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Jewish World 8:56 PM 4/19/2014
Features 9:58 PM
Middle East 10:37 PM
Amb. Alan Baker
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
The Jay Shapiro Hour
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.
I feel a little embarrassed boasting about what a great writer I am, but if I didn’t, you wouldn’t know it just from my blogs. I am really a novelist at heart. I write blogs because in this age of computers, who has the time or patience to read a novel? Research shows that most people are unable to concentrate for more than a minute. About the time it takes to read a simple blog. Plus, I like writing about stuff that matters, and most people read novels as an escapist outlet, to get away from the truth. That’s why it’s been tough for me to publish my books with mainstream US publishers. It’s hard to make a living telling people what they don’t want to hear.
So, in my novels, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” “Fallen Angel,” The Discman and the Guru,” and my novella, “Heaven’s Door,” as well as my collection of fantastic short stories, "Days of Mashiach," I tried to dress up the heavy messages in reader friendly tales. For example, here’s an excerpt from “Heaven’s Door.” I wrote it in response to all of those phony bestselling “spiritual journeys” that bring the reader to discover the “truth” about Jezeus, or Buddhism, or Zen, or Incan voodoo, or the “Universal Supreme Power Inside of You,” and all of the other nonsense that cuts off a seeker from G-d and the mitzvot, rather than bringing him closer.
Anyway, the story follows your average American gentile, Craig Peters, age 50, who has set off to the Holy Land to meet a 120 year old miracle worker in Safed, in hopes that the Jewish sage can unlock the mystery of why his health and family life are falling apart. Little does Craig know that he is about to enter a twilight zone of spirituality that he never knew existed……
Little does Craig know that he is about to enter a twilight zone of spirituality that he never knew existed……
From “Heaven’s Door”
MORE THAN once since leaving Kennedy Airport in New York, I myself thought that I was crazy for journeying across the world in search of a 120-year-old man who may already have died. But here I was in the small, isolated mountainside community famous for the Jewish mystics who had lived there, and who were buried there as well in the cemetery that was one of the “must see” sites in my tour book. After making some wrong turns, I managed to find the Old City of Safed, where I figured it logical that the old man could be found. The main thoroughfare was a cobblestone mall of artist shops and souvenir stores selling mystical paintings, Biblical wardrobes, colorful, sweet-smelling candles, and all kinds of religious paraphernalia. The stone two-story buildings had either been preserved or restored from a period some five-hundred years before, when the city had been a haven for scholars and sages of the Kabbalah, the secrets of the Torah. Obviously, it was an attraction spot for tourists, though I spotted several Hasidic types who looked to be residents of the place, wearing long black robes and sporting equally long side-locks, which dangled in curls down the sides of their heads.
At random, I walked into a bookstore, intending to ask the salesman if he knew where I could find the 120-year-old man who was known for doing miracles. Inside the small shop, a dark-skinned, jovial looking salesman was selling a book to a customer. He was dressed in modern garb and looked about my age. While I waited, I gazed at the Hebrew texts on the shelves and the portraits of no-doubt famous rabbis which were on sale. A cell phone rang and the shop owner answered it. Staring my way, he nodded his head, said a few words in Hebrew and slipped the phone into his shirt pocket.
“You’re from America?” he asked me.
“That’s right,” I said.
“That was my great grandfather on the phone. You’ve come here to speak with him, yes?”
“He knows that I’m here?” I asked astounded.
“Yes,” he said, concluding his sale with the customer.
I was amazed. It turned out to be so easy! “Thank God he’s still alive,” I said to myself, feeling my heart begin to race.
“My great grandfather says he is sorry, but he can’t meet with you,” the bookseller related.
If my heart had jumped into the sky just a second ago, it now plummeted back down to earth. I started to feel dizzy, as if I were going to faint.
“Your great grandfather is 120 years old?” I muttered.
“More or less,” he replied.
“And he’s known for doing miracles?”
“I suppose that he is.”
“He refuses to meet me?”
I held onto a counter to brace myself. Could it be that I had traveled all the way to Israel for nothing?
“Would you like a cold drink? You must be tired from your trip,” the bookseller said.
Saying goodbye to the customer, he removed a cold bottle of spring water from a small refrigerator and poured me a glass.
“I came all of the way from America just to meet him,” I pleaded. “He has to see me. I spent a few thousand dollars, and left my wife at home, and if I can’t get to meet him, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
To say that I was bewildered is an understatement. The Israeli set the glass of water on the counter, but I felt that my hands were trembling too violently to lift it.
“Please,” I begged. “Please explain that I came all the way here from America just to see him. It’s terribly important to me.”
“I will try,” he said. “My great grandfather doesn’t have a telephone, but maybe my son is still with him at the house.”
