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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
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Possibly the Greatest Jewish Novel Ever Written

Tevye

“HELP ME!!!” Tevye screamed at the top of his lungs. His cry echoed over the swamp.

“HELP MEEEEEE!” he heard himself call.

His body teetered over the water. So precarious was his perch on the mummified mule, if another mosquito were to have landed on his ear, it would have toppled him over into the merciless abyss.

“Please God,” he beseeched with all of his heart. “HEEEEEELLLP MEEEEE!!!!”

“TEVYE!” he heard a voice call.

Behind him, not far away, he saw two swinging lanterns.

“TEVYE!”

It was Carmel!

“I’M HERE!” he called. “IN THE SWAMP!”

“Keep talking!” a man yelled. It was Munsho. “That way we can see where you are.”

“HURRY!” the drowning man hollered. “I’m sinking in quicksand!”

“Hurry!” he heard his wife urge.

“I don’t see him,” Munsho answered.

“There he is!” Ariel shouted, pointing at the head sticking out of the water, a dozen meters away.

“I see him!” Munsho called.

“Grab the rope!” Ariel yelled.

Swamp water wet Tevye’s beard. He wanted to turn his head to see his rescuers behind him, but he was afraid to budge. How could he grab a rope? If he raised his hands from the ears of the mule, he was finished.

“Grab the rope, Tevye!” Carmel called as the loop of a lasso landed on the surface of the water a desperate lunge away.

As the taste of the swamp water splashed over his lips, the drowning man realized that he had no other choice but to make a dive for the slender strip of twine.

“Now, Tevye, now!” Ariel shouted.

Tevye lunged. His hands snatched at the rope, but he felt only water. Floundering wildly, he tried vainly to swim. His legs kicked and paddled below him. One foot landed on the back of the mule, and he used the brief footing to push himself up from the deep. His mouth filled with the stench of the swamp. Choking, he started to sink in the water, but his ineffectual strokes were enough to keep him afloat until Ariel could reach him. Quickly, the robust young man threw the loop over Tevye’s shoulder. Clutching the rope with one hand, and his father-in-law with the other, he held Tevye’s head out of the swamp.

“Hayaaaa!” Munsho hollered, whacking his horse on the rump. The blacksmith had tied the end of the rope to the saddle. The strong, muscular Jew tugged along with the beast. Together, they managed to pull Tevye and Ariel out of the quicksand.

“Tevye, Tevye,” Carmel cried as her hero lay sprawled on dry land.

Tevye choked, spitting out the eggs of a few thousand mosquitoes. An hour later, he was safe and secure back at home. Bundled in a blanket and wearing dry clothes, he sipped at a hot cup of tea. Ariel, Munsho, Guttmacher, Elisha, Hillel, Nachman, his daughters, and Carmel stood gathered around him. How good and pleasant it was to be alive, Tevye thought. How good it was to sit with one’s family and friends. How good it was to have a God who answered when you called out to Him from the depths of your heart. How cozy his tent seemed. How blessed he was with such a brave and caring wife.

“To life!” Hillel said, holding up a bottle of vodka.

“To the mule!” Munsho added.

“Which one?” Elisha asked.

“To the mule who is no longer with us.”

Everyone smiled. True to his vow to give up hard liquor, Tevye raised up his cup of warm tea.

“To the mule,” he answered. “May his memory be for a blessing!”

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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