How observant David still has a rock 'n' roll lifestyle

SIMON YAFFE speaks to the man who reconciled his religion with entertainment

DAVID FISHOF has used his 40 years in the entertainment industry to establish the dream of a lifetime for music fans.

He is the founder of the famed Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, where ordinary fans have the chance to jam with their heroes.

And David has brought some of the world's biggest musicians on-board.

Think Roger Daltrey, Brian Wilson, Jack Bruce, Steven Tyler, Nick Mason, Meatloaf and Slash.

"I love doing it, I think of it as a way of giving back," David told the Jewish Telegraph from his Los Angeles home.

He said: "The best part is that every day I receive a thank you. I have taken injured soldiers and underprivileged kids to play with rock stars.

"It is so fulfilling - it is nachas for me. I believe strongly in giving tzedakah (charity)."

The 63-year-old may have reunited The Monkees, produced eight Ringo Starr world tours and produced a variety of successful concert tours, but he is affable, anecdotal and chatty.

His down-to-earth nature may have something to do with his humble roots.

Born in New York City, the son of a Holocaust-surviving chazan, he remains observant, keeping kosher and Shabbat.

He said: "My father, Mark, was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, and was sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

"But, despite everything that happened to him and his family, he stayed Orthodox - even in the camps.

"He made matzo in the camps at Pesach and observed the festivals.

"I have always been of the thought that if he could keep everything in such horrendous circumstances, then the least I could do was the same.

"To be honest, being single and involved in rock 'n' roll did lead me to some comprising situations because of religious Judaism.

"When I was on tour with a band, I would just lock myself in my room on a Shabbat - I did not want a conflict of interests."

David's brother, Joe, is a rabbi on Long Island, while his son-in-law, Shlomo Eiborn, is a rabbi in Manhattan.

"It has been hard at times to be observant, especially in the entertainment industry, but I have coped and managed to maintain it," David explained.

He recalls Ringo Starr wishing him a 'Good Shabbat' whenever he was touring with The Beatles legend and his All Starr Band.

David's father and German-born mother Edith settled the family in New Jersey.

Before becoming a rabbi, David's brother was a drummer and toured with Shlomo Carlebach, AKA The Singing Rabbi.

David was discouraged from a career in music when all he wanted was "to be in rock 'n' roll".

He recalled: "I listened to my brother's records, Cream, The Beatles and The Beach Boys - I learned all about them."

But his father, in a later apparent change of mind, encouraged him to start booking his brother's band.

Taking his father's advice and realising he could have a career managing stars, he went on to book acts like Henny Youngman and Milton Berle at hotels in the Catskill Mountains.

And it was while writing an entertainment column in a local Jewish newspaper that he came to represent his first personality.

David interviewed baseball star Ron Bloomberg, who introduced him to his teammate, Elliot Maddox (an African American who later converted to Judaism).

The duo became friendly and David went on to become his agent.

"I realised that this is what I wanted to do with my life, he recalled.

He admits his career became about "show me the money", and he certainly made his gelt.

But his background as the child of Holocaust survivors meant he almost turned down the chance of $500,000 - because of his refusal to go to Germany.

David recalled: "When I was growing up we had no German products in the house at all.

"In the late 1980s I had produced a successful stage version of Dirty Dancing and I got a call offering me a lot of money if I would take it to Germany.

"I spoke to an Israeli who was living there, but I just could not bring myself to go.

"I told my father about it and he screamed at me in Yiddish, telling me I was nuts and that I SHOULD go.

"He told me that I could spend the Germans' money, just not to spend it there.

"So I went for the first time in 1989, just after the Berlin Wall had come down."

David was supposed to go to Germany to look after The Band a year earlier - but he ended up in Israel instead.

He said: "Mordechai Ben-David, who is a famous chassidic singer and a good friend of mine, was in my office and I got a call off one of The Band's tour guys in Germany.

"He said that he was in Hitler's bunker in Berlin and my face must have dropped because Mordechai asked me what was wrong.

"I explained my predicament to him and he said he was going to Israel for three weeks and that I should exchange my German tickets to go to Israel - and I did."

Despite already being observant, David had a Damascene moment in Israel, courtesy of Ben-David.

"He showed me Israel like I had never seen it before," he recalled.

"It turned my life around spiritually. Instead of just resting on Shabbat, I really got into the spirit of the day.

"I now go to mincha every morning and put on tefillin."

David took advantage of the MTV generation, coming up with the idea to reunite 1960's heartthrobs The Monkees for a reunion tour.

He collaborated with MTV - who were airing their reality TV show - and went on to produce and manage numerous bands and singers, perhaps the most recognisable being the Jewish-looking drummer from The Beatles.

"I wrote to Ringo Starr and his attorney asked me to come over," David said.

"I had an idea about Ringo touring with a band and it turned out he was thinking the same thing.

"He was great, a really friendly guy and we talked a lot about Judaism and how he was always mistaken for being Jewish."

Fifteen years on the road with Ringo led him to the idea of setting up a rock camp where fans could meet their idols.

He asked Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons, of Bruce Springsteen's band, if they would appear at the camp. And they did.

David now hosts several camps a year all over America and at London's famed Abbey Road Studios.

The Who's Roger Daltrey has been a big supporter of David's venture and is a regular participant.

David continued: "The music and entertainment industry can be such a hard business and there is so much garbage around, but Roger is one of the good guys, he is such a mensch.

"He has helped me a lot. I remember him asking me how to sing happy birthday in Yiddish to one of his friends who was Jewish - so I called my father and he wrote all the words down."

Music channel VH1 has been filming at the camp for a new reality show and it will air in America in July - David is the executive producer.

He has five children and has been married twice, current wife Karen was a Duran Duran groupie and is now a baal teshuva.

David added: "Because I am such a workaholic, I need to give myself time to relax.

"And now I am 63, I finally feel settled."

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph