't need a deed or a document to prove it. She was like a piece of his body. She was like his heart. Would he give the man his heart? That was what the man wanted. He was demanding that Ehud give up his heart. Ehud grasped the gun in his pocket. Slowly he raised it into the air. He intended to point the gun at the man, but he couldn’t. Instead, he pointed it at himself. He closed his eyes, and he fired.
      That was the lesson that Ehud taught his children that night.

      Sivan 7, 5767, 5/24/2007


      Upon the giving of the Torah, we became the "People of the Book." Among other things, we love to read. So here is a short story for your enjoyment, from my book, "Days of Mashiach." Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the deep of messages of Redemption sometimes have to be disguised in stories. While this story is about the lone soldier, Izzy, it could also be about the town of Sederot. In both instances, the source of our impotence is the same. 

      For the third time that day, Izzy was looking through the snapshots his wife had sent him when a rock richocheted off the guard tower. Outside in the dimming twilight, he couldn't see a thing. It wasn't the first time that a rock had hit the tower during his three months on the isolated Samaria hilltop. Arab kids had nothing better to do than throw rocks at Jewish soldiers. To be on the safe side, the young Israeli tightened the strap of his helmet. Orders were orders. And in the army, safety came first.
      His gaze turned back to the pictures. How happy his son looked at his first birthday party, as if he understood its significance. Izzy had asked for a special leave to attend the celebration, but since he had only one week remaining in his Hesder army service, the request had been denied.
      "Pang!" "Pang!" "Pang!"
      Smashing against the metal guard tower, the rocks sounded like bullets. Down below, at the crest of the hill, on the other side of the sheep pen, a group of dark figures had gathered. Izzy stuck his rifle out the window in warning. Just to be sure, he called his two buddies, who were out patroling the area in a jeep. Some people thought the settlers were irresponsible for staying put on remote hilltops like these during the Intifada, but Izzy didn't agree. Israel was the land of the Jews, and a Jew had the right to live wherever he chose. It was the job of the government and the army to protect its citizens, whether they lived in Netanya or Hevron.
      To his way of thinking, the situation was absolutely absurd. So what if a Jew wanted to live in a cabin on a desolate hill in the heartland of biblical Israel. Why should the whole world make such a fuss over it? Why should it bother foreign presidents and kings? Didn't they have better things to worry about than what a handful of Jews were doing on the other side of the globe?
      The twenty-one year old soldier tried his best not to think about it too much. Instead, he studied Gemara whenever he could. He spoke to his wife every day. In a week, he'd be finished with being away in the army, and he could get down to being a father to his one-year old boy.
      When a brick smashed through the thick plastic pane of the window, Izzy instinctively ducked. Down on the hillside, a mob of Arabs was advancing his way. Across the dirt road, on the roof of the small wooden cabin, an Arab youth was hauling down the Israeli flag. As luck would have it, the settler who lived on the one-man yishuv was off at a wedding. Besides the barking dog, Izzy was the only defender on the remote, windswept givah.
      Figuring he may need some back-up, he phoned his friends in the jeep, but they were being stoned too.
      "We're on our way," they told him.
      Rocks pounding the guard tower reverberated like popcorn popping in a microwave oven. Izzy fired off a few shots in the air to warn off the attackers, but the Arabs continued to advance on the tower. Like the good soldier he was, he wouldn't fire at them until he received a direct order. His rabbis had taught him that the government of Israel was holy, the Israeli army was holy, and so was its chain of command. Calling his Mem-kaf, he described the situation and requested permission to shoot.
      "Hold on," the young voice said. "I've got to check with the Mem-mem."
      The Mem-mem wasn't certain. The truth is, he wasn't much older than his soldiers, and the orders to shoot weren't clear. With sensitive peace negotiations in progress, and a quasi cease fire in effect, he didn't want to be the one to blow the Middle East situation sky high.
      "Tell him to hold off until I get word from the Mem-peh," he told the Mem-men.
      The Mem-peh said he would call the Magad. After ten minutes of busy signals and crossed connections, the Magad was put on the phone.
      "Why should I stick my neck out on this one?" he thought. "It's the Machat's headache, not mine."
      "Affirmative. I understand the situation," the busy Machat said. "I'll speak to the Mefaked HaUgdah and get back to you on the double."
      "Tov, tov," Mefaked HaUgdah said with a sigh. As far as he was concerned, he didn't know why the army had to babysit every troublemaker who wanted to live on a mountaintop in the West Bank. But since the rules about opening fire were reissued every week, depending if negotiations were stalled or progressing, he figured he had better forward the call to the Aluf HaPekud.
      The Aluf HaPekud didn't have an answer. He wasn't in a hurry to make headlines. If he messed up, he'd catch all the blame. Besides, he was an army man, not a politician. So he decided to call the Ramat-kal.
      The army's Chief Officer wasn't about to put his future career on the line when cameras from all over the world were focused on Tzahal. But since a soldier was in danger, he got through to the Defense Minister as fast as he could.
      "I've got a soldier being bombarded by stones on a hilltop near Shechem. Can I give him a green light to shoot?"
      "What are you asking me for?" the Defense Minister answered. "Call the Prime Minister."
      "You call him, that's your job."
      With a deep sigh, the Defense Minister called the man whom the nation had elected to bring security to the land.
      The Israeli Prime Minister took a moment to think. This wasn't a time for gut reactions. He had to keep the whole complicated picture in mind.
      "Get me the President," he said to his aide.
      "Our President, sir?" the aide asked.
      "No, not our President. The President of the United States."
      The President of the United States wasn't in the Oval Office. He wasn't in the White House. He was on a two day vacation, playing golf.
      "Tell him to wait," the President said as he lined up a putt. Biting his lip, he eyed the hole and took a few practice swings. Then, concentrating on the flag, he swung the putter forward and watched as the tiny white ball streaked over the Florida green. The ball curved along a slight slope and headed straight for the hole.

