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The Tovia Singer Show
Tamar & Tovia Dynamite
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.
Many people think that in lighting giant Hanukah menorahs in places like Manhattan, Paris, Melbourne, and Berlin, we are “a light to the nations.” However pretty and moving this may be, the light of these solitary and scattered menorahs gets swallowed up by the deep surrounding darkness. It’s a little like lighting a match in a dark alley. For a few seconds, there’s a flickering of light, and then it vanishes, engulfed by the darkness of the alley. Even if matches were lit in alleyways all over the world, the light would shine for an instant then disappear.
The only way of sustaining the light is by lighting all of the matches as one great bonfire, and this can only be accomplished by bringing the matches together and kindling them in one place – the Land of Israel.
When all of the scattered exiled Jews are gathered in the Land of Israel, a great Divine light goes out to the world like a beacon, illuminating the darkness of the nations. This is the meaning of “For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Yerushalayim.” The light goes out from Yerushalayim, and not from Times Square or Beverly Hills. We become a “light to the nations” precisely when we are living together in Eretz Yisrael, and not when we are scattered all over the world, minorities in foreign lands, stripped of our Israelite nationhood and our pride.
During the long exile, the lighting of the Hanukah menorah had meaning in reminding the Jews in faraway places, where we were strangers in someone else’s land, that we were still connected to an eternal light and a Land of miracles – but now, with the re-establishment of Medinat Yisrael, and the ingathering of Jews from all over the world, we no longer need the menorahs in New York. The time has come for each and every Jew to take his little light and join in with the great light that is shining forth from Israel.
For example, even in this early stage of our Redemption, when millions of our outcasts have gathered in Eretz Yisrael, even though we are still a ways from our full Torah power, still, even in our temporary secular/Torah state, all of the world’s attention is focused on what the Jews are doing in Israel. Pick up any leading newspaper from the capitals of the world and chances are you will find a front-page story about Israel. When a settler lights a small menorah on a hilltop in Judea, the whole world goes crazy. The United Nations rushes to condemn it. The White House issues and immediate warning. And the Europeans protest at the top of their lungs, like a Sunday church choir.
No one cares about the giant menorah in Berlin or Brooklyn. But a tiny menorah lit by a Jewish settler in Beit-El, Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, or some deserted and unnamed hilltop, causes an international raucous. Why? Not because the settler is infringing on Palestinian rights. No one really cares about the Arabs. The uproar comes because, in their unconscious psyches, the gentiles sense that with each Jew who returns to the Land of Israel and sets up his home on a Biblical mountainside, the one and only G-d of Israel is returning with him, to establish His rule in the world, and the nations cry out, blinded by the light.
Even in our present interim stage of Redemption, when our incredible Torah power is still hidden, and when prophecy has not yet reappeared, the sons of Esav and Yishmael sense the great light and they tremble, knowing deep in their hearts that their religions and doctrines are false, that G-d has not abandoned the Jews as they claim, and that the prophecies of the Torah will surely come to pass if they don’t try everything in their power to stop it, so they can continue on with their falsehood, stealing, and whoring.
That’s why the light of even one small menorah on a hilltop in Samaria, where the Hanukah story all began, shines more brightly than all of the scattered menorahs, however towering that they might be, in the lands of the gentiles, “For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Yerushalayim.”
If you missed seeing my singing Hanukah greeting on Youtube, you can still see it, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8oPjfl2Bsk&feature=youtu.be
On Hanukah, in addition to thanking G-d for the miracles He performed for our forefathers in the days of the Macabbees, there is a general mitzvah to praise and thank G-d for the miracles He has performed in our personal lives. Of course, His miracles are with us every day, but some stand out more than others.
So, in the hope of inspiring others to discover the great blessing I found in my life, I will try to describe how I, a totally assimilated screenwriter in Hollywood, made the long, exhilarating, challenging, humbling, and, joy-filled journey back to G-d, to Torah, and to the Land of Israel - Eretz Yisrael.
It is a voyage from depression to happiness, from emptiness to fulfillment, from darkness to light. You can make it too.
While old-time readers may be familiar with my magical mystery tour, new readers are sure to find some benefit in hopping onboard my yellow submarine for the journey. I will try to include some new insights and illustrations along the way to make the adventure interesting to veteran travelers as well.
