Interview with by Herb Freed, author of BASHERT: a Novel

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Doodles, doodles everywhere congratulates author by Herb Freed on the release of his book, BASHERT! Let's welcome him on the blog for an interview with DDE today. Read on!

1. How did you decide to write BASHERT?

Five years ago, the love of my life, my Basherte, Marion died. The emptiness that filled my life from that moment on was unbearable. I had been part of this miraculous “two”. We lived to enrich one another’s life. We read, laughed, danced, watched movies – made movies – and travelled the world experiencing the splendor of our togetherness, much of that is in the book.
The misery of my bereavement left me searching for some way to get through the day. My options were limited. I had spent the last thirty years making movies with Marion. She wrote and edited while I produced and directed. Make another movie? Without Marion? Unthinkable. Even if I could find the elements to make that happen, the emptiness of my days, unable to get her input, her approval, her suggestions and her total support rendered that possibility obscene.

I had written short stories but that held no interest for me because it didn’t get me out of bed in the morning and whatever satisfaction I found in writing random sagas simply didn’t hold any interest for me in my bereaved  condition.

My life was a witch’s brew of tears and heartbreak. Every time I walked into her room, I expected her to light up my life with her exuberance, only to find the cruel pain of separation and loneliness and the stark awareness that she was gone! 

A childhood friend who had become a well-known psychotherapist suggested that I write daily letters to Marion. I started and found that I was able to find a crumb of comfort sharing my thoughts, my pain, my dreams and my nightmares through one-sided correspondence with my Basherte.  

I amassed many pages, but ultimately gave up. It finally struck me. I had lived an extraordinary life with Marion. Why not talk about that rather than bitch and moan over my bereavement?
A memoir? Not one of my favorite genres. I have always preferred stories as opposed to a log of events. As a child, my grandmother, who lived with us read The Daily Forward regularly and on rainy days asked Vilst hearen a shayne mayseh? How would you like to hear a nice story? I was so taken by those stories that I began to look forward to rainy days. 

Stories! Growing up, I went to the library every Friday after school for “story hour”, where the librarian would read magical tales that sparked my imagination. 

I was fascinated by the stories my father told me of how he survived the German invasion of his small village in Russia in the First World War. I would fantasize about how I might have acted in that situation. I could have saved the village. I would have been a hero. I could have…and my imagination knew no limits. 

Reading, hearing and making up stories became my passion. I went to Hebrew school three times a week and loved to hear the glorious stories of heroes and villains of the Bible and our history. For a while, I asked my friends to call me Judas Maccabeus.  

I was captivated by movies, I began to acquire accents and I would perform whole scenes in front of the bathroom mirror.

Studying for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I became aware of the transcendent power of “the story”. My professor, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once invited his friend and colleague, Andrew Greely, the great Catholic theologian to speak to our class. His words have stayed with me to this day.   “Religion is story, before it is anything else…and after it is everything else.”

I was ordained and served as Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Lake Mahopac, N.Y. for three years, before I decided to leave the rabbinate and pursue my dream of becoming a film-maker. Every week I delivered sermons, lectures and classes. That was how I acquired the discipline of creating stories with familiar characters, heroes, villains, challenges, climax and denouement. When I met Marion, a writer, film editor and great story teller, I knew that I had found my Basherte. 

My survival after Marion’s death required that I create a story that would be built on the lives (spiritual, emotional, physical and dream-like) that we lived together. 

Not a memoir, not a diary, but a story built loosely on our adventures and the fascinating people we encountered. Why not lead readers on an exciting journey that will make them laugh, cry, feel and rejoice as they come to know, like and root for the protagonists? Why not build that story on the love we shared, our dialogue, the music that made us sing and dance and when the wax under our arms melted, maybe we didn’t’ have to fall into the Aegean. Why not create an ending that echoed the spiritual journey we were on?
And in the end…I wrote every day, seven days a week for five years. I rejoice in sharing our adventures with kindred spirits.  

2. There are many "messages" in Bashert; eternal life, everlasting love, kismet meeting in the Writer's Guild Reading--is there any one impression you'd like readers to walk away with?

Yes. I believe that true lovers are Bashert to meet in life and remain spiritually united for all time. As Marion explains in the book:
“Look at us, Dan. Ours is a love story conceived in heaven. Two bashert lovers surprisingly find one another and live a life of perfect bliss. In time, just as the cosmos expands – each star and galaxy on its own trajectory – so too does each half of the blessed union evolve to the next stages of death, transmigration, resurrection and reunification but all in perfect balance and all preordained. Unfortunately for the suffering survivor, the only thing he can see is confusion and torment, but in the vast realm of parallel universes, there is a glorious climax to this Divine Spectacle. We will be reunited in béatitute eternelle (eternal bliss).”
“All I want is to dance with you until the end of time.”
“That’s exactly the point,” Marion said.

