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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 12: Hodel

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“Why not?” Hava said. “This isn’t Russia. Certainly in our own Land, a Jew has the right to bear arms.”

“Spoken like a true Zionist,” her father said.

“Well, at least now we know the best crop to grow when we have our own farms,” Hillel said.

“What’s that?” Moishe asked.

“Tobacco.”

Hillel strapped his accordion over his shoulders and began to bang out a tune. In what seemed a short time, they came to an open valley and a patchwork of neatly plowed fields tended by industrious farmers. A worker walked along, scattering seeds from a bag slung over his back. Another carried a sheave toward a wagon already overflowing with a mountain of hay.

Seeing them, Shmuelik stood up in the wagon and sang out the words of the Psalm which they all knew by heart, a prayer of longing for the Land of Israel recited at the end of every Sabbath meal.

“Those who sow in tears

Will reap with joyous song.

Though he walks along weeping,

Carrying his bag of seed,

He will return with joyous song,

Carrying his sheaves.”

Hillel accompanied him on his accordion. Hearing the melody, the worker closest to the wagon looked up. It was Perchik, Hodel’s husband, the Russian revolutionary turned Zionist farmer. Tevye stood up in the wagon. How incredibly happy he was to see the young dreamer. Perchik too felt a shiver of joy as he recognized the bearded face from the past. He cast off the bag of seeds from his shoulder and came running toward the wagon to greet them.

“Tevye!” he yelled in heartfelt surprise. “Hodel come quickly! Your father and sisters are here!”

Tevye leaped off the wagon. The two men embraced. Long ago, the first time Tevye had delivered milk to the summer house where Perchik was vacationing with his parents, the milkman had been attracted to the lad’s cheerful eloquence. Tevye had liked him, the way he naturally liked people, and that had caused all of the tzuris and pain. Tevye had treated the youth like the son he had always longed for, inviting him into his house to tutor his daughters. Instead of teaching, the dreamer lectured for hours on end about all of the world’s wonders. He carried on as if he were a professor of philosophy, history, and international affairs. And what upside-down chatter! Everything with Perchik was reversed from the normal way of the world. Money, he claimed, was the root of all evil. To his way of thinking, Tevye should be thrilled to be poor! The peasant worker, Perchik insisted, was the “cream of the milk,” while Tevye knew from firsthand experience that a working man was no better than dung. The university student glorified physical labor, but all he did was talk. Then, for weeks on end, he would suddenly disappear on some secret revolutionary mission. And to repay Tevye for his hospitality, this self-proclaimed champion of universal justice stole the poor milkman’s daughter away like a thief who breaks into a house on Rosh HaShana while the family is praying in shul.

For a moment, Tevye remembered the day he had said good-bye to Hodel at the railway station, and the heartache which her free-thinking husband had caused. But that was then, and this was now. Every man made mistakes. And every man could change for the better. Didn’t it say in the Torah, “Thou shall not hold a grudge in your heart?” It was time, Tevye realized, to put the past behind them and opt for a new beginning. So Tevye kissed his smiling son-in-law and made room in his heart to welcome him into the family.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hodel come running. Her sisters ran to greet her. Who would have recognized her, so suntanned and as pregnant and round as a cow! Who ever heard of a woman working in a field in her condition? But then again, who ever heard of Jewish farmers? In Russia, a Jew wasn’t allowed to own farmland at all.

“Tzeitl, Hava, Bat Sheva!” she called.

Ecstatic, Hodel hugged one after the other. Finally, she pulled herself free and turned to her father.

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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