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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Eight: The Holy Land

Tevye in the Promised Land

As a Jew says in his prayers every morning, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the counsel of God which prevails.” The captain turned to the excited crowd of passengers on deck and told them that everyone could prepare to disembark except for the Jews. The Turkish authorities were refusing to issue the Jews permits to land. They would have to travel on with the boat to the port of Alexandria, in Egypt.

Tevye was stunned. After all they had gone through! To be turned away when they could almost reach out and touch a dream of ages. Who were these heathen scoundrels to deny the children of Abraham the right to step foot on their very own soil?

It was one of the Zionists who cried out, “This is our land! The land of the Jews!”

He rushed forward as if to charge the captain and the Turkish official. Without waiting for an order, a soldier raised his rifle and fired. The bullet struck the Jew in his chest. Clutching his heart, he fell to the deck. Goliath took a step forward but Tevye held him back. Rifles remained poised in alert. Instantly, the rebellion was quelled. The Jews lifted their dead and retreated to the aft of the ship.

“Who are they?” Ruchel asked. “Why do they act like Palestine belongs to them?”

“They’re Turks,” her father answered. “They rule here. We’ve escaped one Czar and found ourselves another.”

“We outnumber them,” Goliath said. “We all should have charged.”

“And what would we have done when we finally reached shore?” Tevye asked. “Gone to war with the entire Turkish army?”

The big lumberjack looked confused. No one had ever bothered to explain to him the political situation in Palestine. In truth, he had never thought to ask. In his mind, the Land of Israel belonged to the Jews. God had given it to them. He had promised it to Abraham as an everlasting gift. The oversized Jew wasn’t a rabbi, but he had heard the Torah read aloud on the Sabbath every week of his life, and he knew almost all of the Five Books of Moses by heart. The land of Canaan was the inheritance of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Russia, a Jew could expect to be thrown out of his village – he was a stranger in someone else’s country. But in Eretz Yisrael – forbidding a Jew to land on its shores was like trying to keep a man out of his very own home!

The Jews fell into a restless depression. They stood whispering in groups as rowboat after rowboat arrived to carry the other passengers ashore. Zionists and Hasidim alike paced nervously back and forth like caged lions. Tevye’s daughters were heartbroken. Tzeitl’s coughing shook her whole body. Her eyes had lost their light, and her face was drained of color.

“Where are they going to take us?” Hannie wanted to know.

“To Egypt,” Tevye answered. “To see the pyramids our grandfathers built.”

Once again, it was Nachman who offered a glimmer of hope.

“Remember, Reb Tevye, I have heard you say it yourself, `Everything that God does is for the best.’ Maybe He wants to give us reward for walking from Egypt to Israel, just like our forefathers did long ago.”

“I can hardly wait,” Bat Sheva said cynically.

“What about the poor soul who was shot?” Hava asked. “Did things work out good for him too?”

As the last passengers were leaving the ship. Hevedke made a point of walking over to be with the Jews. He took a place toward the back of the ship-bound ghetto and stood tall and determined as if he were making a statement. When the soldiers climbed down the ship’s ladder and returned to their launch, Tevye strode up to the captain. Goliath stuck to his side like a shield.

“We bought passage to Palestine and we expect to be set ashore here,” Tevye said.

“You heard what the Turkish lieutenant ordered,” the captain responded.

“If not in this port than in some other,” Tevye demanded.

“There is no other port in the direction we’re heading.”

“Then you’ll just have to set us ashore on a beach.”

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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