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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 12: Hodel

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

Tevye was nobody’s fool. Being as good a judge of men as he was of horses and cows, (except in the case of the crook Menachem Mendel, his wife’s fast-talking, second cousin, who persuaded him to squander his life’s savings in worthless stocks) he realized that both men were on the lookout for wives. In Tevye’s mind, Shmuelik was just the right man to tame his youngest daughter. True, the scholar was quiet, and Bat Sheva liked spice and adventure, but Tevye was hoping that the lesson she had received from Ben Zion would teach her that a sincere, God-fearing husband was better than a swaggering Machiavelli she never could trust.

As for Tzeitl’s future, her father could only sigh. Goliath was ready to make her his wife, and sweet-natured Tzeitl probably would have consented, if not out of love, then for the sake of her children. But in her present condition, there was no sense in pursuing the match. Tevye wanted to hospitalize her in Jaffa, where she could rest and recover from the hardships of their journey, but she stubbornly refused. She even defied her father’s wishes on the doorstep of the hospital where Tevye had deviously brought her.

“I am ordering you,” he commanded.

“No,” she protested.

“Remember, I am your father,” he said.

“I don’t need a hospital,” she answered. “I want to see Hodel, that’s all.”

“What you want isn’t important,” he said. “What your father wants is what counts. Since Motel, the poor creature, went to his Maker, you have returned to my care, and I am commanding you to do what I say.”

“I am going to the kibbutz to see Hodel, and that’s final,” Tzeitl argued. “The last thing I need is to be cooped up in a hospital with other sick people.”

There was something to be said for her argument. After all, more people died in hospitals than lived. But, still, in her condition, she was too weak to travel. To convince her, Tevye resorted to a verse from the Torah.

“Isn’t it written in the Ten Commandments, `Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the Land which I gave to your forefathers’? Here we are in the Land, and I am commanding you to obey my wishes, whether you want to or not.”

“Oh, Abba,” Tzeitl said. “Haven’t you learned by now that your eldest daughter has a mind of her own.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “When I arranged for you to marry Anatevka’s wealthiest man, the butcher Lazar Wolf, and you fell in love with your tailor. Who ever heard of a girl falling in love before her wedding?”

“You can’t set the clock backward. Young people have changed.”

“Well, if you won’t listen to me, then for the sake of your children, please let the doctors try to help you.”

“All right,” she agreed. “To please you. But only after I see my sister Hodel.”

She stared at him defiantly. Tevye remembered that look, when her eyes turned to ice. There was no use in arguing. When Tzeitl made up her mind that was that. Hell could freeze over before she would give in. A battle would only weaken her strength. So, with a shrug, Tevye turned away from the hospital.

With the last rubles he had, Tevye purchased a horse and a wagon, and the wanderers headed north along the Damascus road to join their Hodel in Shoshana.

Once again, Tevye was amazed at the desolation they encountered as they traveled along the coastal plain, then ascended the range of hills that made up the backbone of the country. Boulders covered the landscapes. The topsoil was nothing but rock. Hardly a shrub could be seen. Here and there, an olive tree grew like a reminder of the country’s once glorious past. “Some metsia,” Tevye thought. A land filled with rocks wasn’t such a big bargain. But at least it was theirs. Occasionally, a lone bedouin rode by on a donkey, carrying produce to the Jerusalem market. Now and then, a few Turkish soldiers would salute them as they galloped by on their horses, but otherwise, the countryside was deserted, with hardly a town or a village to welcome them on their way. Miles and miles of hillsides and valleys lay barren, having staunchly resisted cultivation for two-thousand years, turning away foreign conqueror after conqueror, as if waiting for the Land’s true children to come home.

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." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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