2015-07-11_2120Heshy Tishler is a community activist, father uncle and radio talk show host in New York. He goes by Uncle Heshy. The show is called “Just Enough Heshy “. It has one hundred and fifty thousand mostly religious Jews tuning in, proving that Radio is not dead yet, or at least for a community that doesn’t believe in TV’s.

We recently sat down with Uncle Heshy to discuss his life and his show. There is a little bit of a dark side to the Jolly Uncle Heshy and enjoyed his openness and willingness to talk. The following is excerpts from our interview with him.
Q. What does being Jewish mean to you?

A. Being Jewish is heritage. It’s an honor to be a Jew, because we are en-grained with basic principles of doing good, following the commandments. Regardless if you were brought up religious, reform or atheist, Jews are brought up with the values to be helpful to other human beings. Being a Jew means “Holiness” and I am holy.

Q. You refer to yourself as Uncle Heshy, when did you get the nickname? What is the story behind it?
A. About thirty six years ago when I was in Yeshiva around fifteen or sixteen years old. At the time I used to help out the freshman with money or things that they needed. They were very grateful and said “Heshy you know you are like our uncle”. They started nicknaming me Uncle Heshy, and the name stuck. It followed me out of high school, through college, and even when I opened my Travel Agency.

Q. Tell me about your family?
A. I have been married for twenty five years. I have three boys ages twenty four, twenty three and fifteen. I am fifty one years old and been on my own since I the age of thirteen, since my father died.

Q. Tell me about your travel business?
A. I graduated in Computers, and bought my first travel business in 1985 and ran the business for ten years. When the internet came out it was hard to stay in business as a travel agent. At that time there was a “save water program” in NYC, that you would get paid to replace peoples toilets with more energy efficient toilets. So I moved away from travel and started replacing thousands of toilets throughout NYC. This lead to my own construction business in 2006. I changed about thirty thousand toilets.

Q. You had some legal trouble and went to Jail can you tell us what happened?
A. Once I started the construction business, I started dealing with many undocumented workers, and started helping with their paperwork. I helped  guide them through the red tape. I was always helping out in the community, going to hospitals, going to jails, raising money, and just being a community activist. I was approached by a Mr. Sam Solomon, he told me he was a lawyer that was helping immigrants, and asked me to sponsor these workers in my construction business, so they can get green cards.

He then used my signature around three hundred times supposedly hiring these three hundred workers. He did the same thing with thirty other people. He stole around twenty million dollars. It ended up he didn’t even have a high school diploma, he was simply a con-man. He was forwarding his mail to himself so I had no clue the amount of paperwork he was pushing through under my name with my forged signature.
When he got arrested, he came to all of us and said “Don’t worry I will be taking responsibility, and I will be taking the fall” and not to testify against him. When they subpoenaed me in the grand jury, I said I would not give out any information or cooperate assuming he would come clean. About two years later he did a deal with the prosecutor for two years’ probation in exchange for testifying that all of us were co-conspirators and knew what he was doing and we were fully aware of the crimes involved. During the two year investigation he kept trying to manipulate us and I called him a “Mossar” which is Hebrew for being a rat, and it’s one of the worst things you can do to another Jew. He then showed the email to the Government to prove that I knew what he was doing and that I was involved.

I was facing ten years for Immigration fraud. After reviewing all the documents they saw that the first two hundred and fifty I didn’t know about and only knew of the last fifty. They made a deal with the others to take a plea and get off with probation for money laundering, but I wouldn’t accept the deal. I was not guilty and wanted to go to trial. I got one of the charges dismissed and the other I was found guilty and received one year and one day sentence as a conspirator.

Q. Which Jail did you serve time in? and what year?
A- It was in 2012 I was sentence to a federal penitentiary  in upstate New York called Otisville. It is more of a camp, and is considered low security. When I got to jail I thought that I would do my time and mind my own business, but after a week I was approached by someone to do them a favor. Then others approached me to help them with other things and after a  few weeks even in jail they called me Uncle Heshy.
There is a synagogue there and many Jews in that jail, and even today I am involved in helping prisoners there with money or other things they need.

Q. Is it true you learn to be a better criminal in jail? How was your time there?
A. You do meet other criminals and learn new scams, but I was too busy dealing with prisoner issues to socialize. I was taking drug rehab classes and anger management classes.

Q. Do you have anger management issues or drugs?
A. No but the more classes you take the less time you have to serve. They reduce your sentence for good behavior but my time could not be reduced with these classes still it helped pass the time, I enjoyed the stories, and it was a great learning experience. I used to talk in groups and tell jokes and people would tell me “we cant get enough Heshy” or “theres just too much Heshy”. During exercise one of the inmates mentioned I should start a radio show called “Just enough Heshy” that’s how the idea was born.

