The Jerusalem Post
WISDOM FROM THE PAST – by “In Jerusalem” reporter Orri J. Avraham
"Today everybody is preoccupied with one sort of screen or another," laments Jerusalemite
author and film director Tzvi Fishman with a thoughtful stroke of his grey beard. "Even my
two-year-old grandson leaps straight for his father's smartphone whenever he gets the
chance, and operates it with ease". No doubt to anyone living in the western world this
trend is quite impossible to ignore, and leaves many troubled; yet Mr. Fishman finds in it a
subtle invitation to utilize the screen as a "new teaching tool for the modern age".
Having written several books intent on making Jewish tradition and values more accessible
and palatable to the younger generations, Fishman's newest project is a filmed version of
some of the most celebrated parables famously told by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov,
appropriately titled "Stories of Rebbe Nachman".
With a scanty budget of $150,000, scratched up from his own personal savings along with
some humble donations and an internet fundraising campaign, Fishman set out in early 2014
to assemble a cast and crew that will help bring to life four of Rebbe Nachman's illustrious
fables, an idea he has dreamed of realizing for close to three decades.
Chiefly among this crew stands beloved Israeli actor Yehuda Barkan, who out of shared
enthusiasm for the project agreed to participate for symbolic pay. Alongside him came an
unlikely assortment of actors, most of them volunteers: friends of Fishman from his local
synagogue in Kiryat Moshe, two of his own sons, and a lifelong friend from his brief time in
Hollywood, Daniel Dayan - who himself has since become an avid follower of Rebbe
The locations chosen for the movie set were no less unconventional. Most scenes were shot
in any makeshift spot around Jerusalem that could be arranged for at the time. "Visiting the
home of our talented set and wardrobe designer, Francoise Coriat, I realized her living room
area had an old-fashioned feel to it and was highly decorated with antiques… It was
absolutely perfect for a few scenes in the movie".
Other scenes were shot around two particularly beautiful stone houses in the German
Colony neighborhood, currently owned by a real-estate contractor who was excited to offer
up his property for the movie's making in return for a cup of coffee with Yehuda Barkan. The
Renaissance Hotel kindly offered one of its main halls, and the Beit Hansen center a few of
its stony rooms which used to serve as a leper-hospital during the days of the British
mandate. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention – such a creative choice of locations
could only have been conceived under the constraints of such a budget.
At first glance it may seem difficult to find any relevance in old Hasidic stories from the 18th
century to our present day reality. But an open mind will quickly reveal them to be ever
more applicable to the challenges of modern life. The four particular ones chosen by
Fishman to feature in his film, were picked precisely for the universality and timelessness of
One story tells of a king whose beloved son is struck one fateful day with the conviction that
he is indeed a turkey, and so behaves as one – a rather comic portrayal of what nearly every
modern parent encounters when a rebellious teenage son or daughter drifts into unruly
behavior and refuses to listen to reason. The crisis is resolved when a Jewish sage manages
to slowly bring back the crown prince into the fold by acting like a turkey himself, thereby
winning the boy's trust – perhaps a call for today's parents to speak to their children at eye-
level, with willingness to understand the younger generation rather than simply reproach it.
In another fable unfolds the story of a powerful king whose limitless riches left him wholly
unhappy, and increasingly envious of a lowly peasant who dwells in a squalid shack but finds
there all the happiness one can hope for in life. Any 21st-century viewer will quickly identify
with the ever-growing wisdom that material wealth and success can never quench our
fundamental thirst for personal connections, love and spiritual fulfillment.
Yet beyond the relevance of their message to us on an individual level, these centuries-old
stories carry a message to be heard by the Jewish nation at large. Having lived at the height
of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) movement in Europe, Rebbe Nachman was warning
through his parables of the danger and folly he recognized in the rush of many Jews of his
day towards European culture and intellectualism, and away from Judaism.
As such the 'tale of the two brothers', one intellectual and worldly and the other a
simpleton, in fact pits the scholars of the Haskalah who fell under the sway of modernity
against the Hasidic Jews of Eastern Europe who held on to tradition; ultimately the tale ends
with the latter finding peace and success in life, whereas the former spirals into a vapid
abyss of misery.
But indeed the allegory remains equally powerful in the year 2015, when the tension
between cosmopolitan Tel-Aviv and traditional Jerusalem embodies one of the most
significant fault-lines in Israeli society that will determine the character of the country in our
generation. Rebbe Nachman living today would say, as does Fishman, that Israeli society will
find its prosperity only by a healthy return to its Jewish roots and values; and likewise the
Jewish people at large will find their fulfilment only in the ultimate return of all diaspora
Jews to the Land of Israel.
With a mind already bustling with ideas for more projects to come, Fishman dreams of
filming another movie that will be set in Jerusalem and showcase the city's unique beauty, as
well as celebrate one of many fascinating figures that fill the pages of our long national
history – something he points out has hardly been done in film thus far. "There is a lot of
room for a Jewish hero that is barely used up", his face lights up. "Rabbi Kook's story for
example, butting heads with the ultra-orthodox community of Jerusalem, the secular Zionist
pioneers, and the British authorities, is an extraordinary tale that demands to be filmed".
Until such future plans are realized, Fishman now invests his energies and contagious
enthusiasm in promoting the charming "Stories of Rebbe Nachman". Already the film was
screened in various schools and cultural centers across the country, under the auspices of
the Israeli Ministry of Education, and will next offer a public screening in Jerusalem on
October 22nd, at the Jewish Institute for the blind. He wishes the ripe fruits borne of the
creativity, dedication, resourcefulness and sheer passion of all people involved in this
initiative to be reaped by as many people as can possibly be reached.
"If we would look down on Earth from space, we would see today many tiny lights coming in
from all corners of the world and congregating in Israel, where the combined light is growing
brighter and brighter every day", remarks a starry-eyed Fishman. We can only hope that his
beautifully crafted film will add that much more light to us all here in Israel, and to the entire