35 years ago, there was a popular TV mini-series called ROOTS, about the Blacks in America. Likewise, my mini-tale may be called, "SHORASHIM," which means roots in Hebrew, for, all in all, it was a journey back to my roots, back to where all the Jewish People come from, and back to who we really are.
In many ways, it was like a voyage back through history in a Jules Verne time-tunnel ship, smashing through barriers of time and place, shedding generations of foreign identities, peeling off layers and layers of foreign cultures, foreign values, foreign aspirations, and foreign ideas, to break through the Matrix of the Truman Show bubble we live in, to get to the other side to the roots of my soul, back, back, back through 2000 years of exile, in order to discover my true self and forge a steadfast attachment to G-d, to Torah, to the saga of the Jewish Nation, and to Eretz Yisrael, where my, and your, great great great great great great grandfather were born.
To discover all these treasures, I had to give up many things. I had to give up my inflated ego, my arrogance, and my preoccupation with myself. I had to give up my false identity as an American with all of its aspirations of achieving fame, money, and success. And I had to give up the need to be in constant intellectual control, in order to let change happen and make room for G-d in my life.
Before discovering the truth of the Torah, I was the center of my existence. Afterward, G-d became the center. Before my enlightenment, I always did what I wanted to do. Afterward, I realized that we were put here on Earth to do what G-d wants us to do. Before I boarded the tshuva (repentance) ship, I lived for myself and used my talents to further my own selfish interests. Afterwards, I realized that G-d had given me talents for the sake of the Torah and the Jewish People, to share with others the insights that He so graciously sent my way.
I grew up in the "Fifties" in a typical assimilated Jewish family of the time. In those days, the reform movement wasn't quite as watered down as it is today. We lit Hanukah candles and pretty bulbs on a Xmas tree (so I wouldn't feel different from the other boys on our block.) We ate matzah on Passover, and hid Easter eggs like our non-Jewish neighbors. Hearing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah was a part of our yearly cycle, along with a respectful visit to the temple on Yom Kippur. But while my parents always fostered a pride in being Jewish, being an America came first.
To me, going to Hebrew school meant having to miss basketball practice and being different from my friends. When bar mitzvah time came around, our temple was under construction, so my bar mitzvah service was held in the local Unitarian church. That's right - a church. To me, that's a perfect metaphor for Jewish life in America - it's like being bar mitzvahed in a church!
After that, I had nothing more to do with Judaism for almost two decades. It wasn't a part of my consciousness at all. During my high school years at the prestigious Philips Andover Academy prep school, I tried my hardest to be a WASP like everyone else. On Sundays, while the "chosen" were praying upstairs in the beautiful New England church on the campus, we handful of Jews were segregated to hold an alternate service in a small room in the basement of the building.
Apparently, I was born with a sensitive soul, for even then I felt estranged from the constant patriotic American message of you-have-to-wear-tassled-p
I shared an apartment with another lost and sensitive Jewish soul who was trying like me to be an "artist." He used to see a shrink once a week and lay on the couch of his office without saying a word, for months on end, at $500 a pop, to please his father, who didn't understand why his son was so depressed. Tragically, he never discovered that his problem was simply trying to be someone he wasn't, just like I was doing, turning our backs on our exquisite Jewish souls in order to twist ourselves into Paul Newman imitations to be just as cool and American as everyone else.
Like my American ancestors before me, I heeded the call, "Go West, young man," ready to take my place amongst the stars. My first pad was not far from the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, the holiest shrine in LA. Using a pen name, I sold two more trashy original screenplays that were made into films. I had money, a new and 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 work out 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 stoned at the beach, working on my tan. Nights were spent prowling the discos. When in Rome do as the Romans do. But the truth is that I wasn't happy at all. 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 with something called ulcerative colitis.
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 of cortisone, the bleeding dried up, but the minute I got off the drug, the bleeding returned, more furious than before. 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.
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. 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 mastering what you are trying to avoid.
My friend’s 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 Israel. Sure, I had probably had heard about the Six-Day 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. I remember sitting on a beach in Santa Monica and saying to myself, "You have to take off your screwed-up, neurotic American head, and put on the head of King David instead."