      Orders are orders

      "Get in there, baby!" the President shouted. But the ball hit the rim of the cup and bounced over the hole, coming to a stop a few golf clubs away.
      "Damn!" the President swore, shaking his head.
      "The Israeli Prime Minister," his aide said, holding the phone out.
      "Yeah, yeah, in a minute," the President answered, striding over to his ball. Once again, he lined up the putt. This time, the curve broke in the other direction. Focusing between the cup and the ball, he gave the putter a flick. Once again, the ball hit the lip and bounced out, coming to rest only inches away.
      "Damn it!" the President moaned.
      With his golf cap, he wiped the sweat off his brow. After a few sips of cold water he looked around for his aide, who was standing at his side with the telephone.
      "Hello, Mr. President, shalom," Israel's Prime Minister said.
      "Yeah, shalom," the President answered.
      "How are you, sir?" the Prime Minister asked.
      "I'm on vacation," the President answered.
      "Yes, sir, I know, sir. I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a soldier under attack and I want to know if he can open fire."
      "Open fire? In the middle of peace negotiations? Are you people nuts?"
      "We are trying our best, Mr. President," the Prime Minister said.
      "What's the matter with tear gas?" the President asked.
      "The wind blows it away."
      "Then use rubber bullets."
      "No one is afraid of rubber bullets these days."
      "Then start making concessions. On both sides. With a little flexibility, we can wrap this thing up."
      "With your help, Mr. President, I am sure that we will."
      Sweating, the Prime Minister set down the phone. Immediately, he had the Defense Minister back on the line. "The orders stay the same," he told him.
      "The same?" the Defense Minister asked in an uncertain tone.
      "That's right. The same!" the Prime Minister barked.
      "Sorry for the question, Dov, but exactly what does that mean? You know as well as I do that the orders change every week."
      "They don't change every week," the Israeli leader fumed. "The government's policy is clear. Orders are orders. A soldier is not to open fire unless his life is clearly at stake."
      "Yes, sir," the Defense Minister answered. Even before he hung up the phone, he gave the command to call the Ramat-Kal.
      The Ramat-Kal called the Aluf HaPekud. The Aluf HaPekud called the Mefaked HaUgdah. The Mefaked HaUgdah called the Machat. The Machat called the Magad. The Magad called the Mem-peh. The Mem-peh called the Mem-mem. The Mem-men called the Mem-kaf.
      Without further hesitation, the Mem-kaf rang up the guard tower.
      "Izzy, do you hear me?" the Mem-kaf yelled over the wire. "Izzy are you there? Do you hear me, Izzy? Izzy, are you there? Do you hear me? Izzy, are you there?"