I nervously waited as he spoke in Hebrew to his son. I felt certain that he, and anyone in sight of the bookstore, could hear my heart beating. An interval passed, as if my request was being relayed to the old man. Listening to the answer, his great grandson nodded his head.
“The Rabbi says there is no point in meeting with you because you won’t accept his advice. He says that you met someone who put a doubt in your head. A man wearing a black hat at the Kotel.”
I was stunned. Shattered.
“I didn’t take him seriously,” I insisted.
“My great grandfather says that you did.”
I must have looked pretty shaky, because he grabbed a chair and hurried it over to me, helping me to sit down. It was true, I thought. After talking with the American at the Kotel, the notion hadn’t left my mind that the whole miracle-man business was a hoax.
“Drink,” he said. “It’s hotter outside than you think.”
Embarrassed as hell, I lifted the glass of water with both of my hands and guided it to my mouth. “Shit,” I thought, feeling a-hundred-years old myself.
Maybe the bookseller took pity on me. Once again, he made a phone call and spoke in Hebrew. This time, there was hope in his words.
“Saba Yosef says that he’ll make an exception and see you, but he wants you to first immerse in the mikvah of the holy Ari.”
I figured that Saba Yosef was the name of his great grandfather, whom he also called “the Rabbi.” But I had no idea what a mikvah was. Yosef, they told me later, was the Hebrew for Joseph, the Biblical figure who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, only to become the most powerful viceroy in Egypt.
“A mikvah is a ritual immersion pool,” Baruch explained in excellent English, as if reading my mind. “It cleanses a person from spiritual impurity. The mikvah of the Ari is a natural, underground pool, located in a cave. The water comes down from the mountains. I’ll show you. It’s only a short walk away.”
“I don’t want to take you away from your work,” I said politely.
“It’s lunchtime anyway,” he replied. “I always take a little siesta about now. On the way, you’ll see that a lot of shops are closed. It’s a custom here.”
He said that his name was Baruch, and I said my name was Craig.
“Your great grandfather has mental telepathy?” I asked him.
“Something like that. We call it Ruach HaKodesh. Divine Inspiration. He is shown things.”
“Shown things? By who?”
“It’s hard to explain, but you should know that when a seeker like you makes the effort to come to a holy rabbi like my great grandfather, in order to learn from him a better way of life, the forces of evil in the world rise up against the seeker and put all sorts of obstacles in his path to prevent him from succeeding in his mission. Doubt is one of the most difficult obstacles. Especially for a person who comes from the West. You live in a very rational world. The emphasis is placed on the material side of life. People believe in what they can hold in their hands and see. But it’s all a mirage. It’s very hard for people with backgrounds like yours to accept that there is a whole spiritual world beyond the physical here and now.”
I remembered the mirage that I had seen on the highway in the heat of the day. Everything he said sounded correct, but even as he said it, I heard a cynical voice inside me saying that it was all a lot of nonsense. My heart was beating even faster now. I wasn’t sure I wanted my life to be an open book before some other person, even if it were some old man in Israel that nobody I knew would ever meet. But the ball was already rolling, and I couldn’t stop it now.
Carrying a towel, Saba Yosef’s great grandson locked the door of the bookstore and led the way down the quaint, cobblestone pedestrian mall. I followed his steps along narrow, twisted alleyways until we left most of the tourists behind. Soon, the people we encountered were mostly religious Jews, in what appeared to be an older, more derelict part of the city, whose ruins were being restored.
“Safed was hit hard by several earthquakes over the years,” my host informed me. “Only in the last twenty years has serious reconstruction been going on.”
He led me to the top of a long, steep flight of steps that led down to the sprawling, ancient hillside cemetery of Safed. Many of the tombstones lay shattered. Others were highlighted with a pale blue color that looked like the sky.
“The Ari, or the Arizal, as he is sometimes called, was the most famous of the Kabbalists. He is buried along the slope,” the bookseller explained, pointing to an area where a group of Hasidim were clustered around one of the blue-painted sites.
“He was born about 500 years ago in Jerusalem with the name of Yitzhak Luria. At a very young age, he became a master of all the Talmudic texts. He would isolate himself for years at a time in deep meditation, not speaking a word, until Elijah the Prophet appeared to him and taught him the secret wisdom of the Torah. It is reported that his soul would ascend every night to Heaven, where he would also learn the ancient wisdom from the great Sages of the past. His foremost student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes that the Arizal knew the language of birds, the conversation of trees, and the speech of the angels. He could read the faces of people and know everything that a person had done. He knew people’s thoughts, and was aware of everything that happened on earth, and what was decreed in Heaven. He knew the secrets of reincarnation and was able to see the souls of everyone who died. Just from a person’s smell, he could tell what sins he had made. Even though true prophecy no longer exists, Divine Inspiration is still with us. In every generation, Elijah the Prophet reveals the secrets to a few exceptionally devout individuals. Any individual, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, can have Divine Inspiration bestowed upon him. It all depends on his righteousness and his deeds.’”