By the grace of G-d, I understood with a flash of crystal clear knowledge, with those first head-spinning, sparkling rays of heavenly insight, when G-d enters your life with a thundering ROAR, and lights up your life like the sun, I understood that in order to hear the voice of my long silent soul, to my discover who I really was and find healing for my ailing body and spirit, I would have to chase after G-d with the same passion that I had been chasing after success and fame.
In a flash of revelation, I understood that all of the world, with all its lusts and enticements, was merely a mask hiding the presence of G-d. The world, in Shakespeare's words, was a stage. As fake as an MGM studio back-lot of Dodge City. G-d hid Himself behind the curtain of the material world, letting people think they were in charge of show, but when G-d pulled open the stage curtains for me, I realized that He was behind everything, pulling the strings, like the director up in the control booth in the movie, "The Truman Show."
In a split second of piercing awareness, like when the sea was split for the Jews leaving Egypt, and the sky was opened for everyone one to see the Divine Hand behind nature and history, I understood that G-d was everything. I bought a book about the foundations of Judaism. Rosh HaShanah was coming, and I read about "Tashlich." So on Rosh HaShanah day, I walked down to the beach and threw my cortisone pills into the Pacific Ocean. "Please G-d," I begged. "Accept these pills as my sins and please heal me without any more medicine."
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. They gave me the cortisone intravenously, but the minute I got out, I stopped taking the pill 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, the funny little box that Orthodox Jews wear on their head during prayer, but this one looked like some gigantic oversized tefillin 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.
The dream made me understand that turning my back on the world and becoming an ascetic wasn't the way. That might be good for the first stage of penitence, and for monks and swarmis who live out their lives in delusion, when, in fact, G-d doesn't want us sitting alone in the Himalayas, separated from mankind and leaving them to drop dead from disease and starvation. For a Jew, spirituality is bringing G-d into the world at every moment, to sanctify all of existence and raise it to perfection and rectification, known as "tikun."
I realized that to enter the world of the Judaism, to understand its teachings, I would have to put aside all of my previous false and superficial notions of life, put aside, for the moment, all the books I had read and courses I had taken, and follow the Psalms of King David as my reliable guidebook, accepting the words of G-d in the Torah as absolute truth. For a Jew, the a basic instruction manual is the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the guidebook of Jewish Law, and that the way to get close to G-d is by doing the mitzvot, just like He commanded the Jewish People at Sinai.
The next morning after my dream, 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 to stay alive 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 my uncle 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! For the first time in weeks. Without any medicine! The bleeding never came back! A miracle! Even then, at that very moment, I knew that my sickness was over. I felt like G-d had reached out a metaphorical finger and healed my colitis. I was astounded.
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.
I was blown away. How could I continue on with my bohemian life of beaches and Hollywood discos? 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'll 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."
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."
That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel, and, thank G-d, I've been living a miracle since.
Here’s a little singing greeting card I wrote for Hanukah to all of my brothers and sisters around the world that you can see me sing on youtube, a little song to the tune of the John Lennon hit, “Imagine”. Happy Hanukah!
Imagine there were no Jews in golus
It’s easy if you wish
No lighting menorahs in Times Square
Or bagels and gefilta fish
Imagine all the Jewish people living in Israel
Imagine there’s no Diaspora
It isn’t hard to do
No assimilation and persecutions
And no false religions too
Imagine all the Jewish People living where they should
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the Jews will live as one
Imagine no dual identities
I wonder if you can
No American or French Jews
Just Israelis in our own land
Imagine all the Jewish people living in Israel
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And then Jews and Hashem’s Name will appear as one
DON'T MISS THE SINGING BLOGGER - NOW ON YOUTUBE
Courtesy Machon HaMikdash
The leftist media in Israel has found a new whip to lash out at the world of Orthodox Judaism. For years, they say, the religious and secular got along, respecting the status quo, but now they complain, the Orthodox are becoming too Orthodox, moving toward an “extreme religious fundamentalism” that reminds them of the dark and primitive tribalism of Taliban, which finds expression in separate seating on Haredi buses for men and women; separate lines in Haredi supermarket check-out counters; and opposition to pictures of women appearing on billboards in Jerusalem. What irks them the most is the increased demand for modesty, coming even from the once moderate religious Zionist community, including opposition to female soldiers singing at IDF ceremonies.