3. Who is Carl Lennertz, my editor and why is he so important to this project?

My background as a screen-writer was to construct every story with a clear beginning, believable conflict, climax and satisfying resolution. I knew that screenwriting – essentially dealing with action and dialogue – was different from a medium that would not be filled out by actors, music, effects, etc. How do I create a story without that? I reread all of my favorite novelists: Roth, Fitzgerald, Bellow and others only to discover that there was no one way to tell a story. Every writer creates an adventure that is unique to him/her. I decided to stop trying to adopt any particular writing style, but rather to tell what was in my heart. Whether it followed a specific plot or pattern didn’t matter at that point. I wrote about characters places and events I knew, realizing at that early stage, that there was no cohesive story, but I believed one would emerge at some point.

After four years of writing every day, I amassed a thousand pages of events, conversations, thoughts, feelings but without a coherent story. My daughter convinced me that I needed a really good editor to help me find my way. Searching the web I found literally dozens of editors who were full of self-praise and I pursued over a dozen. I felt no trust in any of them. The only thing they were interested in was their fee, often extravagant, sometimes low. I was in a quandary. I decided to write emails to some of the most prominent publishers in the country. I selected three vice presidents of major book companies and told them to google me so that they would understand that I had been a successful film maker but was now ready to make the switch. If they could recommend a really good editor they had personally worked with, I would be grateful. The result: One didn’t answer at all. A second was excited about the possibility that I might be in a position to make a film based on whatever book I wrote and he wanted to be my agent. That one sounded too much like the agents I had come to know in the world of feature films and I passed. The third was a very thoughtful woman who said she had worked with an excellent editor who also had an impressive career in book marketing. 

I wrote to that person, Carl Lennertz and we spoke for a long time. I asked about his fees. He said that was premature. Before he did anything, he wanted to read the first fifteen pages. If he thought he could contribute something to the story, we would talk. Otherwise, he wished me luck. I sent him the first thirty pages. I didn’t know how to send any less because I had seriously overwritten and I thought more pages would better demonstrate where I wanted to go. A couple of days later, he called and said he would be happy to edit the book. We started to work together exactly one year ago. I sent him the thousand pages I amassed and work began in earnest. Over the following months, he edited the book down to half the size and a fascinating story began to appear. We emailed one another every couple of days and my admiration for this man grew. I couldn’t wait for next series of exchanges. Near the end of our first year working together, Bashert was three hundred pages that excited me to my core.

4. Bashert, the movie?

Initially, I thought of telling this story as a movie. For nearly forty years, I made films. Starting with TV commercials, I moved into feature films for the bulk of my career. It was a medium I understood, so it was the obvious way for me to tell a story. On the other hand, for the last thirty years, I had made films in partnership with Marion. She wrote and edited while I produced and directed all of our films. The life was glorious and we enjoyed a moderately successful career. The problem was that she was no long here and without her, I had no interest in the daily physical and emotional struggles of making a film. So, I began to write pages and as I describe in other responses to your questions, I found my way – with the help of so many talented people – to create a novel I am proud of.

Dream cast? IF, AS AND WHEN I did make a movie, there are any number of good actors to play the lead roles. Topping the list are Natalie Portman as Marion and Ralph Fiennes or George Clooney as Dan.

5. Love has never been more relevant. Why love, why now? 
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of” (song by Dianna Ross).

I have lived through some tumultuous times but none as terrifying as the one we are currently in. Our country is rent asunder and our leadership appears to be unfit to heal the wounds that we inflict upon one another. 

The function of artists and writers. During World War II, there were stories of valor and sacrifice but what gave us the courage to carry on were the love stories that provided hope to a distressed country.

What can unite us and help us heal as a people? At this time of chaos everywhere on the planet, the greatest gift artists and writers can bestow are depictions of a better, happier life, one in which we can believe that there is purpose, truth and joy if we open ourselves to the magic of love.

6. Why do we never see a mature love story? Why do we forget that there is plenty of conflict and drama in an ongoing love story?

From fine art to films, central characters are generally young because that is when we are in our physical prime. When youth equals beauty, naturally watching young people has more popular appeal. 
This is not new. In their Art, the ancient Greeks, Romans and even Egyptians and Mesopotamians worshipped the beauty and vitality of youth. There is a small section of Bashert in which I discuss the Epic of Gilgamesh and his quest for eternal beauty – which, of course, ends tragically.

There have been many successful plays built around characters of all ages. Some movies are, too, but most tend – in the U.S., anyway – to exclude tender stories of love and caring, featuring mature characters. 