“Is your great grandfather like that?” I asked him.
“When you meet him, you can judge for yourself,” he said.
A group of Breslov Hasidim brushed by us on their way toward the grave of the famous Kabbalist. They were followed by a steady stream of people of all shapes and sizes, religious and non-religious alike. Pointing down the hillside, my Israeli guide supplied some other information that I probably would never have found in my tour book.
“Down the way is the tomb of Rabbi Yosef Karo, who compiled the ‘Shulchan Aruch,’ the code of Jewish law. Further down the hill, in the tomb with the dome, is the Prophet Hosea, from the time of the Bible. There’s the mikvah of the Ari,” he said, motioning in the other direction. “While you immerse yourself, I’ll say a few prayers, and we will meet back here.”
He handed me the towel.
“Make sure you immerse yourself completely. The water is a little cold, but on a hot day like today it’s refreshing. If you can, dunk yourself seven times. But before you do, try to confess all of your sins.”
If I were to confess all of my sins, he would have had to wait a week before I got back, I thought wryly. I didn’t express my skepticism out loud, because I didn’t want to offend him by making a joke out of what he obviously considered a very serious matter.
“It’s a very cleansing experience,” he said, as if reading my thoughts once again. “There’s a legend that says that anyone who immerses himself in the mikvah of the Ari will become a penitent before he dies.”
I wasn’t sure what a penitent was, nor was I certain that I wanted to be one. I wanted to be healthy math teacher, that’s all, and not drop dead before my time.
Cautiously, I made my way down the stairway of battered stone stairs. Many were broken or chipped and covered with boards. Religious men, with towels draped over their shoulders, trickled in and out of the entrance to the cave which housed the pool of flowing spring water. Inside, the floor had been tiled, and concrete had been plastered onto the walls, but the pool itself was still in its natural setting, as if it had been chiseled into the bedrock of the mountain during the seven days of Creation.
I don’t know why, but the sight of the naked men waiting to take a dip in the pool came as a shock. I was no stranger to health-club locker rooms and showering with the guys, but this was somehow very different. Maybe because the men were religious. A few had shaven heads with long dangling side-locks. Prayer shawls, called “tzitzit,” hung on wooden pegs sticking out from the wall. Like they say, “When in Safed….” Quickly, I stripped liked the others and made my way toward the pool at the back of the cave, thinking, “What am I getting myself into?”
The air was cooler in the mountain cave than outside in the hot sun, but I wasn’t prepared for the first splash of freezing water. After watching how the man before me did the immersion, I grasped onto a rock at the side of the pool and lowered a foot into the spring. My whole body trembled. Without thinking further, I splashed down the three stone steps into the small pool and dunked myself under the water. The freezing cold was like a shock to my being. I can’t describe it. At first my mind went blank, then I remembered that I was supposed to confess all my sins. Where to begin? With the bubble gum I stole from the grocery store as a child? With the test answers I had copied from friends in high school? With the drugs I had taken, and the girls I had slept with in college? With going bowling on Sunday mornings instead of going to church? With my extramarital affairs?
“Please God forgive me for everything,” I said, lumping everything into one shivering request. Fearing I would have a heart attack on the spot, I dunked myself again and again, seven times like he said, making sure to double over so that all of my body was immersed in the water. When I finished, I climbed, out of breath, up the stairs, gasping as if I had just climbed a tall mountain. Without any clothes on, I felt embarrassed as hell, but no one seemed to notice. Some of the men were shivering as they dried themselves, others were laughing now that the experience was over, and it sounded like old-timers were joking with new arrivals, warning them how freezing the water was. All I can say is that when I walked out of the cave, my head felt clear as a bell, my body felt twenty years younger, and I didn’t have a doubt in my mind.
I made the long climb back up the steep stairway. True to his word, the bookseller was there waiting by a Mazda that was driven by his son, a great, great grandson of Saba Yosef, who had, according to their count, 14 children of his own, 84 grandchildren, 504 great-great grandchildren, and 2,523 great, great, great grandchildren. In my eyes, just for that alone it was worth traveling 10,000 miles to meet such a man. It was mind-blowing. If I couldn’t learn about leading a long, healthy life from him, where could I learn it?
The book can be ordered online at:
In honor of Book Week, here’s a fun excerpt from my new novel, “Fallen Angel.” The scene starts in New York, in the elegant penthouse apartment of flamboyant Harry Walsh, world-famous author of phony spiritual bestsellers. Up until now, the angel has been explaining to Harry that he’s been sent down to Earth to warn Harry to give up his whoring, conman ways….
Just then, our conversation was interrupted by a phone call.
“Oh, no!” Harry exclaimed. “I nearly forgot!”
