Strangely, the person who seemed most affected by Tzeitl’s death was Goliath. Upon hearing the news, he surrounded himself with an impenetrable wall. He even found it hard to play with the children. Shmuelik said the body had to remain wrapped in a sheet on the floor of Hodel’s house until the Sabbath was over. During the Sabbath, mourning was forbidden, and Tevye did his best to remain strong. But come Motzei Shabbos, when the day ended, the children’s sobs at the funeral made everyone feel the very great weight of the loss. Little Moishe and Hannie clung to their grandfather as if he were father and mother in one. For their sake, Tevye kept his face locked in an optimistic expression. When the Mashiach came, he told them, their mother would return. With God’s help, they wouldn’t have long to wait. If they prayed hard enough, the Mashiach could come any day. All things considered, he reasoned, the situation of the dead was a lot better than that of the living. That is, if there were cows which had to be milked, and wagons which broke down in the World to Come, Tevye had never heard about it.
Tevye’s hope-filled posture paid off. After a few days, with the resilience of children, Moishe and Hannie ventured away from Tevye’s shadow to play outside with the youngsters of the kibbutz. Tevye and his daughters sat out the seven-day mourning period in Hodel and Perchik’s tiny, mud hut of a home. Goliath joined them as if he were a part of the family. He kept to a corner, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, but owing to his size, he filled up a substantial part of the room. He was gladdened when the children mustered enough courage to venture outside on their own. It gave him an excuse to sit outside the house, where he could keep an eye on their activities. That way, he could keep out of the way, yet still be a part of the mourning.
Because her family had to eat in her home while they were sitting shiva, Hodel had to be more stringent in the kitchen. While she never mixed milk products and meat, she had become less mindful of some of the other kosher laws. Since she and Perchik normally ate in the dining hall with the other members of the kibbutz, she had to make use of the communal kitchen in preparing the meals for her family. Shmuelik boiled the utensils which needed to be purified, and he kashered the pans in a blazing fire. Perchik called the procedure a primitive voodoo, but he controlled his disapproval as long as Tevye was in the house. However, he warned that when the week of mourning concluded, the foolishness would stop.
“It may seem like foolishness to you,” Hodel answered. “But to me it is important.”
“Has your father been brainwashing you again?”
“Don’t you dare to speak out against my father,” she said in a temper.
Perchik stared at his gentle wife in surprise. She stood glaring at him in defiance, as if she were seeking a fight. Since Tzeitl’s death, something in Hodel had changed. As strange as it sounded, she felt that Tzeitl’s spirit had entered her body. Everyone knew that stories of dybbuks were true. Souls of the dead could enter a person on earth until they found rest. In Anatevka, the Rabbi had exorcised more than a few. After all, Hodel reasoned, God had not brought Tzeitl all of the way to Israel to die in her arms for no reason at all. It was enough that Tzeitl wanted her children to grow up with Ruchel and the young rabbi, Nachman, to make Hodel realize the shortcomings of her present lifestyle. She had experienced a sense of rejection in her sister’s last wish, a condemnation of the path she had chosen, but in her heart, she knew that her sister’s decision was sound. After all, what sort of Jewish tradition could Hodel pass on to the children if the basics of Torah observance, like kashrus, Shabbos, and prayer were not to be found in her house? Soon, she realized, she would be a mother herself, and she wanted to bequeath to the next generation the things which had been important to her. Not only the aroma of freshly baked challahs, but the reverence for religion which had filled her house in Anatevka with a blessing from one Sabbath to the next. After all, it was the faithfulness to tradition which made a people last. Who said that modern ideas were necessarily better than the beliefs of the past?
“You are my wife, and you will do what I say,” Perchik commanded when Hodel refused to give in.
“Who says that a wife has to do whatever her husband demands?” Hodel retorted. “That’s just some foolish old-fashioned nonsense.”
Perchik understood the barb in her message. After all, he could not preach the equality of all people, and treat his wife like a slave in the privacy of their home.
“Anyway,” Hodel continued. “I am not just your wife. Soon I will be a mother, and I have an obligation to my children. Being with my family again has made me realize that I have a responsibility to educate them as Jews.”
“I will decide what we will teach our children,” Perchik answered.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, that is so.”
Hodel heard her husband’s answers, and wondered why he sounded so differently now. She realized that this was the way he always spoke, authoritatively, dogmatically, egotistically, imposing his worldview on their marriage. It had been that way from the start, when as a young sheltered girl, she had been swept away with his certainty and knowledge, as if he possessed all of the truths of existence. On their long walks through the woods of Anatevka, he had transported her out of the tiny village to new and breathtaking worlds. Like a child, she had gone along for the ride, trusting in his confidence and wisdom. But now she was no longer a child. She was about to have a baby of her own, and Tzeitl’s death had reminded her that life did not last forever.
“Do you know why Tzeitl wanted her children raised by Ruchel and Nachman, and not by us?” she asked. “Because she wanted them to grow up in a good kosher home.”
“That’s fine with me,” Perchik answered.
“Well it isn’t with me. I’m ashamed.”
“Hodel stop it. Don’t you see what has happened? Your father has been here a week, and already we are fighting. When was the last time we had a quarrel before that? I can’t even remember.”
“That was because I always listened to you. I always accepted your way. But I have a mind of my own.”
Perchik nodded, remembering how strong-willed his Hodel had been with her parents when they had opposed their marriage.
“Isn’t that one of your sacred principles?” she asked. “Freedom of thought and expression? The liberation of the workers from the oppressive ruling class?”
“Are you implying that you are being oppressed in this house?”
Hodel didn’t answer. For a moment, they faced one another in silence.
“Shouldn’t women have rights? Aren’t we allowed freedom too?”
“You are my wife,” he said, flustered.
“Now you sound like my father,” she said. “Before anything else I am a person. Soon, with God’s help, I will be a mother. And along with everything else, I am a Jew.”
“All right,” he said, not wishing to continue the argument until he had formulated a clear line of reasoning and proofs. “You set up the kitchen the way that you want.”
“Back to the kitchen, is that it? Now you really sound like my father. What about all of your modern ideas? Do they apply to everyone in the world except for your wife?”
“What more do you want?” he asked.
“A real Jewish Shabbos.”
“You know I can’t agree. I came to Israel to work the land, not to sleep and eat chulent.”
“The Sabbath is only one day a week.”
“You do what you believe is right, and I will do what is important to me.”
“What kind of marriage is that?” Hodel asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “All I know is that until today we had no problems, and now that your father has come, it is as if we were back in Anatevka.”
Angrily, he strode out of the house. The door slammed shut. Hodel shuddered. Their fight had exhausted her. Standing up to her husband was no easy matter. It was true, their life together had been a united endeavor until her family arrived. What had happened? What change had taken place? Standing alone in the room, Hodel could only pray, as her father always did, that everything would work out for the best.
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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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