It’s Book Week in Israel. Book fairs are everywhere, with piles of new and attractive books spread out on tables, street corners, shopping malls, public parks, and city plazas. Bookstores advertise irresistible bargains.
It’s not surprising for a nation known as “People of the Book.” In perfect timing with the literary celebration, INN blogger Tzvi Fishman has just come out with four new titles that he’s posted in cyberspace on Amazon.
Fishman is winner of the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his popular novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” in which the beloved milkman from “Fiddler on the Roof” is brought to the Holy Land to become a pioneer settler. Tzvi took time out from his writing to answer a few questions.
INN: One of your new publications, “Heaven’s Door,” is described as “one man’s quest for health, love, and the golden path.” It tells the story of a man who travels to Israel to meet with a 120-year-old sage and miracle worker, hoping to solve his personal problems. What led you to write it?
Fishman: A lot of bestsellers today are pseudo-spiritual self-help books, which means that a lot of people are messed up and searching for paths to escape the unhappiness, pain, and darkness. So, I was motivated to write something in the same style, but with a real Torah message, to bring people to the truth, and not just a fake, sugar-coated pill that makes you feel good while you’re taking it, but then leaves you right where you were after the illusion wears off.
INN: Another one of your new releases, “Fallen Angel,” tells the rather risqué adventure of an angel who comes down to Earth to warn a cheap, bestseller author of phony spiritual bestsellers that he better change his ways. Once again, you’re back to the genre of spiritual journeys.
Fishman: So many writers make themselves out to be spiritual gurus, when it’s all a big charade. It tees me off. The only true healing comes through t’shuva (repentance) and forging a healthy connection to G-d. That’s the message of the Torah. In “Fallen Angel,” I dressed it up in a modern fable in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, not just religious Jews. Like in Rabbi Nachman’s famous story of the prince who thinks he’s a turkey and starts eating the scraps of food under the table. Finally, it’s the rabbi who saves him by crawling under the table and pretending he’s a turkey too.
INN: In so vividly describing the immoral lifestyle of Harry, the conman author, isn’t there the danger of lowering the reader under the table with him? Even your protagonist angel falls when he runs around with Harry in New York and encounters all of the temptations in the fast life of the rich and famous.
Fishman: I hope that in the end I manage to bring the reader up out of the muck that the angel succumbs to.
INN: I’m beginning to see a method in this madness. Another book you’ve recently penned is called “The Mouse Made Me Do It!” It’s billed as a Torah guide to kosher Internet surfing. Don’t you feel a little like Don Quixote, taking on the battle of the world’s oldest temptation?
Fishman: That’s what the Covenant of the Brit is all about between G-d and the Jewish People. We are supposed to live our lives in holiness, including the hours spent surfing on our computers. It’s no secret that an incredible number of people, teenagers and adults alike, have become victims to Internet pornography. It’s become a plague. Once again, the only real answer is Torah. “The Mouse Made Me Do It!” offers a deep Torah understanding of the problem and presents concrete ways of extracting oneself from the spiritual darkness the addiction creates.
INN: Another new novel you’ve got up at Amazon.com is “Dad.” Can you tell us something about it and how you came to write it?
Fishman: Twelve years ago, I brought my parents on Aliyah when they began to encounter medical problems they couldn’t handle on their own. In addition to Parkinson’s Disease, my Dad suffered from anxiety, which hit the ceiling when Mom was stricken with Alzheimer’s. The novel tells the humorous yet poignant story of a dutiful son, with his own batch of hyperactive kids, who has to take care of his aging and very demanding parents, while keeping his harried wife happy at home. I suppose that writing the book was my way of dealing with the very real traumas of the experience, while communicating to readers the supreme mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother.
INN: I noticed that your very popular novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” isn’t featured amongst the Amazon listings. Why is that?
Fishman: It’s on the way. I’m making some small changes, that’s all.
INN: I was hoping it would become a movie.
Fishman: So was I, but I didn’t succeed in raising the money needed for an expensive production like “Fiddler on the Roof,” which the story deserves. As long as Tevye is getting hit on the head by the Cossacks, and accepting assimilation with a shrug, the world loves him. But when he stands up like a proud Jew and is willing to fight for the Land of Israel, that’s something the world isn’t ready for.
INN: Do you have any advice to would-be writers during Book Week?
Fishman: Get yourselves another profession. That way you can continue to write the truth and not face the temptations of caving in to the times.