      Sivan 3, 5767, 5/20/2007

      THE SECRET OF TZVI FISHMAN - Exclusive INN Interview

      Though my birthday was last month, my bar mitzvah portion is read this week. You see, back then, my family belonged to a Reform synagogue that had its own schedule of Torah readings. For this reason, and because Shavuot, the holiday marking our acceptance of the Torah, is just two days away, I think it’s a fitting time to post this INN interview about my personal exodus from the material emptiness of Hollywood and how I became hooked on the Torah.

      Exclusive INN Interview
      by Baruch Gordon

      One of the revelations found in the Zohar is the doctrine of reincarnation. From his days as a Hollywood screenwriter, to the recent publication of his new book, "Secret of the Brit – Torah, Kabbalah, and Sex," author Tzvi Fishman has gone through several reincarnations in this lifetime alone, and also some incredible miracles. We spoke with him in his Jerusalem apartment, where he took time from writing his INN blog, "Hollywood to the Holy Land."

      Hollywood Days

      Behind him are bookshelves crammed with books on Torah. In the middle is a glossy, black-and-white photo of Fishman in his Hollywood days, looking like a sexy Tom Cruse, a far cry from the full-bearded baal t’shuva sitting before me. Fishman says he keeps it there to remind him that no matter how far he may sometimes fall in his service of G-d, he is still life-years ahead of the tinsel town role he was playing in Hollywood.

      Your new work, "Secret of the Brit – Torah, Kabbalah, and Sex," is a striking deviation from your other books, where the principle, recurring theme is the importance of living in the Land of Israel. For instance, the hero of "The Discman" comes to Israel. Also, your reincarnation of the famous Tevye the Milkman makes Aliyah and builds a new life for his family in Palestine. The king in your "Kuzari For Young Readers" journeys off to live in the Land of Israel; and certainly Eretz Yisrael is a main focus of the books you co-wrote with Rabbi David Samson about the teachings of Rabbi Kook. How does your recent study of sex in the Zohar fit in with this?

      "Secret of the Brit" isn’t a deviation at all. It is a natural continuation of the other books. I learned the hard way that it isn’t enough to live in the Land of Israel. We have to live here in a holy fashion. The foundation of the Brit, or Covenant, between G-d and Avraham is that the Jewish People guard their sexual lives in purity, as it says, "And G-d said to Avraham, therefore thou shall safeguard my Brit, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations."
      This principle of Shmirat HaBrit is stressed in the holy Zohar over and over again. Rabbi Kook himself writes that the detailed safeguarding of the holiness of our sexual lives must be the foundation of our rebirth and resettlement of the Land of Israel. He also writes that the study of the Zohar is one of the keys to Redemption. In my humble opinion, this is because the Zohar highlights the great importance of Shmirat HaBrit.

      I always assumed that Shmirat HaBrit (guarding the laws of proper sexual behavior) was something particular to young people.

      The Zohar repeatedly emphasizes the importance of Shmirat HaBrit to married couples as well. The sanctity of the marital act has a direct influence on all of the spiritual worlds, either opening or closing the channel of blessing, called the "Yesod," for both the individual and the Jewish People as a whole. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and all of the other masters of Kabbalah, assert that the majority of tragedies and hardships that we suffer stem from sexual transgression. In addition, the Zohar warns that the sanctity of the marital union has a direct influence on both the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our children. Let’s face it, with the pressures of modern living, and with the bombardment of pornography on the Internet, television, and the movies, and with the outbreak of immodest dress on our streets, it is easy to fall into sexual laxity. According to the secrets of Torah, the price we pay is dear. The Arizal explains that the "oneg"-pleasure that one feels from a sexual transgression, turns into "nega"-plague by a rearrangement of the Hebrew letters. For example, one small lapse, let’s say lustfully rushing to have marital relations during the day, can lead to a child that will be hyperactive all of his life.

