The “People of the Book” are the People of the Torah. But Jews don’t only love the Torah – they love all kinds of books. “Book Week” is beginning in Israel, when book buying reaches a crescendo. In just about every city of the country, you’ll find crowds of book lovers flocking to outdoor book fairs, lured by the discounted prices on the season’s new book, as well as on classics from the past. To put our Jewish Press website fans in the mood for a little book reading as well, we’ve decided to interview our new blogger, Tzvi Fishman, who is also a popular and prize-winning novelist, about some of his books and the role of literature in Jewish life.
Yishai Fleisher: Let’s start out with your popular novel, Tevye in the Promised Land. In Israel, it’s been a longtime bestseller. Especially in the national religious community, everyone’s read it, adults and young readers alike. For Jewish Press readers who may not be familiar with the story, the novel begins where “Fiddler on the Roof” left off, with Tevye the milkman and the Jews of Anatevka being expelled from their beloved village. Your action-filled adventure brings Tevye and his family to the Holy Land where he becomes a pioneer builder of the Land. What motivated you to write the story?
Tzvi Fishman: When I became a baal tshuva and left Hollywood, I felt bad about leaving Tevye behind in galut. Like millions of other Jews, I loved Sholom’s Aleichem’s famous character, as if he were a part of my own family. When I saw the film of “Fiddler” as a totally assimilated teenager, it blew me away. Outside of the movie “The Ten Commandments,” it was the first time I had ever seen something “Jewish” on the big screen. I fell in love with the character. His lively relationship with God gave my soul a poke that awakened something Jewish inside. I didn’t become a baal tshuva on the spot, but the movie planted the seeds. When I finally made aliyah, I wanted to bring Tevye along with me, to share in the incomparable blessing. So I repainted the character and set him in the middle of the amazing pioneer saga of how Israel was reborn.
YF: You hear a lot of people claim that aliyah is difficult, but no one has ever encountered more challenges than Tevye. He faces highway robbers, storms at sea, mosquito-infested swamps, plagues of malaria, Turkish thieves, marauding Arabs, locusts, secular Zionist suitors who sweep his daughters off their feet… yet he always clings to his incredible faith in God.
TF: Just like the Jewish People. He’s a symbol for all of us. The trials he faces are a miniature version of the trials we have had to face as a People throughout Jewish and in rebuilding our homeland.
YF: Your book of humorous and satirical short stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora, Days of Mashiach, was recently published in France. How did that come about?
TF: Among the avid lovers of Tevye in the Promised Land was a person who worked as French translator. She took it upon herself to translate the novel, which was subsequently published in France. When the book sold a lot of copies, she translated my book of short stories and some non-Jewish publisher grabbed it, which is sort of a miracle because the book is super right-wing, religious, pro-settlement Israeli. But the publisher insists that the stories have a universal message and compares my writing to Kafka and Voltaire, whatever that means.
YF: It means he thinks you’re a good writer. In your novel, The Discman and the Guru, you have your young Holden Caulfield-like protagonist, Sam Singer, set off from LA on a quest to find God which takes him to London, Paris, Rome, India, Mecca, and finally Jerusalem, where he nearly sets off World War III for trying to pray on the Temple Mount. Is his journey autobiographical?