14 Tamuz 5781 / Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Balak
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Getting Ahead

Breslev Israel is delighted to tell the story of Hollywood screenwriter Tzvi Fishman’s journey from the world of cinema to the world of Torah and kedusha...


translated by Esther Cameron

Part 1 of “The Greatest Director of All”
In the American home where Tzvi spent his childhood, the Hanukkah menorah was mixed up with the Christmas tree. His Jewish education was so slight as to be imperceptible. His parents wanted to hold his bar mitzvah celebration in the nearby Reform synagogue, but because the synagogue happened to be under repair, they decided to hold it in the church. Tzvi went to a prestigious Protestant high school. During the Sunday worship services the Jews were allowed to pray in the basement of the church. Tzvi felt that he belonged to a third class religion. He wanted to be an American like everybody else. His Judaism was so insignificant that he preferred to cut off all connection with it.
After finishing high school he studied cinema at New York University and obtained a master's degree. In those years he saw thousands of movies, spent thousands of hours watching them. He became caught up in the imaginary world of literature and cinema. He identified with the writers, directors and actors, and with the Bohemian way of life in general.
In his final year of studies he wrote an original movie script, and a famous Czech director who was visiting in the United States waxed enthusiastic about it and asked him to write a script on a certain subject. Columbia Pictures distributed the film, which grossed $10 million.
After finishing his studies he wrote a thick novel. The novel was published by Dell, and Tzvi was interviewed on five television programs. The day before the first interview he went into a bookstore in Florida, and to his astonishment discovered that his book was not yet on the shelves. After the interview the publisher telephoned Tzvi and apologized, but did not give an explanation for the delay in distribution. He invited Tzvi to visit him on his return to New York.
On arriving in New York, Tzvi met with the assistant editor, a man named Higgins. After a few preliminaries Higgins got to the subject: "The problem is your name -- Tzvi Fishman...". At first Tzvi didn't understand why his name should be a problem. He thought for a moment and then asked: "Is it because the name sounds Jewish?..."
"Ah... yes!", and the man went on to confess in a lowered voice: "By the way, my name is not Higgins but Shapiro. I changed it in order to get ahead..."
For Tzvi these words were a slap in the face.
After this he traveled to Europe to see the sights and get some fresh air. On leaving the airport he stopped beside a Mercedes. The driver looked at Tzvi with his long hair and backpack and shouted at him:
"Heil Hitler!"
That was his welcome to Europe.
When he returned to America he went to Hollywood, where he was asked to write another action film. He wrote a trashy story about the life of a Black boxer and received a large sum of money for the film when it was produced. A short time later he wrote the script for a horror film in which someone was killed in a strange manner every five minutes, and received $100,000 for this. Thus within a short time he had sold three trashy scripts in Hollywood and had become rich. He was riding the wave of success.
As befits a rising star, he acquired a sports convertible and a luxury apartment by the ocean. He was friends with many famous people, and in his state-of-the-art health club he exercised with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was still a beginning actor. During the day he sunbathed, and at night he went to discotheques and smoked marijuana. His life was a fabulous show, the American dream come true.
And then, in the middle of all this success, he suddenly became ill with a very serious inflammation of the intestine. He bled constantly from his stomach. He went to the toilet tens of times in a day to pass blood. The doctors told him to take cortisone pills, and said if they did not help he would have to undergo a complicated operation. After three months his condition had improved somewhat and he stopped taking the medicine, which was like poison to him. But then the illness came back and got worse, with heavy hemorraghing and a swollen face, and he had to go back to the cortisone.
The illness shattered his ego.  Here he had wanted to succeed like everybody else and to adjust himself to the American dream, and instead he was hemorraging 20 times a day... Evidently something was wrong with him. Society was fine, Hollywood was even finer, only he was in the wrong!
During the time when he was forced to stop working, he began to be aware that with each success that he had had -- a film of his that had come out or some new acquisition – he had felt that something was missing. He had felt that he needed something beyond fame and money. Nonetheless he had assumed that something was wrong with that feeling of his, for how could it be that all of society was satisfied with all these physical things and only he was not?
When the medicine did not solve his problem and he felt that it never would, Tzvi began to wonder if there was a hidden psychological reason behind his illness. He read all the works of Freud and the rest of the classical psychological literature. Not content with studying the theory, he went to a psychologist who specialized in psychoanalysis, with an emphasis on the interpretation of dreams. The psychoanalyst kept asking Tzvi to tell him about his dreams, but Tzvi did not remember a single dream from that period, so therapy was pretty boring. Finally one day he dreamed a dream and went to the interpreter of dreams in a state of great excitement. The psychologist too was overjoyed -- at last he could show his skill at interpreting dreams!
Tsvi began to tell his dream: "We were talking, but you could not understand me. And then you began to cry uncontrollably like a small child. You climbed up on my knees and I stroked you and comforted you, saying, ‘it will be all right, don't cry!’..."
The psychologist literally jumped out of his chair! "Do you mean to say that I don't have self-confidence?! That I'm not a good psychologist?! What you want to do, destroy my career?!..."
Tzvi felt sorry for him and realized that there are psychologists who are no less in need of therapy than their customers...
After another disappointing experience with a psychologist who projected all of his problems onto him, Tzvi abandoned psychology, and his search took a more mystical turn. He tried macrobiotics, took acupuncture treatments and learned a lot about Eastern religions and about meditation and yoga.
He signed up for a yoga class in which they repeated the mantra hum-hum-hum in order to attain nirvana.   Tzvi met with the guru and told him about his illness. The guru told him to get up early every morning and drink two quarts of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and then to take a tie with a knot in it, thread it down his throat, and slowly pull it out.   After that he was to stand on his head in the bathroom and vomit all of the lemon juice. This was supposed to clean out his stomach. Tzvi went through this nightmare every day for two weeks, and it did not help at all.
To be continued.

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