There are a number of films built around older protagonists but most of them are made in other countries. The French seem to lead in that direction. “Amor”, a love story about an elderly couple won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2013.

Bashert is an adult story about everlasting love. At its heart is a strong spiritual dimension. The film is about ongoing, ever-lasting love. It glorifies physical and emotional love in this life…and beyond. I believe that such a bond between two lovers lasts forever. How does that happen? I urge you to read the book.

7. Molly is quite the firebrand but at times she teeters on being irrational but she never goes over that line. She walks right up to the line, but she’s always grounded. How hard was it to create that delicate balance for this character?

The truth? Extremely difficult. Fortunately, my editor, Carl Lennerts, my daughter Polly Segal and a close friend of many years, the gifted actress and writer, Janice Lynde patiently guided me along that treacherous path. It would have been so much easier to create a bitchy young woman. It might be more colorful, more entertaining and certainly easier to write. The problem is that it would be like sticking a coarse joke into a gentle love letter. Every novelist constructs an entire edifice. Each floor, each room has to support the one above and not destroy the ones below. There is no room for a quick laugh that shakes up the story. Writing a novel requires building scenes that grow believably – occasionally surprisingly – into a single piece. To this day, when I read the revised pages, the Molly that finally emerged, it makes me cry.

8. All of your female characters are empowered and strong,  fully rounded, flawed, but yet heroic character. How do you write these characters and where do you find the inspiration for the women that show up in your book?

I was fortunate to be raised in a family with three strong, loveable and wise women. My mother devoted her life to sustaining, guiding and inspiring my brother and me. My Grandmother, who lived with us was my connection to everything spiritual. She gently taught me to read and sing the prayers as she told me heroic stories that sparked my imagination even as a small child. My father’s sister never married, so she lived with us and showered whatever gifts she could on us. She bought me a small blackboard when I was five and taught me to write letters of the alphabet so that when I started school the following year, I was immediately seen as one of the more advanced students. 

Girls were always easy to talk to. They laughed more than us guys. They were better looking and something they wore or put in their hair made them smell really good. I found myself being particularly protective of the girls in our crowd. 

Out of childhood and into the world: When I left Youngstown and went to NY to study at Columbia and The Jewish Theological Seminary, I was way behind because most of my classmates came from private schools or Hebrew camps where they learned to speak the language. I befriended two girls, who helped me turn my life around.

The first love of my life was Anne Marisse, of blessed memory, who was a successful actress and appeared on Broadway in West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and many others. I detail her influence on me and how she helped me develop as an actor, dancer and writer. She was the first woman I ever loved and we had a happy life for close to twenty years, when she, too, passed away.
I found a way to survive her death by working on two films over the next year and a half. That was when I met Marion Segal, my basherte and that is what my book is about. She is on every page and in every word. If there is anything of value in this book, it is some aspect of her.


by Herb Freed

Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Bellrock Press
Page count: 334

Would you recognize your soul’s complement in another?

Beyond the bliss of actually finding your soul mate, there is a belief that the universe hinges on predetermined people finding their other half, their bashert, to maintain cosmic balance. In BASHERT author, screenwriter, director and former rabbi Herb Freed immerses us in the heady intoxication and thunderous losses of what it really means to be bashert.

Dan Sobol and Marion Gladstone meet by chance at a screenwriter’s event in Los Angeles. He’s a rabbi turned director known for his cinematic television commercials; she’s a writer and film editor who is recovering from a tabloid-headline screaming Hollywood divorce. From the moment Marion hears Dan’s voice, she knows—and so does he. It’s bashert.

But when did the course of true love ever run smooth? Dan and Marion are soon partners in business as well as life, traveling the world to create movies. He directs, she writes and edits, and life becomes an amazing adventure—until Cancun. There, among the ruins of the Mayan civilization, Marion has an eerie premonition that has the potential to change everything.

Drawing upon his own personal experience, Freed spins a tale unflinching in its examination of life, but weaving along the edge of magical realism. From the bright lights of Hollywood to Mexico, Israel, Paris and the dreamy exhilaration of Jamaica, BASHERT is a love story about transcending life, loss and the boundaries we mistakenly place on our lives and our hearts.

Buy the book

About the author

HERB FREED started his adult life as an ordained rabbi and became the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Lake Mahopac, New York while producing and directing three shows at the Maidman Playhouse in New York City. Eventually, he resigned his pulpit to become a movie director. He has directed and produced 15 feature films most of which have had psychological, spiritual and/or social themes in spite of their commercial categories. He is best known for Graduation Day, a horror film, and Tomboy, a teenage romp, as well as the psychological drama Haunts, and CHILD2MAN, a story of survival during the Watts riots.

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