      I would like to follow up on this subject a little later. But first, I thought we would do a little detective work to try and figure out how you came to write a book about Jewish sexuality. When your book, "The Discman," was published, you gave an interview in Arutz 7’s Hebrew newspaper, "Besheva." You mentioned that your bar-mitzvah was held in a church. How did that happen?

      When I was growing up, my family belonged to a Reform Jewish synagogue in New England. We went to shul on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, lit Hanukah candles, had a Christmas tree to be like the neighbors, ate matzah on the first Seder night and candy eggs on Easter. I remember the reform rabbi telling us in Hebrew School that the splitting of the Red Sea occurred, not through any miracle by G-d, but because a severe draught had caused the sea to dry up, and a freak, sudden rainstorm brought a flood that luckily drowned the Egyptians after the Jews had crossed on dry land. His explanation sounded so ludicrous to me, I didn’t want to even bother with having a bar-mitzvah. But my parents insisted. Since, the congregation had outgrown our old shul, and the new one was still under construction, my bar-mitzvah ceremony was held in a Unitarian church. To me, it is a perfect symbol for being a Jew in America, where you are totally immersed in a foreign, gentile culture. Growing up Jewish in America is like growing up in a church.

      The tape is recording, so don’t wait for my questions. I know you have told your baal t’shuva story dozens of times to high-school students all over the country, so don’t wait for my leads.

      After that, I went to a very prestigious private school in Massachusetts. Out of the 800 students, there were only a handful of Jews. We had to pray on Sundays in the basement of the campus church. Upstairs in this gigantic, impressive cathedral, the rest of the students and the faculty were gathered in prayer, and we were stuck out of sight in the basement, like we belonged to some low-rate religion. That’s how I related to Judaism also. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

      The world is reading your every word.

      Most of my graduating class was accepted into universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton. I decided to go to NYU Film School where I spent four years in the dark, watching thousands of movies. The year after I graduated, I wrote a screenplay that became a Hollywood movie, called "Law and Disorder," starring Caroll O’Conner and Ernest Borgnine. I also sold a novel to a top New York publisher. I was sure that I was on my way to attain my dream of becoming "The Great American Novelist." Watch out Norman Mailer and Philip Roth! Here comes Fishman!

      I am sure you have lots of entertaining stories from this period, but how about telling us a few things that affected your Jewish worldview?

      Travolta or Fishman?

      Ever since my bar mitzvah, I abandoned G-d and Judaism completely. As you can see from my old publicity photo, I was trying to look as American and gentile as John Travolta. But there were indeed some weird events, as if G-d were trying to remind me who I really was, even in my darkest moments. For instance, the summer before my novel hit the bookstores, I decided to make a literary pilgrimage to Europe, in the footsteps of the famous American writers, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway before me. I crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner and disembarked at the French port of Cherbourg. Remember, in those days I looked like that picture, clean shaven, with the long hair of a hippie, and without this giant beard. A Mercedez drove by as I was hiking with my backpack toward the city, and the driver yelled out, "Heil Hitler!" They were the first words I heard in Europe. It was freaky.

      If I am not mistaken, that scene found its way into your novel, "The Discman."