Q. How many Jews are there in Otisville?
A. When I was there, the Seder had sixty four Jews, religious, non-religious, all types. Thirty of them were Orthodox. I helped in the kitchen to make sure we had Shabbos meals and Kosher.

Q. Did it feel like jail? Or summer camp?
A. Jail is in your mind. Some of them had very bad lives outside of jail, whether it was drugs or other problems they were facing. For them jail was an escape and was a great way to regroup. Although it was a camp and there is lots of socializing I was very disappointed in myself for being there. I was not there for my thirteen year old son and was embarrassed I was in that situation. The prison also had prisoners that are transferred from other prisons that were doing long stretches of time, that did their last few years there. If they behaved during their sentence they got downgraded to low security for the remainder of the sentence as a reward.  So it had all types of criminals that did all types of crimes. There are no bars or gates, it’s a privilege to be there so if you fight or make trouble you lose that privilege and get sent to a more secure prison. In my mind it was strenuous time because I felt I was trapped and was being forced to be somewhere.

Q. Are you religious? Have you always been religious?
A. I grew up Orthodox, my grandfather was Hasidic, but my dad was a bit more liberal. My dad passed away when I was thirteen, and had a profound impact on my childhood. It forced me to be independent at a very young age, but I held on to my religion. In my twenties before my marriage I wouldn’t say I lost my religion but I questioned God many times and had my ups and downs. After I got married I strengthened my connection but I still question everything. There were times I lost my religion, but I would say ninety eight percent of my life I have been strictly Orthodox.

Q. How did you get to be on the radio?
A. My son who ran for senator, and councilman and lost, although I have no clue why. He had lots of dealings with the local stations and introduced me to a Mr. Davidson who owned the radio station and I told him I wanted to be an actor and entertainer, and agreed to try me out. I built a team around me of five people, and wanted to be a cleaner version of Howard Stern. Its the Kosher version of The Howard Stern show. Our audience has grown dramatically.

Q. What is the feedback about the show?
A. Many people say they tune it just because they can’t believe what I would say next. Others enjoy the controversy. I get tons of hate emails, as well as many supportive emails. Many complain about my comments about god, gay marriage, or any of the other hot button issues we discuss, but I don’t hold back and I am not afraid of controversy.

Q. What was the most controversial subject? And what has been some of the negative feedback?
A. Well recently the God issue caused the biggest stir, as well as the Gay marriage ruling. I believe that gays should have a right to a civil union, not a marriage. Marriage is a religious word. Someone wrote that as a Jew I have no right to question god and cursed me out. I scream at God about the Holocaust about allowing evil to exist and people get angry. People approach me on the street and call me an apikoras which is the Hebrew word for a non-believer. Recently someone approached me on the street and said “My twenty three year old daughter listens to you and you are perverting her”. I was also called a “murderer” because according to the Torah if you go against God it is worse than murder. The last couple of weeks we have been hitting on certain topics that have elicited intense debates as we discussed God. We invited non-religious Rabbis and reform Rabbis on the show and this causes the biggest controversies.

Q. Is the radio show profitable? Tell me about the Business aspect of the show?
A. We have a few advertisers and we are about to renegotiate our fees. Originally we got it as a trial without paying for the slot and now we have to pay for, we are trying to renegotiate the costs. We have four to six advertisers. We are finally breaking even and covering our costs and even making a very small profit. We were approached by two other stations a little higher up on the dial to join them. The brand is getting stronger and we are happy to just grow our audience so we can deliver a message.

Q. You struggle a lot with weight, how has this shaped your personality?
A. It has been a struggle, at one point I was four hundred pounds. I smoked cigarettes, I was dangerously unhealthy. I had a cousin who was five hundred and fifty pounds and he died. I took care of him the last few weeks of his life and decided I need to lose weight if I want to be around for my kids. It was hard especially for an abusive over-eater. I did the gastric bypass surgery in 2006, and went down to 206 pounds. I was weak for a while as I abused that as well, since I tend to do things to the extreme. Now I am two hundred and fifty pounds and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle but it’s not easy. However being heavy has never affected my self-esteem. I always felt that I was good looking and even when I was heavy I climbed ladders and was very active always, and did not feel like I was in any way shape or form ugly or less than.

Q. What is the one thing you want people to know about yourself?
A. I have honor, even though I mess up a lot, and think I am smart, and I make mistakes, but at the end of the day I try to fix my mistakes. People do get divorced or cheat on their wives but I have been a good husband, a good father to my kids, and to the many other kids that come through my house that I call my children. I am an honorable man.

Q. When is your show on?
A. The show is on Mondays and Tuesdays from 7-9 PM on 620AM. We are also live on YouTube and stream there. We have 51 previous shows there.