For Perchik, the gatherings in his house were opportunities to expound his philosophies. Not that Tevye wanted to hear, but having to sit out the seven days of shiva in his son-in-law’s domain, he was Perchik’s captive. Perchik felt equally trapped by his father-in-law’s presence, and, like the collegian fencer he was, he used the discussions to score as many barbs as he could in Tevye’s ancient armor.
Since his arrival in Shoshana, Tevye had decided to bury the wounds of the past. And certainly now, in the wake of Tzeitl’s death, family quarrels were forbidden. Furthermore, Tevye was a guest in Perchik’s house. And finally, though Tevye and Perchik were as far apart as the sun and the moon, they had one thing in common. Hodel.
“Nu, Reb Tevye,” Perchik inquired as he returned home from work toward the end of a discussion between Tevye and group of visiting kibbutzniks. “Becoming a Zionist?”
“Isn’t God Himself a Zionist?” Tevye answered.
“I suppose that He is, but for all of your prayers about returning to Zion, I don’t see many devout religious Jews flocking to join us.”
Tevye nodded his head. It was an argument for which he had no rebuttal. Now that he had seen the stark beauty of Eretz Yisrael, and felt its holiness saturate all of his being, Tevye could only wonder himself why all of his exiled brothers delayed coming home. Already, like a man crazily in love with a woman, he couldn’t think of being anywhere else.
“On behalf of the kibbutz, I would like to extend a permanent welcome,” Ben Zion magnanimously said. “We want you to know that you have a place with us here in Shoshana if you would like to join our community.”
Perchik flashed his loud-mouthed compatriot an unenthusiastic expression. Having Hodel’s father in Shoshana would finish his marriage completely.
“That’s right,” he said cynically. “Shave off your beard, throw away your tzitzit, and become a part of the Palestine of today.”
“You don’t have to shave off your beard,” Gordon said. “But your fringes and skullcap are relics of the past. Today, a Jew has to make himself over completely. Jewish self-fulfillment will only come through physical labor and contact with the soil. The kibbutznik, not the rabbi, will be the future image of a Jew.”
Tevye grumbled a response. He had grown weary of the orations on the Jew of the future and the ideal society which the new pioneers were building in Palestine. The name Palestine had been coined by the Romans two thousand years before. Conquering the country, the Romans renamed the Eretz Yisrael of the Bible after the Philistines who had dwelt in the land. Similarly, to erase all signs of the land’s Jewish history, they renamed the city of Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, after the Roman emperor. A parade of conquerors followed, spoiling the land and drenching its borders in blood. They ruled over the country from afar, making its Jewish citizens pay tribute to foreign treasuries. Though Jerusalem was forced to house idols and wear the garb of an adulterous culture, the Jews remained true to their Heavenly city. No other nation made her its capitol. Coliseums, churches, and mosques were built over the remnants of the Jewish Temple, but through all the waves of oppression, Jews stubbornly clung to the one remaining Wall. Throughout the centuries, Jews continued to dwell on their sacred soil, though the majority of the nation had been exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe. Conquerors raised their banners over the ramparts of the city, blasted their trumpets for a passing fortnight or two, then disappeared from the stage of world history. The mighty kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all turned to rubble and ruin. Only the Jews lived on, maintaining an unbroken presence in the Land, in defiance of the nations who sought to sever the Jewish people’s bond to their eternally cherished home.
While Ben Zion was an adamant champion of the Jews’ exclusive right to their homeland, Perchik was less extreme in his views. A universalist by nature, he believed that other people could live in the Land as well. He agreed that the rule of the Turks had to cease one day, but the Arabs, for instance, could stay. They were a small and scattered community, comprised of Bedouin tribes who had never ruled over the country, and who had no nationalistic ambitions. They called themselves “Southern Syrians.” To Perchik’s way of thinking, they added a Mediterranean charm to the region. In his literary moods, he spoke of them as “sons of the desert.”