      A good novelist writes about what he knows. Anyway, when I got back to America, my novel had been published. So I went to the publisher’s publicity department and suggested they send my picture to TV talk shows. After all, I was a good-looking guy. They agreed to try a campaign with the State of Florida. Sure enough, five talk-show producers phoned back to book me on their shows. But when I flew down to Florida, I couldn’t find my book in the bookstores. Furious, I appeared on the talk shows and revealed all the lashon hora I knew about the publishing company. The talk-show hosts loved it, but back in New York, my editor was aghast. He phoned me frantically to apologize and beg me to stop, but I was angry about their screw up. At that time, the success of my book was the most important thing to me in the world. When I got back to New York, he summoned me for a meeting in his plush, skyscraper office. When I demanded to know what had happened, he answered, "The problem is your name." I didn’t understand what he was hinting at. My name? Fishman. What was the matter with my name? Then the light dawned on me. "You mean because I am a Jew," I asked incredulously. I mean, this was America, not Europe – the land of George Washington and the cherry tree. "That’s right," he admitted. "Look," he confessed. "My name isn’t Higgins, it is Cohen, but I changed it to get a job here. I bought your book because I liked it, but this company hates Jews."

      That’s really something.

      Not long afterward, the movie that I wrote was released with an all-star cast. The producer called me in and asked what kind of film I wanted to write next? I told him that I had read a great book about the Holocaust, a bestseller at the time, filled with action, courage, and romance. He rejected the idea, saying, "I’m not going to make a movie whose hero is a Jew." Even though my Jewishness wasn’t a big part of my life, I felt like he had spit in my face. But I was determined to make it as a writer, so I wiped off the spit and moved out to Hollywood.

      Los Angeles is known as the city of Lost Angels.

      That’s what it was for me. In a short time, I sold two more original screenplays that were made into films. 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 Schwartzenegger, 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. 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.

      If I remember correctly, you developed some kind of ulcerative colitis.

      That’s what the doctors called it. 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. Years later, when I met the Kabbalist elder, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi in Israel, he explained that the bleeding stemmed from the immoral life I was living. The Zohar compares sexual transgression and the wasting of semen to the spilling of blood. I was being punished measure for measure. 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.

      One second please. According to Rabbi Levi’s explanation, there are a lot of people, who aren’t exactly living holy lives, who should be walking around with ulcerative colitis.

      Everyone has his own timetable and his own tikun. The Almighty is patient and keeps a low profile, waiting for a person to wake up and do t’shuva. If he doesn’t, it’s just a matter of time till the blow is delivered. At first, it comes as a gentle pat on the back. If the person doesn’t get the hint, then the warning becomes stronger. It may take the form of financial problems, or a marriage on the rocks, or a child getting sick, G-d forbid. If someone has abandoned G-d completely, the worst punishment of all can be that G-d abandons him in turn and lets him live out his life in ignorant bliss, saving his punishment for the fires of Gehinom and a reincarnation as a dog. I know people don’t like to think of these things, but the Zohar is filled with warnings and frightening descriptions of what happens when people continue stubbornly onward like mules. As our Sages have said, "the store is open, people are free to take what they please, but a notebook is kept, a hand records, and the storekeeper and his collector will enforce their due."

      It sounds scary, especially to think that every dog you see on the street is some poor guy who made some mistakes in his life. [Fishman smiles. His eyes crinkle, and his face lights up like a 250 watt light bulb. It is hard to believe that this holy, very Orthodox-looking Jew is a former Hollywood screenwriter.]

      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 inner fear which paralyzes you from discovering who you really are. My friend 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 HaShana 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.

      Reunion with Daniel Dayan in Israel

      Your description rings a bell. Did your friend play the role of the rabbi in the recent Shuli Rand film, "Ushpizin?"

      That’s him. 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 Arutz 7 to go into the film business.

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

      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. 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 HaShana was coming, and I read about Tashlich. So on Rosh HaShana 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 inner 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 inner 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 inner 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 awoke 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. Thank G-d, the laser treatment was a success. 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 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."

      You’ve got me at the edge of my chair.

      "Jerusalem My Chosen"
      It was waiting for me in my mailbox

      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?

      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 tzaddekis, 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.

      This interview is getting pretty long, and if I weren’t the editor, my editor would kill me. So that’s when you made Aliyah?

      A Mikvah a Day

      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, dunked myself in all of the holy mikvahs, 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, 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.