Radio talk-show hosts rant about it for hours. Especially outraged talk-show hostesses, who take it as a personal offence. What a threat to Israeli society, they exclaim! What a terrible denigration of women, of women’s equality, and women’s rights!
Now tell me – who treats women more respectfully, the religious or the secular? Having lived half of my life in the secular world, and half in the religious, I think I have enough experience to answer. In the religious world, the woman is the queen of the house. Every Sabbath eve, the man of the house sings her praises in the famous song, “Eshet Chayil,” the beautiful tribute to the “Woman of Valor” which concludes the Book of Proverbs. The wife is equated with the Shechinah. The blessing in the house derives from her. A husband is commanded to love his wife as himself and respect her more than he respects himself. What religious man doesn’t bring his wife a bouquet of flowers every Erev Shabbat? She is loved and praised for her modesty, which wins her husband’s faithfulness. Though there may be many worthy women in the world, the husband sings to his wife, “you surpass them all.” He loves her not for her charm, nor passing physical beauty, but for her inner essence and fear of G-d.
How different things are in the secular world where a woman is turned into a sex object and considered little more than a whore. In the secular world, a woman is more esteemed for her body and the shape of her legs than for her inner worth. As the song of “The Doors” proclaims, “Don’t you love her when she’s walking out the door?” Who has a higher rate of divorce and adultery, the Orthodox or the secular? The answer is clear. In the secular world, when you get tired of one woman, you get yourself another. They’re all equal, right?
The religious world doesn’t turn their women into objects of sexual fantasy and lust. Pornography is the invention, and multi-billion dollar industry, of the non-religious world, not the religious. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, you don’t have to look like a Hollywood model and starve yourself to death in order to attract a man’s attention, or to keep your husband from running away with some younger girl. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, a woman doesn’t have to walk around half naked and turn herself into a call girl, to be winked at on the bus, pinched in the butt at the office, and forced to submit herself to humiliating and drunken one-night stands in order to keep up in the competition of the secular world’s modern-day jungle.
In the world of Orthodox Judaism, the separation between men and women in public places doesn’t come to denigrate women, but rather to guard their respected status and honor. Likewise, the opposition to pictures of women on Jerusalem billboards serves to protect them from being turned into sex objects to sell Coca-Cola and cars. And if they want to sing, what a wonderful thing, but not in front of religious soldiers, because a man is a man, and, as our Sages have told us, the eyes see, the heart desires, and transgression awaits at the door. And anyone familiar with what goes on in army bases, and the general secular world of nightclubs and pubs, knows very well that when men and women get together, all too often, the result is unwanted pregnancies, abortions, adulterous relationships, divorces, spilling semen in vain, venereal disease, and patterns of self-hate that lead to the psychologist’s couch or worse.
Now, tell me - who is more enlightened and respectful of women – the Orthodox Jew, or the outraged, secular radio-show hostess who has to wear low-cut blouses and flirt with all the guys at the station in order to keep her job?
Even without the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh, when the Land was all desert and swamp, before there was a Jewish airline, modern rebuilt cities, booming agriculture, and a world leading hi-tech industry, Tevye made it home to the Holy Land, and so can you, with a lot less sacrifice and hassle!
Tevye in the Promised Land
THE HOLY LAND
Tevye stood alone on the rain and windswept deck and stared at the merciless sea long after everyone else had retreated to whatever shelter they could find. His head hung down in surrender, and he clutched at the railing as the ship rose and fell. Stricken with pain, he raised a fist to the sky and cried out to the heavens, "I'll show you what Tevye is made of!" But the howl of the wind muted his shout of defiance, breaking his last vestige of pride.
He knew he was being tested, yet he didn't know why. He had sins like any man, but this final punishment was more than a creature of flesh and blood could endure. True, the Rabbis taught that the Lord does not test a man’s powers, but without his wife, Golda, Tevye felt crushed. Let God choose some other poor fool to suffer for all of the world. Tevye had already borne enough of the burden.
