Finally, after a sweltering, week-long journey, a shimmering blue hallucination materialized out of the haze in the distance. They had reached Lake Kinneret, also called the Sea of Galilee, shining in the sun like a jewel. With a cheer, Tevye urged the horse forward. Goliath ran to keep pace with the wagon. Further north along the winding hillside road was the holy city of Tiberias, where they would spend the Sabbath. Fully dressed, everyone rushed to jump in the lake to cool off in its sparkling fresh waters. Tevye knelt on his hands and knees alongside his horse and lapped up the fresh, life-giving liquid. Then, like a king in a royal bath, he rolled over on his back in the shallows and let the gentle waves of the lake massage his weary bones.
Refreshed, the pioneers continued toward the city of Tiberias, burial site of the great Jewish sages, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Yochanan, the Rambam, the Ramchal, and Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess. But a blockade on the road prevented them from reaching the ancient lakeside city. Turkish soldiers ordered the wagon to halt. Shmuelik, who knew Aramaic and Hebrew, and who had picked up rudiments of the Arabic language and Turkish during his month in Jaffa, acted as interpreter. Apparently a plague of cholera had broken out in the city, and dozens of people had died.
“Among the Jews?” Shmuelik asked.
“Why shouldn’t the Jews be stricken along with everyone else?” the soldier answered. “We all drink the same water. People drop dead every day.”
Tevye spit up a few drops of the mouthfuls of water he had swallowed in the lake. The news of the plague dampened everyone spirits. Perhaps invisible bacteria were already invading their blood. One of the red-caftanned Turks asked what business they had in Tiberias. When Shmuelik told him where they were headed, the soldier said that the village of Shoshana was only a two hour ascent up the mountain. Tevye wanted to know if the kibbutz had also been hit by the plague, God forbid. The soldier shrugged. He hadn’t heard anything. He acted like he really didn’t care. Obediently, Tevye swung the wagon around in the road. Hoping they had found the right trail, the group set off into the mountains.
There were wagon-wheel tracks along the primitive path, some drying horse dung, and signs that a sheep herd had recently passed. Suddenly, up ahead of the wagon, an Arab tent topped by a red Turkish flag was stationed at a bend in the road. Two nasty-looking Arabs clutching rifles stepped out onto the trail, blocking the path of the wagon. Tevye tugged on the reins. Goliath protectively walked forward alongside Tevye’s horse. The taller of the two Arabs barked out angry orders. At first, Shmuelik didn’t understand what he wanted. Frustrated, the Arab began yelling. Goliath stood tensely, waiting to pounce. Finally, the Arab shouted the word, “Tobacco.” Shmuelik told him they didn’t have any. Angrily, the Arab shouted the word tobacco again. Ominously, he raised the rifle which he held cradled in his arms. Once again, Shmuelik began to explain, but Hillel interrupted before he could finish.
“I have some tobacco,” he said.
He opened his traveling bag and fished out a pouch of tobacco. “They told me it makes a good bribe with the Arabs,” he explained to the others in Yiddish. “Under Turkish law, tobacco is outlawed. This must be some kind of checking station. You can be sure our two friends are going to keep the booty for themselves.”
He flipped the pouch to the Arab, who snatched it from the air with a smile. Grinning, the unsavory couple returned to the shade of their tent. When the roadway was clear, Tevye whipped the reins of the wagon and hurried the wagon on down the trail.
“I wonder what they would have done to us if we didn’t have any tobacco to give them,” Bat Sheva said.
“They probably would have cut off our hands,” Hillel answered.
The girl looked at him seriously. “Maybe we should invest in a rifle,” she said.
Tevye laughed. The idea was amusing. “Who ever heard of a Jew with a rifle?” he asked.