      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 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 all right. It’s just palpitations. The truth is, I once wanted to move to Israel. But my mother was against it, and I was a chicken. 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. We live in the same building in Jerusalem.

      "You shall honor thy father and mother."

      I’ll let our readers learn about that part of your life from the article you wrote for INN about your encounter with the Kabbalist elder, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi. To sum up, I’d like to get back to my original question. What brought you to write a book about Torah, Kabbalah, and Sex?

      You are putting me on the spot. The truth is, even though the Land of Israel is the ultimate stop for a Jew, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, coming home to Israel is just the beginning. Just like with our Forefathers, everyone has his share of trials and tests that G-d sends to bring us higher and higher in His service. In my case, I slipped a disc and walked around in pain for months. After meeting the Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, I had an amazing revelation. Slipped discs, like colitis, and a lot of other ailments, are G-d’s way of calling us back to Him. In my case, I suddenly realized that I had been lax in obtaining the level of holiness that a Jew is required to maintain in his sexual life. I was doing things that, while they may be permitted in the boundaries of Jewish Law, they were certainly not in the spirit of the marital sanctity that our Sages exhort us to achieve. After reading Rabbi Levi’s writings on Shmirat HaBrit and learning about the painful consequences of sexual laxity, the "asimone nafal," meaning I suddenly realized where things had gone wrong. With a dazzling clarity, the pieces of my life puzzle fell into place. Like I said – it isn’t enough just to live in the Holy Land. We have to live here in a holy fashion. And that also holds true for all of the Jews still in Hollywood and New York. Wherever he is, a Jew is bound by a higher Divine standard.

      I guess like you said, a good writer writes about what he knows. But I have heard people say that the sexual safeguards mentioned in your book fall into the category of Kabbalistic stringencies. Are you sure your new book is for everyone?

      A Jew isn’t just someone who eats bagels, gefilta fish, or felafal. Whether he acknowledges it or not, a Jew is a unique holy being, blessed with a Divine code of living. Ever since G-d made His covenant with Avraham, the Jewish People have been called upon to guard the sanctity of their sexual life. It turns out that not everything you see in the movies is kosher for a Jew. The point is, when it comes to sexual relations, because of the great yetzer and passions involved, there are many sound rules that are often overlooked, and this is where a lot of our troubles begin – both for the individual and for the Jewish Nation as a whole.

      There is a philosophy that maintains that precisely because the sexual urge is so hard to control, that it is best not to speak openly about these matters, lest a person be brought to depression and despair when he realizes the gravity of his mistakes.

      Kabbalist Elder, Rabbi Leon Levi

      Do you let a guy fall off a cliff, or do you yell out to save him? Rabbi Leon stresses that when it comes to Shmirat HaBrit, it is not knowledge that brings people to despair, but rather the lack of it. When people learn that there is a tikun, and a way to a happier, holier existence, they discover a new joy in their lives. G-d didn’t stamp the sign of the Covenant on our forehead, our arm, or our mouth. The holiness of our sexual lives, more than anything else, distinguishes our holy calling as Jews. G-d didn’t bring us back to the Holy Land for us to create another Hollywood, or to turn Disengorf Street into Sunset Strip. With G-d’s help and kindness, we have come back and rebuilt our Promised Land. Now is the time to infuse it with more and more holiness. G-d willing, that is what the book, "Secret of the Brit," and the website: jewishsexuality.com are all about.

      Anyone who has read your INN blog "Hollywood to the Holy Land" can’t help but notice that you are pushing readers to your Jewish sexuality website. Some people say the Internet is too open a forum for these intimate matters.

      Today, the pornography on the Internet is our number one spiritual enemy, and it is important that guidelines of Torah be out there, so people have the ammunition to defend themselves.

      Do you really think that swatting away with your pen at the windmills of porn in the world will really have a lasting effect?

      We receive a lot of thank-you emails for having introduced people to a holier way of living. As our Sages say, if you save one Jew, it is like you have save the whole world. Anyway, it certainly beats writing trash movies in Hollywood.

