TF: Every writer writes about himself to a certain extent. Some of the adventures in the book happened to me. Others I invented. The scene where he climbs the wall of the Temple Mount is something I’ve thought of on several occasions, but never had the guts to do.
YF: Young readers especially enjoy your novels. Are they your target audience?
TF: Not really. I think that came about because I wrote an illustrated book, The Kuzari for Young Readers, which is used in schools to teach the basic ideas contained in Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s original classic on Jewish Faith. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of good kosher Jewish literature around, and I suppose that young people like my fast-moving, movie-like style of writing.
YF: Your newest novel, Dad, seems geared for the whole family. It tells the story about a harried, well-meaning father with a nervous wife and 5 wild kids, who also does his best to take care of his aging parents, a mother struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease and an irritable father whose life is falling apart. If there was an award for honoring one’s parents, your fictional hero would win hands down. Any resemblance to you in the story?
TF: The book jacket features a photo of me escorting my parents to a senior citizens club. It’s a challenge we all have to face as our parents get older. In my case, when my Mother started showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, and my Father couldn’t deal with it alone, I flew to Florida, packed up their bags, put their house up for sale, and took them on aliyah, so they could be close to us in Israel. After the plane landed at Ben Gurion, and we were driving toward Shilo, where I was living, my mother looked out the car window and remarked, “For Florida, there sure are a lot of signs in Hebrew.” Because of their many medical needs, we moved to Jerusalem and found a building with two adjacent apartments. Taking care of them with my Mom’s worsening condition, and with the battery of doctors they needed wasn’t easy, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to raise me and my brother, so it all comes full circle. That’s what the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is about. When I wrote the novel after my Dad passed away, I set it in America so that my family wouldn’t be embarrassed by all of the intimacies that I revealed. So, in answer to your earlier question, yes, writers write a lot about their personal lives.
YF: What’s the role of Jewish literature? Now that you are religious, why do you continue to write novels and not just Torah commentaries like your popular books on Rabbi Kook?
TF: Rabbi Kook writes that it is precisely literature which will awaken up the spiritual sensitivities of mankind, when the writers of Israel undergo a process of inner purification and tshuva. In other words, when the Philip Roths, Norman Mailers, and Joseph Hellers stop hating themselves and their Jewish mothers, and sit for a few years in yeshiva, instead of adding best-selling heresy to the world, their books will bring mankind closer to God. This is what I try to do in my novels, to give the reader a fun, well-written adventure filled with the spirit of tshuva, Torah, and emunah.
YF: Through literature, dafka?
TF: Not everyone can relate to the intellectual heights of Torah. The majority of people operate from an emotional level. That’s why the Writer of Writers, the Holy One Blessed Be He, brought us out of Egypt with miracles and wonders and trapped us at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in fierce pursuit. Imagine the tension! Thunderous waves and a foreboding black ocean on one side, and the murderous Egyptians fast approaching with their chariots! Talk about action! It was to bring us to an overwhelming, emotional catharsis of faith, so that the tension and fear, followed by our great relief at seeing the Egyptians drown in the sea, would plant the belief in God eternally within us, not only in our minds, but in our kishkas as well. That’s something that the emotional power of good literature can do as well.