“Abba,” she sobbed, using the Hebrew expression for father. Happily, she fell into his outstretched arms. “How much I have missed you. How I’ve missed you all.”
A sob shook Tevye’s body as he embraced the little girl he had held in his arms, bathed, and taught how to milk a cow.
“Ah, Golda,” he thought. “Ah, Golda. If only you could be here now.”
But when he looked at Hodel, his heart was relieved. She was a picture of his wife in her youth, with the same sparkling smile and eyes. In a way, Tevye’s wife, Golda, was with them.
“I can’t believe it!” Hodel said. “Finally, finally, you’ve come!”
“Thanks to God,” Tevye said.
“And the Czar,” Bat Sheva added.
“May his name and memory be cursed,” Hillel said.
“Where is Ruchel?” Hodel asked.
“Married!” Hava answered. “To a handsome young talmid chacham.”
Hodel giggled in happiness. “Tell me, tell me. I want to hear every- thing!”
“They are living in Rishon LeZion, and they insist you come visit as soon as you can,” Tzeitl said.
“And Baylke?” Hodel asked.
“Off to America with her bankrupted millionaire,” Tevye answered.
“It’s disgusting,” Perchik said. “Here we are struggling to rebuild our homeland, and there are Jews living the life of capitalist kings in New York.”
Moishe and Hannie shyly came forward and embraced Hodel’s skirt. She bent down and gave them a hug. “How big they have grown,” she marveled.
“How big you have grown,” Tevye joked.
Everyone chuckled. “Can you believe it, Reb Tevye?” Perchik asked, giving his father-in-law a slap on the back. “Soon you will have a grandchild born in Eretz Yisrael!”
Tevye smiled. Loudly, he said the words of the Shehecheyanu prayer, thanking God for having kept him alive to experience this great reunion with his daughter. Other kibbutz workers began to gather around them. The deeply suntanned men were dressed in white blouses, dark pants, and boots. Some were bareheaded and others wore caps. The women wore white kerchiefs, simple, hand-knitted dresses and aprons. Others let their tresses hang down freely in the sun.
Hugging her sisters again, Hodel noticed Tzeitl’s pale smile.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Are you weak from the journey?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” Tzeitl said.
“Let me get you some water to drink.”
“I’m a little tired, that’s all,” Tzeitl insisted.
“We had better hurry,” Shmuelik said to Tevye. “Soon it will be Shabbos.”
Tevye glanced at the sky. The sun was beginning to set in the west.
“Shabbos?” Perchik asked. “Who worries about the Sabbath? One day is the same as the rest when you are a worker rebuilding the Land.”
Tevye eyed his loudmouthed son-in-law. “Here he goes with his heretical babble,” he thought. But before he could think of a fitting response, a loud greeting sounded behind them.
“Shalom aleichem!” the hearty voice shouted.
Everyone turned. Bat Sheva’s poor heart nearly jumped out of her body. It was Ben Zion. When she saw him, she felt she was going to faint. The sun sparkled around him, blinding her eyes. He sat straight and tall on a horse, clutching a rifle in his hand. Swathed in an Arab kefiah, and wearing two belts of bullets crisscrossed over his chest, he looked like a picture-book hero.
“Greetings, greetings, my friends!” he exclaimed, swinging down from his steed. He slapped Shmuelik and Hillel hard on their backs. For a moment, he gave Bat Sheva a gaze so unholy and brazen, she nearly collapsed. Then he offered his free hand to Tevye.
“Shalom aleichem,” he said.
“Aleichem shalom,” Tevye solemnly answered without extending a hand in return.
Ben Zion grinned, undaunted by Tevye’s unenthusiastic reception.
“No doubt the journey has exhausted our visitors,” he announced to the crowd. “And knowing my honored friend, Tevye, I am sure he would like to get ready for the approaching Sabbath day. So why don’t we all call it a day in the fields to prepare the kind of homecoming celebration that Hodel’s family rightly deserves!”
His proposal was answered with a common assent from the workers.
“Let me take your accordion,” Ben Zion said to Hillel.
Good-naturedly, Hillel swung the cumbersome instrument off his back and handed it to Ben Zion.