      Iyar 29, 5767, 5/17/2007

      If I Were Prime Minister

      One of the major problems in Israel today is that nobody has a vision or plan. We react to events rather than taking the initiative. If I were Prime Minister, here is what I would do:

      Next Prime Minister

      # First and foremost, any enemy attack on the soldiers, civilians, or cities of Israel would be avenged with a devastating counter attack and the total destruction of enemy infrastructure. Both the perpetrators and their leaders would be killed. All foreign governments leaders, terrorist organizations and parties aiding the perpetrators will be placed on a "hit list" for immediate termination. For example, when the Israeli soldiers were kidnapped at the start of the recent Lebanon War, Israeli warplanes circled the offices of Syrian President Assad in Dasmascus, as a warning. If I had been Prime Minister, those offices and Assad would have been rocketed and destroyed.
      An international transfer plan will be negotiated and implemented whereby the Jews of the Diaspora will immigrate to Israel and live in the cities and refugee camps abandoned by the Arabs, and the Arabs leaving Israel will be given the villas and luxury apartments of the Diaspora Jews.

      # Upon taking office, I will immediately order the Israeli Air Force to destroy the atomic reactor in Iran, and to deploy a small nuclear bomb on the city of Teheran, to prevent retaliation, and to serve as a warning and deterrent to surrounding Arab states.

      # I will establish a Prime Minister’s Office Advisory Board, comprised of Former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Shapira; Former Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu; and the Elder Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi. I will meet with the Advisory Board twice weekly to formulate national policy.

      # All of the Arabs in Israel will be relocated to other countries. An international transfer plan will be negotiated and implemented whereby the Jews of the Diaspora will immigrate to Israel and live in the cities and refugee camps abandoned by the Arabs, and the Arabs leaving Israel will be given the villas and luxury apartments of the Diaspora Jews.

      # In order to insure the successful immigration of Diaspora Jews, golf courses would be built in the Galilee, the Gaza Strip, and in the proximity of Ramallah, areas where the majority of Diaspora Jews will be housed. The Israel Ministry of Commerce will encourage discount chain stores like Marshall’s and Ward’s to open branches in Israel. Diaspora Jews over the age of 30 will not be required to serve actively in the Israel Defense Forces. Instead, they will receive training in Civil Defense to be available as back-up manpower in cases of national emergency, G-d forbid. All foreign savings accounts of Diaspora Jews will be closed, and a 20% government tax on their savings will be levied with funds earmarked to the poor in Israel. A large, modern, motion picture studio under the technical directorship of Steven Spielberg, will be built in the Negev, along the model of Universal Studios, to provide employment for the Jews of Hollywood, who will be put to work making Torah films for world distribution. Also in the Negev, the world’s biggest Hi-Tech Industrial Park, to be called the "City of Vision," will be built for the relocation of Diaspora brain power. To speed Israel’s transformation into the world’s dominating superpower, facilities will also be constructed for research and development projects in the fields of computer engineering, nuclear science, space communication, medicine, military technology, and the like. The work on building the city and its infrastructure will provide jobs for both Olim and veteran Israelis, erasing unemployment. Before coming to Israel, all Jewish men from the Diaspora who are married to non-Jews will be forced to leave their wives, as in the days of the prophet, Ezra. Halachic conversions will be available for serious candidates only.

      # Israelis who had direct participation in formulating and implementing the Oslo Accords will be brought to trial before juries comprised of Israeli victims of terror and their families. Persons convicted will be given life sentences and imprisoned in former detention facilities for Arab terrorists. Similarly, the politicians responsible for the Evacuation of Gush Katif and Shomron Settlements will be tried and sentenced to hard labor, rebuilding the very communities that they destroyed and building a network of new settlements throughout Judea and Samaria. All textbooks published by the Israel Ministry of Education which glorify the Oslo Accords and the so-called "Peace Process" will be shredded. New, accurate textbooks will be written and published in their place.

