If you want a good chuckle and a good read, do not miss The Book of Hirsh by Tzvi Fishman, a clever and pithy book that succeeds in packing the entire US-Israel saga into a fast-paced, short work of fiction while providing readers with razor sharp insights on American Jewry and Israeli reality. (And when you read it, you will understand why I used the word "chuckle" instead of "laugh")
Steven Hirsh is an American hotshot lawyer, a womanizer who represents Hollywood celebrities and believes that everything has a price. He has two children from his first wife – the one who was Jewish, in contrast to the one who dies at the beginning of the book – and is the midst of a déjà vu experience because while his observant grandfather had watched helplessly as his son and grandson Steven abandoned what he held holy, Steven's brother and then his son return to Orthodox Judaism with a bang.
Not only do they keep mitzvahs, they do so on a level Israelis call "hardal" – haredi, Zionist and idealistic, which means fighting the establishment to recognize every hill their group settles or on which they open a yeshiva in the disputed territory of Judea and Samaria. Hirsh, rubbing his eyes in disbelief, dubs his son a "spiritual astronaut".
He understands nothing of what all this means, but is a truly open-minded person with a strong sense of justice, and travels to Israel to meet his future Israeli daughter-in-law, throwing money right and left to get what he wants – which works, mostly, but not always.
Hirsh learns fast, firsthand, as the story develops. It's a small country and everything is happening right in front of him. He realizes the geographic constraints, sees the aftermaths of the Oslo Accord, the Gush Katif expulsion, and the Temple Mount tensions, gets to deal with terror, the ISA (Shabak) Jewish Section, and to understand why his son says Arabs and not Palestinians. Facts are ammunition, he thinks, when talking about the Israel-Arab conflict and he quietly decides that "nothing can justify wanton terrorism and the killing of innocent people."
Hirsh has already given a considerable donation to his son's yeshiva, not realizing where it is located and what that might portend. All hell breaks loose when an Arab child dies in a fire (a thinly disguised take off on the Duma arson), bringing in its wake a Shabak interrogation and one holy mess. This is interspersed with a meeting with the yeshiva rabbi, with his son's fiance's 9-sibling family and her Holocaust survivor father, with the PM and his wife – a meeting which comes to pass because a meshuggener Hollywood client-star follows Hirsch to Israel and somehow helps save the day. This is topped by his budding romance with an Israeli lawyer who represents the hilltop youth and his original way of problem solving that involves the US president. There is more, much more, all in less than 250 pages.
The book is not just an action-packed adventure in the mad Middle East. It is also filled with Hirshs's wise, sometimes cynical and often funny, thoughts, such as "Why was it that so many popular writers are obsessed with sex and death? Especially Jewish writers like Philip Roth, an unhappy, existentially tortured literary genius…whom Hirsh's brother in Israel dubbed…'a Jewish mother hater'."
Hirsh is also prone to philosophic musings, like: "What caused there to be life on Earth? What was death? …Inside the golden urn (from cremating his wife) was there a soul or only ashes? ..Why had mankind been dwelling on the very same question for thousands of years?"
Philosophy, theology and history aside, things move swiftly until we get to the last chapter – and then, surprise! The author gives us two alternative endings from which to choose. Like a Talmudic dispute. Which chapter is more likely to happen? Up to you in this rolicking, impossible but half-serious and very readable book. Enjoy! Lechaim!
Postscript: Last but not least, this book could only have been written by Tzvi Fishman, who, before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984 after becoming observant, was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and the series "Tuvia in the Promised Land", available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" and was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. He also frequently writes incisive and immensely popular op-eds for Arutz Sheva.
Rochel Sylvetsky made aliya to Israel with her family in 1971, coordinated Mathematics at Ulpenat Horev, worked in math curriculum planning at Hebrew U. and as academic coordinator at Touro College Graduate School in Jerusalem. She served as Chairperson of Emunah Israel and was CEO of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village. Upon her retirement, Arutz Sheva asked her to be managing editor of the English site, a position she filled for several years before becoming Senior Consultant and Op-ed and Judaism editor. She serves on the Boards of Orot Yisrael College and the Knesset Channel.