Not that he was complaining. The Almighty had created him, and He was free to do with him as He wished. But if it were all a part of some Divine, cosmic purpose, then Tevye wanted to be informed. What was the plan? Why did the simple Jew suffer, while the wicked lived like kings? Nachman said that God punished the righteous for their sins in this world so that He could give them everlasting life in the World to Come. And the wicked were rewarded in this world for whatever good deeds they performed, so that God could cut them off from Heaven forever. In theory, it sounded fine. Like everything else in the Bible, Tevye readily believed it. But what good did it do him as he stood soaking wet in the rain? And what good had it done Golda? Once again, when he was on the verge of despair, Tevye heard the sound of her voice in his brain, "Be strong, my Tevye, be strong."
The rocking of the ship put Tevye into a trance. His eyes stared tearfully out at the sea, as if searching for Golda's coffin. He didn't respond when Hava tugged at his arm and urged him to abandon his watch. He didn't budge when Bat Sheva begged him. He didn't listen to Ruchel and Nachman. At some point, the afternoon slipped into night. Finally, the storm abated. The ocean calmed as if it had been appeased by the treasure it had stolen from Tevye. Exhausted, Tevye fell asleep on his feet. All through the night, Goliath sat on the deck beside him, holding Tevye's legs so that he wouldn't fall into the deep alongside his Golda. With the first morning light, the giant stood up and peered out at the horizon. A shimmer of gold, like a faraway outline, appeared between the sky and the ocean.
"Tevye," Goliath whispered. "Tevye, wake up. Look! The Land of Israel!"
The milkman opened his eyes. Was it a vision? Was it a dream? A shudder swept through his body. His flesh tingled. He squinted to get a better glimpse of the Land, of the legend, of the longing of Jews for thousands of years. As if by itself, the words of a blessing rose up from his soul, a blessing for himself, for all of his family, and for all of the Jews who would come after him to these sacred shores:
"Blessed art Thou, Lord my God, King of the universe, Who has granted us life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment!"
The good news spread quickly. Soon, all of the Jews were crowded on deck, waving, cheering, hugging each other and singing. Men grabbed hands and danced, whirling around faster and faster until their feet seemed to hover over the deck. The women formed their own festive circle a modest distance away from the men. When the boys and girls of a Zionist group grabbed hands and started dancing together, a group of Hasidim rushed over, yelling, "Shanda! The scandal! The shame! This is the Holy Land!"
By the time morning prayers were completed, the ship had narrowed the distance to shore. A golden tiara of sunbeams shone down on the Promised Land. The sun-baked buildings of Jaffa stood on a hillside ringing the harbor. Here and there, a minaret protruded over the sun-bleached roofs. Beyond a cove of rocks guarding the bay, rays of sunlight sparkled over tranquil green water. Masted schooners rested alongside the dock. Long, flat rowboats were anchored in colorful bunches. The new immigrants stood gazing at the land of their forefathers. As they neared the harbor, an official-looking launch pulled up to the side of the steamship, and a Turkish officer climbed up the ladder, followed by several soldiers. Out of earshot of the passengers, the red-turbanned officer and the boat's captain conferred.
As a Jew says in his prayers every morning, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the counsel of God which prevails." The captain turned to the excited crowd of passengers on deck and told them that everyone could prepare to disembark except for the Jews. The Turkish authorities were refusing to issue the Jews permits to land. They would have to travel on with the boat to the port of Alexandria, in Egypt.
Tevye was stunned. After all they had gone through! To be turned away when they could almost reach out and touch a dream of ages. Who were these heathen scoundrels to deny the children of Abraham the right to step foot on their very own soil?
It was one of the Zionists who cried out, "This is our land! The land of the Jews!"
He rushed forward as if to charge the captain and the Turkish official. Without waiting for an order, a soldier raised his rifle and fired. The bullet struck the Jew in his chest. Clutching his heart, he fell to the deck. Goliath took a step forward but Tevye held him back. Rifles remained poised in alert. Instantly, the rebellion was quelled. The Jews lifted their dead and retreated to the aft of the ship.
"Who are they?" Ruchel asked. "Why do they act like Palestine belongs to them?"
"They're Turks," her father answered. "They rule here. We've escaped one Czar and found ourselves another."
"We outnumber them," Goliath said. "We all should have charged."
"And what would we have done when we finally reached shore?" Tevye asked. "Gone to war with the entire Turkish army?"