      # Israel will embark on a five-year isolation policy in order to cleanse itself from foreign influences and ideologies. During this inner healing period, an Israeli Constitution will be formulated based on the Torah. The Israeli judicial system will be revamped and based on Torah Law. The Sanhedrin will be re-established. Shabbat will be enforced nationally, along with compulsory Torah education. Adult Torah education classes will be mandatory, accompanied by heavy fines for non-attendance. New modern mikvaot will be built in every neighborhood, and married women will receive generous stipends to safeguard the laws of family purity. An education campaign on the laws of modesty will be initiated nationally with a yearly budget equaling anti-smoking and traffic-safety campaigns. Women who violate the laws of proper dress will be fined. Prostitution will be eradicated in the Holy Land. The six-meter high dividing wall, which is presently being constructed to separate Arab sectors and Jewish sectors, will be dismantled and set up all along the country’s coastline beaches in order to prohibit women from frequenting the seashore in immodest swimwear.

      # The leftist-controlled media will be terminated. The Israel Broadcasting Authority will be governed by a board of Rabbis. Cinemas and theaters will be converted into lecture halls for adult Torah education classes. Internet will be banned. A special satellite scrambling system will be developed to prevent cyberspace reception in Israel. Concurrently, a network of powerful satellite dishes and space transmitters will be developed in preparation for the conclusion of the five-year isolation period. At this time, Israel will return to being the healthy heart of the nations, as in the days of King Shlomo, when Torah shall go forth from Zion to all of the world, along with unsurpassed scientific and medical knowledge. A special World Outreach Department will be established to prepare vast amounts of media material in all mediums for worldwide distribution, to instruct non-Jews in the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noach. Israeli leftists who worked in all branches of Israeli media for the last 30 years will be tried as national traitors and sentenced to forced labor, pasting the bindings and book covers of Bible translations that will be distributed globally.

      # The Israel Defense Forces will be revamped and placed under the command of Nachal Haredi and Hesder Yeshiva officers. Haredim will be drafted and serious Torah scholars will be allowed to continue learning Torah on Army bases. In times of battle, half of these students will continue to learn on the base, and half will accompany troops into the field where they will continue with their learning at the site of the battle, as in the times of King David. At the appropriate time, to be determined by the Prime Minister’s Advisory Board, and with the approval of the Sanhedrin, all territories comprising the Biblical borders of Eretz Yisrael will be conquered and placed under Jewish sovereignty. Also on the approval of the Sanhedrin, selected oil fields in neighboring Arab countries will be conquered and put under Israeli control.

      # In the matter of Jerusalem, a step plan will be initiated for the development of the Temple Mount. Mosques will be dismantled and shipped in pieces to Saudi Arabia. A synagogue will be built in a permitted area on the Mount until the renewal of prophecy, when the exact site of the Altar can be determined. At this time, if not sooner, may it be the will of G-d, the Beit HaMikdash will be built. In preparation for the mass aliyah to Jerusalem of pilgrims attending the three major Jewish Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, East Jerusalem will be converted into a Festival Park to house visitors to the city. A monorail system will be built to transport passengers to the Old City. Dozens of luxurious ritual baths will be constructed, along with a palace for the Mashiach, may he come soon. In conjunction, the genetic engineering of a pure red heifer will be given top priority.

      # I will send a personal emissary to meet with the President of the United States with the message that until Jonathan Pollard is pardoned, Israel will not share with the US any of Israel's secret Mossad and military intelligence regarding Al Qaida activities, terrorist organizations, and Middle Eastern regimes.

      # Teacher salaries will be increased tenfold. Stipends for families with multiple children will be reinstated and doubled. Haredi Jews who avoided active military service will be enlisted in a national work project to repair and renew the decrepit sewer system in Israel’s major cities. The nation anthem, "Hatikva" will be replaced by the 13th Principle of the Rambam, the song, "Ani Ma’amin," expressing our national yearning for the coming of Mashiach, may it be soon. Amen.

      # Finally, to insure that my government will be a government for and by the people, I invite all readers to send additional suggestions and policies that you would like to see implemented during my tenor in office.