Quickly, he rushed back to the bedroom and ran out clutching a long white turban which he wrapped hurriedly around his head.
“I’m booked on ‘Manhattan Live’ tonight, and I’m supposed to be there in twenty minutes,” he explained, facing one of the several mirrors in the room as he adjusted the knot in the turban. “It’s been the top-rated TV talk show, coast-to-coast, for the last five years, and tonight’s appearance could mean selling another 50,000 books in one shot.”
Looking around the floor of the living room, he spotted his sandals by his desk and hurried to put them on. Then he shook out a couple of pills from a vial and gulped them down with the rest of the scotch.
“Come to the studio with me,” he said. “When we get back, you can show me whatever you want. But I want you to know - I don’t frighten easily. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. I’ve met all kinds of characters claiming to be angels. They’re all a lot of fakes. Me too. That’s right. Don’t think I don’t know it. As Shakespeare said, ‘All of life is a stage, and all the people are but players.’ Life’s all a big con game, dog eat dog, the survival of the fittest.”
We rode to the TV studio the stretch limousine that was waiting outside Harry’s luxury apartment building. As we were rushed into the make-up room, Harry told the show’s producer that I was an angel and that it was worthwhile to put me on the show too.
“What kind of angel?” he asked.
“A real angel,” Harry told him.
“What the hell’s a real angel?” the pressured producer inquired.
“An angel from Heaven,” Harry said.
“What can he do?” the seasoned showman asked.
“All kind of tricks,” Harry answered.
“Two minutes!” someone called out.
I closed my eyes as a scantily dressed apple bent over me and powered my forehead and cheeks. Temporarily blinded, I let Harry drag me out to the set, as a five-man band welcomed us with a lively tune. Barry Barnett, the famous host of the show, stood up to shake our hands and welcome us to the program. He was a witty and amiable personality who could turn anything into a joke. I should have known better and stayed in the apartment until Harry returned. But I guess I was tempted. Even angels like a little celebrity now and then.
The grinning host introduced Harry as America’s # 1 bestselling guru, who had brought health and happiness to millions of readers all over the world. Glancing at a note that the producer had passed him, he introduced me as Harry’s angel friend. That brought us a lot of applause. With the large spotlights shining our way, it was hard to make out the size of the audience, but there must have been at least five-hundred people out there in the glare.
Harry started out talking about the journey to India which had inspired his new bestseller, “The Guru in You.” Studying with a swami in a Himalaya forest, he had learned the ancient wisdom of the Hindu gods and their teachings on karma. Shedding all of his material comforts and desires during his six-month stay at the ashram, he had undergone a profound spiritual epiphany, he declared.
“What’s an epiphany?” the apple who was sitting next to him asked.
She was a new country and western singer, not very modestly dressed. The evening’s first guest, she had sung a few songs from her just-released disc, and now she was sitting out the rest of the show, moving this way and that, trying to look as delicious as a Mackintosh apple can be. I looked away into the spotlights which were a lot less blinding.
“An epiphany is a spiritual revelation,” Harry told her.
“It sounds wonderful,” the apple exclaimed. “Your story gives me the goose bumps.”
“I wish I gave you the goose bumps,” Barry Barnett quipped for a sure audience laugh.
“I discovered that people are unhappy in life because they simply lack love,” Harry related. “A lack of love can even bring about sickness and death. What’s the cure? The very opposite. A surplus of love. Giving others all the love that you can. But to do that, you have to first love yourself. That’s what my new book teaches in simple lessons that everyone can master.”
“It sounds groovy,” the apple commented, with a shiver of her unclothes shoulders.
“If you like, I’d be willing to try out a few of Harry’s lessons with you after the show,” the master of ceremonies told the Mackintosh with his famous, winning smile.
After a little pretend game of tug of war, he got the humble Harry to agree to demonstrate some yoga techniques onstage. After stripping down to a loin cloth, Harry twisted himself into an inverted lotus and then into a bridge.
“Pretty good,” Barry Barnett said, clapping his hands. As if on cue, the audience applauded Harry’s yoga acrobatics.
“How about you giving it a try?” the show host asked the apple with a twinkling gleam in his eyes.
“Oh no,” she giggled. “I could never do that on TV.”
Then a board with nails was dragged onto stage. “Let’s see if you can handle the hard stuff,” the talk-show celebrity said. Kicking off a shoe, he set a foot on the nails, let out a theatrical “Ouch!” and hopped around in pseudo pain to show the audience that the bed of nails was real. Of course, it had all been rehearsed. But in the glare of the stage lights, I couldn’t tell if they were really nails, or just fake rubber.
“Don’t do it!” the apple cried out in alarm.
Numbed by the super strong painkillers he had swallowed at home, Harry squatted over the board and slowly sat down. As the orchestra played a long drawn-out chord of suspense, the half-naked author lay back on the nails until his whole body was supine on his back.
