It was impossible to tell which thought gave Tevye more happiness. The thought of stepping foot in Jerusalem, or the thought of seeing his Hodel again. True, Hodel was his own flesh and blood. She was like a little piece of his Golda. Hadn’t he listened to his wife’s painful groans through eight excruciating hours of childbirth? Hadn’t he cradled the girl in his arms when nightmares disturbed her sleep? With pride and with great fatherly joy, he had watched her grow from a tot into a woman. And how empty and heartbroken he had felt when she rode off on a train to follow her Perchik into exile. But Jerusalem – Jerusalem was more than a child. Jerusalem was more than a man’s family. Jerusalem was a dream. It was more than a dream. Who ever thought that the dream of Jerusalem could ever come true?
How could it be, you ask? How could it be that a city which Tevye had never seen could occupy such a powerful place in his heart? For a Jew, the answer was simple. For two-thousand years, three times a day, Jews prayed to return to their city. After every meal, after every piece of bread, and every piece of cake, they prayed for Jerusalem’s welfare. No matter where a Jew lived, the city of Jerusalem was to be the center of his life. It was the place where the Pascal lamb was to be eaten on the Passover holiday, and where first fruits were brought on Shavuos. There, by the pool of Shiloach, joyous water celebrations were held on Sukkos. It was the site of the ancient Temple, the Beis HaMikdash, may it soon be rebuilt. It was the place where the Sanhedrin declared the new months, and where the High Priest atoned for the nation on Yom Kippur. There, the miracle of Hanukah had occurred when the Maccabees had won their great victory over the Greeks. For Jews all over the world, each day started with the hope – perhaps this was the day that God would rescue them from their exile in foreign lands and bring them back to Jerusalem.
But the dream of his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before them, and all of his grandfathers all the way back to Abraham wasn’t to come true for the moment. They only had use of the JCA wagon for a week, so the ascent up the mountains leading to Jerusalem would have to be postponed so that they could make the three-day journey up north to the kibbutz where Hodel was living.
With tears in her eyes, Ruchel kissed her sister Tzeitl goodbye. Tzeitl seemed so frail and so thin, Ruchel feared that she might never see her big sister again, God forbid. For weeks now, Tzeitl hardly touched any food, and the weight she lost had hollowed her cheeks. Her cough clung to her like a menacing shadow, and her always hopeful smile seemed more to comfort others, so as not to cause her family anguish. The sisters hugged without looking too deeply into each other’s eyes. Ruchel kissed Hava, Bat Sheva, and gave the children big squeezes. Then she turned toward her father. The time had come to return to Rishon so that Nachman could assume his new position as melamed, teaching in the Talmud Torah. Tevye wore a big happy grin. If he had done one good thing in his life, it was bringing Ruchel to the chuppah to marry Nachman. Not that the match had been so much his doing, but it showed that he had succeeded in educating his daughter along the right path. Married to Nachman, she would always live a life of tradition. So even if they were setting off on their own for Rishon LeZion, away from the rest of the family, Tevye felt happy and confident that he was entrusting his girl to a God-fearing man who loved her with all of his heart.
“Remember, Abba,” she called from the wagon, using the Hebrew expression for father. “Tell Hodel and Perchik that we are expecting them to come visit us soon.”
Though Shmuelik and Hillel wanted to accompany their childhood friend, Nachman, he advised them to wait until he could arrange permission for them to join the already established yishuv. Though he was skeptical about his chances of persuading Dupont, he felt the resourceful Aharon might be able to help. In the meantime, they agreed to travel with Tevye. The decision required no forceful persuasion – both of them nurtured a secret attraction for Bat Sheva, Tevye’s fiery, plum-cheeked daughter. Though she hardly glanced at them, each had high hopes.