Since today is the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, allow me to relate an inspiring story. In my book, “From Hollywood to the Holy Land,” I describe how Hashem healed me from a chronic disease in a miraculous fashion at the beginning of my tshuva journey. I felt like Hashem had reached out His “finger” and caused the illness to vanish in an instant.
I was absolutely dumbstruck by the miracle. How could I continue on with my bohemian lifestyle of California beaches and Hollywood discos?
That night, 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 Torah, 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."
In the morning, when I was leaving my apartment, I noticed that I had mail in my mailbox. It turned out to be a large travel brochure. On the cover was a big picture of the Western Wall. The caption read: "JERUSALEM, MY CHOSEN." I got goose pimples all over my body. The very morning after I asked G-d for a sign whether to go to Israel or not, I found this travel brochure in my mailbox! Never in my life had I ever received any kind of Jewish mail from any kind of Jewish organization or synagogue.
Once again, my head started spinning in circles. "There is a director greater than Steven Spielberg," I thought. Not only had Hashem sent me a sign, He had obviously known in advance that I would make such a request, because He had to arrange that someone would mail me the brochure, so that it would arrive in my mailbox the very morning after my midnight request!
That very day, I purchased a ticket to Israel. Traveling around the Holy Land, I realized that for a Jew, Eretz Yisrael was the only place to be. Everything was in Hebrew – the language, the signs. The mountains of Judea, the sky above, the desert, the Dead Sea, the Kinneret, Yerushalayim all shone with a tangible holiness, as if they were cut out from the pages of Tanach.
Totally ignorant of Halakha, I erected four poles and threw a blanket over them for schach – not the most kosher succah in the world, but I had the feeling that when Hashem looked down on Manhattan, He was happy...
But, not knowing Hebrew, and not knowing how to find work as a writer, I returned to America and moved back to Manhattan, to feel closer to Israel. I enrolled in a Hebrew ulpan and returned to my old job teaching screenwriting at the NYU Film School.
To make a long story short – when the first Lebanon War broke out, Rav Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, and Meir Indor came to America to recruit Jewish volunteers to help out in Israel during the war. I signed up immediately, but they requested me to stay in New York and run the recruitment “Volunteers for Israel” campaign in the United States so that they could return home and greet the volunteers when they arrived in Israel.
To let you know how far I was from Torah, when Succot came around, I decided to build a make-shift succah on the roof of my six-story apartment building on East 22nd Street. In Manhattan at that time, you could walk from Battery Park to Harlem without seeing a single succah booth on the street, even though it’s a city with a million Jews. So, totally ignorant of Halakha, I erected four poles and threw a blanket over them for schach – not the most kosher succah in the world, but I had the feeling that when Hashem looked down on Manhattan, He was happy with the would-be baal tshuva from 22nd Street, sleeping on the roof in his Indian lean-to.
The following year, by the time Succot arrived, I was more learned in Jewish Halakha, so I accepted an invitation from a shaliach from Israel, Yaacov Sternberg, to spend the first nights of Sukkot with his family at their temporary home in Queens. He had come to New York to head the “Mivtzah Elef” program with the goal of bring one-thousand Jewish families on Aliyah. It was a cloudy afternoon in the city, and on the train ride to his home, he explained that if it rained that evening, after a quick Kiddush and a taste of challah in their succah, we would finish the meal in the house, since one doesn’t have to stay in the succah if it is a hardship.
Sure enough, just Yaacov finished reciting Kiddush, a torrent of rain began to fall. After a hasty “hamotzei”, the family quickly gathered the plates on the table and scurried into the house. I refused to budge, saying that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that the mitzvah of Sukkah was a “segula” for coming to Eretz Yisrael. As the rain came down harder, my Israeli host insisted that I wasn’t allowed to continue in the succah, because of the cold and steady rain. But I was stubborn and ate my meal and slept in the succah, believing that my Emunah (faith) on the holiday of Emunah would help get me out of America and home to Eretz Yisrael.
Sure enough, a few minutes after the Yom Tov ended, the phone rang. It was Meir Indor calling from Israel. Today Meir is head of the Almagor Victims of Terror Organization, but back then he was one of the founders of the “Sarel Volunteers for Israel” program.
“Where is Fishman?” he asked my host.
“In the sukkah,” Yaacov replied.
I couldn’t speak on the telephone because as a Diaspora Jew, I had to keep two days of Yom Tov.
“Tell him there is a ticket to Israel waiting for him at the El Al counter at Kennedy Airport. We want him to escort a TV news crew coming to do a story on the volunteers.”
“You see,” I told my astonished host, “Rebbe Nachman was right. Sukkah is a segula for coming to Eretz Yisrael!”
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he 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 "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."