“Now that’s the real thing!” Barry Barnett called out, clapping his hands once again.
The audience broke out in thunderous applause. Miss Apple clapped her hands excitedly. Stagehands hurried out, lifted the board with Harry, and carried him offstage. Sitting back down at his desk, the host held up a copy of Harry’s new book, “The Guru in You,” and urged everyone to go out and buy it.
“Wow,” he said. “That was really something!” Then, turning to me, he asked, “What can you do?”
I was caught off guard. All of the eyes in the theater stared my way.
“I’m an angel,” I stumbled.
For some reason, everyone laughed.
“I’m an angel too,” the apple said.
That brought another chorus of laughter.
“Tell us why you’ve come down to Earth,” the host said. “Have you written a book?”
“No,” I answered.
I couldn’t concentrate. I was careful not to look at the apple, who was sitting next to me now that Harry was gone, but her swinging leg kept getting into my line of vision. It got me all confused.
“To wake the world up to God,” I stuttered.
“To wake the world up to God!” the host repeated with a guffaw. “That’s hilarious!”
That brought a huge laugh and burst of applause from the audience.
“To wake the world up to God!” Barnett shouted again. He stood up, held his stomach and bent over laughing. “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard in my life!”
Encouraged by his mirth, the apple giggled along with him. The musicians in the band started to laugh too. Roars of hysterical laughter broke out in the audience. The cameramen rolled their cameras forward for close-ups.
“Can you prove you’re an angel?” Barnett asked with a challenging chuckle.
Usually, like I said, we don’t do tricks when we’re on an assignment. But the scoffing had gotten out of hand. So to teach him a lesson, I gave him the ears of a donkey. They sprouted out of his head like flowers. Then I gave him the snout of a donkey and long wide teeth. The joker was stunned, probably speechless for the first time in his TV career. The drummer was laughing so hard, he fell out of his seat. The audience screamed out with folly. Lady Apple stood up and backed away from the stage, not knowing whether it was a gag or real. Then I gave the startled host a coat of fur on his hands and a tail. Showman till the end, he pranced around the stage like a donkey, then faced straight into camera, on coast-to-coast TV, and said, “Don’t go away. We’ll be back after a short break for commercials.”
Then, like a satyr, half man and half beast, he hopped off backstage.
“Get this off of me!” he snorted angrily. “Make it go away!”
I tried, but it didn’t work. The apple’s swinging legs had mixed my mind up completely. I couldn’t think straight. Angels are sensitive creatures, as delicate and high-strung as harps. After spending most of my five-thousand years in Heaven, I wasn’t prepared for a surprised guest appearance on “Manhattan Live” and the apple’s limousine-long legs.
“Now!” the comedian shouted angrily. “Get this shit off of me now!”
I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I simply forgot the code.
“One minute to air time,” a voice called out.
“Reverse it! Take it away! Reverse what you’ve done!” the show’s host demanded with a glare that would have frightened the Devil.
“I think you should leave it,” the producer said to his superstar performer. “It’s a riot. They love it out there.”
I started to head for the exit.
“Grab him!” someone yelled.
Stagehands rushed forward, but I put up an invisible shield so no one could touch me. Normally, when we’re sent on a mission, we’re allowed to use a few special effects, and I had already used up five or six. I knew the allotment wasn’t unlimited, and who could tell when I would need to resort to a little help from Heaven again? So instead of “warping” miraculously through space back to Harry’s apartment, I took a taxi.
G-d willing, my book of collected blogs “From Israel with Love,” will be appearing shortly, along with the reissue of “Tevye in the Promised Land,” probably the world’s greatest, genuine Jewish novel ever.
Those of you who care about books can read the interview INN did with me yesterday in the news section.
It’s Mom’s birthday today. I’m bringing the kids over to the nursing home for a party. I don’t know if Mom recognizes me anymore, but it seems to me that she still remembers my voice. And on some deep soul level, she probably senses that I’m her son. Or at least someone familiar. So I sit with her and hold her hand, and tell her what’s happening with the family, and talk about old times, mentioning names that maybe ring a bell, and I sing her favorite songs:
“Happy birthday to you; happy birthday to you; happy birthday, dear Mommy; happy birthday to you.” She must remember that one. Anyway, she still likes chocolate ice cream! So, I’ll bring her a small cup for her birthday, when her dietician isn’t looking.
Like I’ve mentioned, I wrote a novel, called “Dad,” based on my emotional, roller-coaster experience of bringing my aging parents on aliyah, at the early and explosive stages of Mom’s Alzheimer’s. The first Pesach they were here was wild! I had already slipped a disc in my back, and my wife was already at her wits end, so we decided to spend Pesach at a hotel to make things easier for her, but I never made it through the Seder. Here’s an excerpt from the novel. You can purchase the book online at: https://www.createspace.com/3593637 or find it at Amazon Books with my other titles. I set the story in New York to give it a more universal appeal, and, of course, any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental, especially regarding the wife in the story, Rivka.
EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL “DAD”
After the pain killer started to work, Joseph was able to roll over and semi-stand up from the bed, bending over like a monkey. It helped when he sat in a chair. But all the time he felt like his spine was a fragile column of dominoes that could topple to the floor at any moment.
Through sheer will power alone, he made it to the Passover Seder. True, his son, Zev had to bring him into the crowded, hotel dining room in a wheelchair, but he made it all the same, neck brace and all. How could he not? Along with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Passover Seder was the highpoint of the year.
The dining hall was packed to overflowing. Families sat around beautifully set tables, laden with bottles of Israeli Concord Wine and stacks of matzah. There was a buzz in the air like before a championship heavyweight prizefight. Kids were running around everywhere. Men wore suits, and women were dressed in their holiday finest. Many of the women wore colorful hats. Rivka was the only one in the room with an Israeli style scarf covering her head. There were some scholarly looking Rabbis, grandfather zaidas and grandmother bubbies, baby carriages and strollers. Joseph’s mother also arrived in a hotel wheelchair, bent over just like her son. Joseph had ordered Zev to give her an extra sedative, to make sure she sat passively throughout the Seder and long evening meal. It broke Joseph’s heart to see his once beautiful mother in such a sorrowful state. He knew he shouldn’t alter the dosages that her psychiatrist prescribed, but not every evening was Passover, and he didn’t have the strength for one of her outbursts in the middle of the celebration.
The guest Rabbi was a well-known educator from Israel. A former American, he had learned at Yeshiva University and served as a popular rabbi in Long Island for almost twenty years before moving his family to Jerusalem. His opening speech was inspiring and funny, but Joseph felt a gnawing pain in his neck and lower back whenever he laughed.
The first part of the Seder was a group experience, with the Rabbi reciting the Kiddush over the first glass of wine, and the head of each family repeating the blessing after him. Since the use of a microphone was forbidden on the Yom Tov holiday, the Rabbi had to shout to be heard over the tumult in the hall. In a booming voice, he began to recite the Haggadah that the Jewish People had been reciting year after year, generation after generation, for over three thousand years, recounting the Exodus from Egypt. It was a cherished mitzvah that every father was commanded to perform, in order to teach the lessons of the Exodus to his children on Passover night, so that the heritage of the Jewish People would never be forgotten. When Joseph was growing up, even though his family was never super religious, they always had a festive Seder, reciting the Passover story out of an illustrated Hebrew and English Haggadah, singing “Dayenu” and other Passover songs, while munching on matzah and maror.
“This year we are here,” the rabbi called out. “Next year in the land of Israel!”
The enthusiastic congregation repeated his words, echoing the age-old wish and longing.
Then it was time for the kids to ask the Four Questions, known as “Mah Nishtanah?” in Hebrew. Joseph’s grandfather had called them “The Fir Kashas,” in Yiddish.
In noisy unison, all of the kids in the dining room yelled out the singsong chant:
“Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylot?” meaning, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
“Did I ever tell you the joke about the Jew in England who was knighted by the queen?” Harry Friedman asked his son.
“You must have, Dad,” Joseph said, not wanting to interrupt the Four Questions. As best as he could, he leaned over in the wheelchair to show Moishe what he was supposed to read in the Haggadah, but the five-year old had already learned the passage by heart in Heder. Happily, he screamed out the words with the rest of the jubilant children.
Their thunderous cry echoed through the hall, as if resounding from the mountains of Sinai. The volume of the roar penetrated Lizzy Friedman’s doped slumber, awakening her with a start. Holiday or not, it was still the witching hour on her neurological clock. She looked around startled, surprised by the shouting and the size of the crowd. Disoriented and frightened by the unfamiliar surroundings, she stood up from her wheelchair.
“I want to go home,” she said. “It’s too noisy here.”
Without further ado, she started walking away from their table. Instinctively, Joseph stood up to follow her, but with his very first step, he tripped over the foot- rest of her wheelchair. He felt his vertebrae shift out of place like a pack of playing cards being shuffled through the air. With a suppressed scream, he crashed face down onto the floor. With all of the yelling and noise in the room, it is quite possible that only Rivka heard the thud and her husband’s agonized cry. Zev was the first at his side.
“Go get your grandmother,” Joseph whispered, feeling like his head was about to explode.
Suddenly, everyone noticed the commotion. The children finished singing the last question, and a hush spread over the hall. Within seconds, Joseph was surrounded by at least a dozen Jewish doctors. There were three internists, two dermatologists, a pediatrician, a cardiologist, a surgeon, two gastroenterologists, an ear, nose, and throat man, an anesthesiologist, and a shrink. As his luck would have it, only an orthopedic specialist was missing.