The big lumberjack looked confused. No one had ever bothered to explain to him the political situation in Palestine. In truth, he had never thought to ask. In his mind, the Land of Israel belonged to the Jews. God had given it to them. He had promised it to Abraham as an everlasting gift. The oversized Jew wasn't a rabbi, but he had heard the Torah read aloud on the Sabbath every week of his life, and he knew almost all of the Five Books of Moses by heart. The land of Canaan was the inheritance of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Russia, a Jew could expect to be thrown out of his village – he was a stranger in someone else's country. But in Eretz Yisrael – forbidding a Jew to land on its shores was like trying to keep a man out of his very own home!
The Jews fell into a restless depression. They stood whispering in groups as rowboat after rowboat arrived to carry the other passengers ashore. Zionists and Hasidim alike paced nervously back and forth like caged lions. Tevye's daughters were heartbroken. Tzeitl's coughing shook her whole body. Her eyes had lost their light, and her face was drained of color.
"Where are they going to take us?" Hannie wanted to know.
"To Egypt," Tevye answered. "To see the pyramids our grandfathers built."
Once again, it was Nachman who offered a glimmer of hope.
"Remember, Reb Tevye, I have heard you say it yourself, `Everything that God does is for the best.' Maybe He wants to give us reward for walking from Egypt to Israel, just like our forefathers did long ago."
"I can hardly wait," Bat Sheva said cynically.
"What about the poor soul who was shot?" Hava asked. "Did things work out good for him too?"
As the last passengers were leaving the ship. Hevedke made a point of walking over to be with the Jews. He took a place toward the back of the ship-bound ghetto and stood tall and determined as if he were making a statement. When the soldiers climbed down the ship's ladder and returned to their launch, Tevye strode up to the captain. Goliath stuck to his side like a shield.
"We bought passage to Palestine and we expect to be set ashore here," Tevye said.
"You heard what the Turkish lieutenant ordered," the captain responded.
"If not in this port than in some other," Tevye demanded.
"There is no other port in the direction we're heading."
"Then you'll just have to set us ashore on a beach."
The captain laughed. "You think it's so easy? Plenty of vessels have gone aground in these waters."
"We will make it worth your while," Tevye said.
The captain paused. He looked at the Jew. "And just how do you propose to make it worth my while?" he asked.
"With a gift to the captain of two hundred rubles."
The captain smiled. "Five hundred," he said. "I have to share it with my crew."
Tevye nodded. "You'll get it when the last one of us is safely ashore."
"Half before the landing. Half afterward," the captain said.
Tevye reached into his pocket and pulled out all the money he had. It came to a little less than two hundred rubles. Goliath handed him a pile of notes, and Tevye counted out the difference. Greedily, the captain took it from his hand.
"Throwing your wife overboard was nothing personal, you understand. I did it for the welfare of the ship."
Tevye wanted to spit in his face. A pool of saliva welled up in his mouth. But once again, like he had done all of his life, he swallowed his pride and his anger.
The ship pulled up anchor and continued its way south along the sandy coastline. Tevye related the agreement to the other Jews on board and collected the remainder of the bribe money in a hat which Goliath held out in his hand. Within a short time, Jaffa could no longer be seen. Jews lined the railing to view the desolate shoreline. Undulating sand dunes extended inland as far as the eye could see. Only an occasional palm tree interrupted the desert-like landscape. Nachman said they were date trees. The honey of the Land of Israel wasn't the honey of bees, but the honey of dates, a fruit which none of the Russian Jews had ever tasted. For an hour they saw nothing but desert, rolling dunes, and endless mountains of sand. Up on the bridge of the ship, the captain held up a hand. The crew once again lowered the anchor, and the captain waved Tevye over.
"Get your people ready," he said.
"Can't you bring the ship closer to shore?" Tevye asked.
"Not without endangering the vessel," the captain responded. "If I get too close to the beach, the current could sweep me aground."
They were still at least two-hundred meters from land. Foam-capped waves raced toward the coastline. The small rowboats that were lowered from the ship rocked forebodingly in the ocean between the powerful swells.
"You agreed to take us to shore," Tevye said.
"The rowboats will take your people as close to the beach as possible."
"But most of these people can't swim!"
"Take it or leave it," the captain replied.
