That only made Ben Zion laugh even more. Red in the face, the girl hurried out of the house.
“Good for you, Reb Tevye,” Ben Zion said.
Bat Sheva felt like giving her father a kiss. She sat as sweetly and modestly as possible, a well-behaved contrast to the outspoken girl.
“I agree with Sonia,” Perchik said. “You can’t use the Bible as a deed.”
“Why can’t you?” Ben Zion asked. “The book is the chronicle of our history. With or without God, you can’t claim that the Jews didn’t live here before the Arabs and Turks.”
“The heathens chased us out of the country, did they not?” Hillel remarked. “We should do the same thing to them.”
“We are supposed to be more enlightened than the other nations,” Perchik answered. “Because we were uprooted is no reason for us to uproot others.”
“Nobody is being uprooted,” Ben Zion protested. “All of the land which the Jews are reclaiming in Palestine is being purchased for large sums of money. There is no uprooting in that.”
The argument wasn’t mere philosophical speculation alone. The day after Tevye’s family had concluded the week of mourning, the clamorous ringing of the dining-hall bell brought all of the workers hurrying back from the fields. Ben Zion’s friend, Peter, and another kibbutznik named Ari had taken a wagon to one of the settlement’s wells to fill barrels with water. While they were working, six Arabs on horseback appeared and ordered the Jews to vacate the site. The well, they claimed, was theirs. Peter had protested. He himself had dug out the well. But the Arabs still insisted that the well belonged to them. The entire region, they claimed, was a part of their pasture land. Their tribe had lived in the area for decades, they said, wandering from place to place, and all of the land and the underground springs were their ancestral inheritance.
When Peter refused to flee in face of their threats, an Arab had fired a rifle and wounded the kibbutznik in the shoulder. The shot, Ari said, seemed to have startled the Arabs as much as the Jews. As Peter lay bleeding on the ground, the Arabs galloped off in a panic.
Everyone in the kibbutz gathered outside of the dining hall. While Ari was recounting the story, comrades lifted Peter out of the wagon and carried him into a house. His shirt was stained crimson, and he was unconscious from the blood he had lost. Fortunately, the bullet had passed through his shoulder without causing more damage. By evening, he was back on his feet, but the incident caused outrage throughout the kibbutz, and the Jewish settlers were calling for a speedy reprisal.
Perchik, the pacifist, made a plea for restraint and negotiation, but Ben Zion took the lead in rounding up a troop to strike back at once.
“You know how to ride a horse,” he said to Tevye. “You come with us.”
A mount was brought over to Tevye and reins were placed in his hand. True, Tevye knew how to ride a horse, but he couldn’t remember the last time he had sat in a saddle. When he and his horse had been young, he had enjoyed a good gallop, but once he was married and had to make a living to take care of his family, he had exchanged his saddle for a wagon. After thousands of journeys between Anatevka and Yehupetz, the horse had forgotten how to gallop completely. Occasionally, in a snowstorm, or when the horse hurt its leg and was too weak to haul the wagon itself, Tevye would pull the horse and the wagon together. As the Good Book said, “There is a time for everything under the Heavens – a time to be a man, and a time to be a horse.”
Ben Zion quickly ran to a hut and emerged with a few extra rifles. He handed one to the milkman.
“What is this for?” Tevye asked.
“To shoot with,” Ben Zion answered.
“I don’t know how. In Anatevka, where I come from, the Czar did not make it a habit to hand out rifles to Jews.”
“You are no longer in Anatevka, Reb Tevye,” Ben Zion responded. “Don’t worry. I’ll teach you. Rifles are really quite simple contraptions.”