“Stay in your seats, stay in you seats,” the Rabbi repeated, as curious hotel guests rushed forward to see what was happening.
Harry Friedman stood up from his chair. It looked like his son was being well taken care of by an entire medical clinic, so he hurried off after his wife.
“Lizzy!” he called. “Lizzy! It’s Passover. Will you get the hell back in here!”
Rivka told Shimon to follow his grandfather.
“It’s OK. I’m OK,” Joseph said. Slowly, he rose to his feet, like a boxer at the count of nine. His forehead was sweating and a trickle of blood dripped out of his nose.
Gradually, the crowd of doctors stepped back to give Joseph room to breathe. Danny helped his father back to his wheelchair.
“Where’s Grandma?” he asked.
“Zev went after her,” Danny told him.
“What about you? Are you OK?” Rivka asked.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Where’s my father?”
“Don’t worry,” Rivka assured him. “Shimon’s with him.”
People returned to their tables. The Rabbi took charge once again and told everyone to hold up the matzot.
“I’ve got to go help them,” Joseph said.
“What about the Seder?” Rivka asked.
“I’ll be right back. In the meantime, the kids can follow along with the Rabbi.”
Joseph navigated the wheelchair away from the table. But he was an inexperienced driver and ended up crashing into a lady sitting across the way.
“Next year in Jerusalem,” Danny said, quoting the last sentence of the Haggadah, as he hurried to grab the handles of the renegade wheelchair. With a tug and a push, he shoved his father in the direction of the lobby. Not wanting to miss out on the action, Avi and Moishe jumped out of their seats to race off after them. Even before the Rabbi reached the parable of the Four Sons, Rivka was all alone at their table with the baby. “Some happy holiday,” she thought.
To be perfectly frank, I was a little disappointed by the few book purchases that were made in response to my previous blog. We can’t complain that there’s not any good literature with real Jewish value if we don’t support our writers. For instance, while my novel, “Fallen Angel” is too risqué for kids, my other books, “Days of Mashiach,” “The Discman and the Guru,” “Dad,” and “Tevye in the Promised Land,” to be reissued soon, make for great summer reading for teenagers, giving them a break from their computers and whatever poison they’re watching (my new release, “The Mouse Made Me Do It! A Torah Guide to Kosher Surfing,” is recommended reading for that.)
A word to the wise is sufficient.
For your Book Week enjoyment, here are some more highly recommended Jewish books which I’ve written. Rabbi Kook wrote about the importance of literature in paving the road to the t’shuva of the nation. He envisioned a day when all of the writers in Israel would realize the great beauty of t’shuva and fill their works with a love and passion for G-d and for Torah. This new literature of t’shuva will inspire the nation with the longing to return to our holy foundations and roots.
In my writings, I have constantly tried to instill a message of t’shuva and return. Here are some books I recently made available on the Internet with short descriptions and links. I am certain you will enjoy them, and they make great gifts, especially for family members or friends who need a lifesaving injection of Judaism. In the next few blogs, I’ll be posting excerpts from the books. With G-d’s help, some additional titles will be appearing shortly, including my novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which is quite possibly the greatest Jewish novel ever written.
One Man's Spiritual Quest for Health, Love, and the Golden Path
by Tzvi Fishman
New England high school teacher, Craig Peters, has hit a mid-life crisis. He's got problems with his wife, with his daughter, and with his health. Reading about a 120 year old miracle worker in Israel, he decides that this mysterious sage is the only person in the world who can save him from his troubles and from the unholy life he has been leading. Embarking on a "nothing to lose" quest to the Holy Land, he enters a spiritual world he never knew existed. His conversations with Saba Yosef, who uncannily knows everything about his life without being told, brings him to a desperately needed overhaul and inner cleansing. But it takes a near fatal "accident," and the intercession of Saba Yosef in the World To Come, to bring him back from the afterworld for a second chance at life, and the hope for a new, more loving beginning.
A Modern Day Fable
by Tzvi Fishman
Harry Walsh is a brilliant, cynical, whoring conman, the bestseller author of phony "spiritual" self-help books. In past reincarnations, he appeared again and again as some of world history's most infamous and murderous characters, including Cain, Nimrod, Bilaam the Sorceror, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus, Titus, Muhammad, and King Richard the Lionhearted, to mention just a few. Now, the Almighty has decided to give Harry one last chance to change his errant ways. But when an angel arrives in New York with the mission of convincing Harry to set his present licentious life in order and break free from his sordid past, the angel himself falls to the temptations of the fast life in America as he tours around the country with the ribald celebrity. This modern day fable if filled with humor and hilarious escapades as it traces the unlikely friendship that springs up between the angel and the soul-stained writer. Along the way, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride through world history, encountering, along with Harry, startling insights and deep, poignant truths which have the power to illuminate the spiritual darkness of our times and add the Divine light and connection that is missing from our lives.
by Tzvi Fishman
The novel, "Dad," tells the touching, poignant, and humorous story of a loving husband with five hyperactive sons and another child on the way, who suddenly has to take care of his aging parents as well, while carefully placating his harried, stressed-out wife. It's a wild, hectic balancing act that would drive anyone insane, and Joseph Friedman is no exception as he struggles to help his anxiety-ridden Dad deal with the Alzheimer's Disease that has turned Mom into a totally different woman. "Dad" tells the story all people face as their parents reach the not so "Golden Years." An unforgettable family novel by the author of "Tevye in the Promised Land."