Once again, Tevye had no choice. But when the captain demanded the rest of the money, Tevye insisted that he would pay only when all of the Jews had reached the beach safely. Tevye wasn't a seaman, but he realized the undertaking would be no easy matter. The waves crashing onto the beach, and the powerful undertow they caused, prevented the rowboats from reaching the shore. The small crafts had to stop a considerable swim from the beach. A crew member swam into shore with the end of a rope which he fastened to a trunk of a palm tree. From the rowboats, the Jews would have to hang onto the rope and battle the waves and the undertow the rest of the way to the Holy Land.
"What about everyone's belongings?" Tevye asked. "How will people manage if they have to hold on to a rope?"
The captain shrugged. "You can always change your mind and sail the rest of the way to Alexandria," he said.
Who knew what new disasters would arise on the way to Alexandria, Tevye thought? Eretz Yisrael was so close, they could almost reach out and touch it. Jews were already pushing and shoving to climb down the ladder of the ship. They jumped into the small rowboats as if the chance might never come again.
"At least take the belongings ashore," Tevye pleaded. "It's everything these people have in the world."
"I can try," the captain said. "But it has to be worth risking a boat and its crew."
Reluctantly, Tevye agreed on another one-hundred rubles.
If God were testing the resolve of the Jews, He tested them to the very end of their journey. With one hand clutching the lifeline which stretched to the beach, and their other hand clutching their children close to their breasts, Jews fought their way through the pounding waves to collapse on the cherished shore. Goliath and Hevedke carried Moishe and Hannie to safety, then splashed back into the undertow to help others make the punishing journey from the rowboats to the white, pristine sand. A mother cried out in anguish when a wave swept her child out of her arms. Goliath dove underwater. Waves crashed over his head. Finally, the whale of a man emerged clutching the terrified girl.
Tevye waited with Tzeitl on the deck of the ship until all of the others had disembarked for the shore. When a rowboat filled with suitcases and boxes coasted on a wave to the beach, Tevye handed the captain the rest of the money. Then he and Tzeitl climbed down the ship's ladder into the tiny rowboat which was to ferry them toward shore. Tevye sat holding his shivering daughter as the crew battled the waves with their oars. Seawater splashed over their heads. The spray of the sea filled their nostrils and eyes. Finally, it was their turn to grab onto the rope which stretched the last thirty meters to shore. Tzeitl set out ahead of her father. Weakened by her sickness, the exertion demanded all of her strength. A wave crashed over their heads, drowning them with water. Tevye latched onto his daughter. But when the next wave hit them, Tevye's grip slackened. When he emerged and glanced around him, Tzeitl was nowhere to be seen.
"Tzeitl!" he screamed.
A wave swept him up in the air, and he glimpsed what looked like her dress.
"Tzeitl!" he roared, letting go off the rope to dive into the sea. A wave splattered him. His mouth filled with water. Choking, he flailed wildly out with his hands, hoping to rescue his daughter. But another wave swept over him, rolling him head over heels underwater. Everything turned into darkness. Suddenly, a hand grabbed him and raised his head back into the light. It was Hevedke. He dragged Tevye back to the rope and half pushed him, half carried him to shore.
"Tzeitl," Tevye moaned, collapsing onto the sand.
"She's all right," Hevedke answered. "Goliath pulled her out of the water."
"Thank God," Tevye said in exhaustion.
The milkman turned his head to the side and pressed his cheek into the warm, soothing sand. His hands clutched at the soil. The realization that he was in the Holy Land swept over him like another huge wave. He rose up on his knees, glanced at the water-soaked Jews on the beach, and let out an exuberant scream. Cheering, he raised his hands up to Heaven. Ruchela rushed into his arms.
"We're in Israel!" he shouted. "The good Lord has brought us to Israel!"