Days of Mashiach
by Tzvi Fishman
"Days of Mashiach" is a collection of original and off-beat stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora. Written with a keen and humorous eye on the Jewish experience in our time, the stories center around the redemption of the Jewish People, the ingathering of the exiles, repentance, settlement of the Land of Israel, and Mashiach.
The Discman and the Guru
by Tzvi Fishman
Seventeen year old, Sam Singer, son of one of the wealthiest men in America, frustrated by his childhood of money and fame, leaves his home in Beverly Hills in search of God and the "TRUTH." His poignant and humerous-packed odyssey takes him to London, Paris, Rome, India, Mecca, and finally Jerusalem, where his insistence on praying on the Temple Mount nearly sets off an international war. "The Discman and the Guru" is fun reading for the entire family.
The Teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook
by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman
In his classic treatise, "Orot," Rabbi Kook teaches that a proper understanding of Judaism can only be achieved after one first recognizes the significance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. To understand who we are as a nation, and to actualize our role as a light to the world, we first have to comprehend the special relationship between the Divinely-chosen People and the Divinely-chosen Land.
Rabbi Kook writes: "It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his intellectual faculties and his imaginative powers when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to the quality of their faithfulness in Land of Israel. Revelations of holiness, on whatever level, are clean in Land of Israel, while outside the Land of Israel, they are mixed with dross and impure husks."
Owing to the deep, esoteric insights and difficult Hebrew of "Orot," the book has remained the cherished possession of Rabbi Kook's students and the generation of Torah scholars who learned at the Rabbi Kook Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Now, in this illuminating commentary, Rabbi Kook's writings on the Land of Israel are explained in a clear and concise manner that is sure to add a treasure of knowledge to your understanding of Judaism and the role of Am Yisrael in the world.
The Art of T'shuva
The Teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook
by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman
While psychologists and self-help books offer many theories about man's existential dilemma and pain, Rabbi Kook reveals that the real cause of humanity's suffering stems from man's alienation from God. The solution, he teaches, is t'shuva. While t'shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, the root of the Hebrew word t'shuva means "return." T'shuva is a return to the source, to one's roots, to one's deepest inner self. Rabbi Kook writes:
"When one forgets the essence of one's soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principal t'shuva, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to God, to the Soul of all souls. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence... All depression stems from transgression, from being distant from God, and t'shuva comes to light up the soul and transform the depression into incredible joy."
THE ART OF T'SHUVA explains Rabbi Kook's writings on t'shuva in a clear, concise, and illuminating step-by-step fashion. This encounter with Rabbi's Kook's vision is certain to lead readers to greater personal happiness, understanding, and spiritual growth.
Guess what we will be reading in the Torah portion this Shabbos? The story of the Spies who didn’t want to come on aliyah to Israel. It’s the biggest sin in the Torah, for which G-d wiped out the entire generation. Since we have written several times about this tragic and shameful episode of our history, we won’t go over it again. In a nutshell, the Spies didn’t love the Land of Israel the way they were supposed to. Instead of doing what G-d wanted them to do, they were more concerned with their own honor, knowing that in Eretz Yisrael the nation would need a new type of leadership and that they would be out of their jobs.
To rectify their rejection of the Land, we have to love and embrace it. To rectify their speaking bad about the Land, we have to always look at its good sides. To rectify their refusing to make aliyah, we have to make aliyah in their stead.
But in order to truly love the Land and rise to the high level of faith that Yehoshua and Calev displayed in urging everyone to make aliyah, we have to learn more about its special treasures. Since Book Week has started in Israel, we recommend that everyone buy a copy of our book, “Eretz Yisrael,” co-written with Rabbi David Samson, and based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook from his classic treatise, “Orot.” It’s available on the web now at: www.createspace.com/3604549, or you can find it at Amazon Books.
If you want to really partake in the tikun of the Spies, and foster a greater love for Israel amongst our brethren, then buy extra copies for friends. Give the book to as many people you can. It has the power to change lives! At least send the link to every Jew that you know. Post it on Facebook and Twitter. Encourage everyone on your list to become a part of the Aliyah Revolution now!
Happy reading and Shabbat shalom.