Nachman shouted the Shehecheyanu blessing out loud for everyone to hear. He and Tevye embraced. Then Tevye hugged all of his daughters. Even the shivering Tzeitl managed a broad, happy smile. All of the Jews on the beach felt the same sense of joy and relief. Everyone hugged one another. Goliath embraced Tevye, lifted him in the air, and spun him around in a circle. When Tevye landed, ready for the next hug, he stood face to face with Hevedke. For a moment, he froze. When he moved away to the right, Hevedke moved with him. When he moved to the left, Hevedke followed. Once again, they moved back and forth like two Russian dancers. Then Tevye held up his arms and snapped his fingers. Hevedke smiled and mimicked the gesture. Then to a silent tune, the two danced a traditional Hasidic dance on the beach. People watched them and clapped. Hava shed tears of joy. Other Jews joined in the dance. It no longer bothered anyone that they were all tired and wet, nor that they didn't have any food or fresh water. They were in the Promised Land! Their long journey was over. God would take care of the rest.
A call echoed over the beach. High on a towering sand dune, one of the young Zionists stood waving his cap and calling people to follow. The men stopped their dancing and made a charge for the mountain. Shoes sank into the soft, sandy slope as they scrambled hands and feet up the hill. Tevye joined them, crawling on his knees when the trek proved too steep. A young pioneer let out a scream and jumped off the summit. The meshugenneh toppled into the sand and rolled over and over down the long slope of the mountain. Like children, the other Jews followed. Tevye panted as he stood at the summit. To the north, he could see the long coastline. To the east lay endless stretches of swampland and desert. To the south, sand dunes filled the landscape as far as the eye could see.
"Are you coming?" Nachman asked.
The young rabbi jumped off the hill like a boy in summer camp. With a prayer in his heart, Tevye followed. Laughing, he rolled down the sand dune. He rolled and rolled, covered with sand, blanketed in the holy soil. When he stood up, his face was a mask. Sand filled his beard, his hair, his mouth and his eyes.
"Isn't is written, `Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth,'" Nachman exclaimed, reciting God's promise to Jacob.
Once again, the young Zionists set off in a race up the mountain. Nachman grabbed Tevye's hand.
"Gevalt," Tevye said. "Not again."
"Reb Tevye, my father to be, I love you," the ecstatic youth said.
Nachman theatrically raised up a hand and called out as if he were making a speech. "Go up the mountain, the Lord said to Abraham, and every place that you see, I will give to you and to your offspring forever."
Nachman's happiness and spirit gave Tevye the strength to brave the ascent once again. Struggling and gasping for breath, Tevye was the last climber to reach the summit. Down below, sand-covered Jews were jumping into the sparkling blue water. Tevye turned around in a small circle, feasting his eyes once again on his Land, the Land God had promised to give to the Jews, and here Tevye, the milkman from Anatevka was standing like Abraham on the top of the towering sand dune, surveying God’s priceless gift.
Down below, he watched Goliath playfully pick up Hevedke and hurl him into the water. Beyond them, out to sea, he glimpsed something floating on the top of a wave. In the glare of the sunlight, it looked like an oar from a rowboat, or the plank of a ship. But as it bobbed into view on the very next crest, Tevye could make out its sides. It was a crate of some sort, long and shallow in depth, like the shape of a . . . coffin.
Like the shape of a coffin!
Goose-pimples broke out all over Tevye's flesh.
"Golda," he whispered. "Golda!"
"GOLDA!" he screamed, hurling himself down the descent, running as fast as he could until he tripped in the sand and rolled the rest of the way down the mountain. Covered with sand, and white as a ghost, he staggered to his feet and ran along the beach yelling, "GOLDA!"
Tevye ran and he ran to catch up with his wife as the tide swept her coffin further south. His heart pounded so loudly, he felt it was sure to explode. Then, like a hand returning a precious jewel to its owner, a wave lifted the coffin and whisked it onto the beach. Like a lost treasure chest, it slid up to Tevye's feet. Tevye collapsed to his knees. Seaweed stuck to the wood like a wreath. Tevye fell over the coffin and cried. He sobbed like a baby until the others arrived. His daughters huddled around him. Everyone stood in stunned silence.
Hevedke was the first one to speak. "It's a miracle," he said, expressing the word on everyone’s lips.
Tevye gazed up to Heaven as if to say thanks. It truly was the Holy Land. Bending down, he put his head on the coffin and spoke to his beloved wife.
"Forgive me, Golda, for all that I've put you through. But you can rest now, my princess, we're home."
This chapter brings us to the end of Part One with another 500 pages to go. So, here are the options:
1. Continue with Tevye
2. Begin a new book serialization
3. Return to regular blogging
4. Take a long winter vacation