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

Tevye in the Promised Land

The captain laughed. “You think it’s so easy? Plenty of vessels have gone aground in these waters.”

“We will make it worth your while,” Tevye said.

The captain paused. He looked at the Jew. “And just how do you propose to make it worth my while?” he asked.

“With a gift to the captain of two hundred rubles.”

The captain smiled. “Five hundred,” he said. “I have to share it with my crew.”

Tevye nodded. “You’ll get it when the last one of us is safely ashore.”

“Half before the landing. Half afterward,” the captain said.

Tevye reached into his pocket and pulled out all the money he had. It came to a little less than two hundred rubles. Goliath handed him a pile of notes, and Tevye counted out the difference. Greedily, the captain took it from his hand.

“Throwing your wife overboard was nothing personal, you understand. I did it for the welfare of the ship.”

Tevye wanted to spit in his face. A pool of saliva welled up in his mouth. But once again, like he had done all of his life, he swallowed his pride and his anger.

The ship pulled up anchor and continued its way south along the sandy coastline. Tevye related the agreement to the other Jews on board and collected the remainder of the bribe money in a hat which Goliath held out in his hand. Within a short time, Jaffa could no longer be seen. Jews lined the railing to view the desolate shoreline. Undulating sand dunes extended inland as far as the eye could see. Only an occasional palm tree interrupted the desert-like landscape. Nachman said they were date trees. The honey of the Land of Israel wasn’t the honey of bees, but the honey of dates, a fruit which none of the Russian Jews had ever tasted. For an hour they saw nothing but desert, rolling dunes, and endless mountains of sand. Up on the bridge of the ship, the captain held up a hand. The crew once again lowered the anchor, and the captain waved Tevye over.

“Get your people ready,” he said.

“Can’t you bring the ship closer to shore?” Tevye asked.

“Not without endangering the vessel,” the captain responded. “If I get too close to the beach, the current could sweep me aground.”

They were still at least two-hundred meters from land. Foam-capped waves raced toward the coastline. The small rowboats that were lowered from the ship rocked forebodingly in the ocean between the powerful swells.

“You agreed to take us to shore,” Tevye said.

“The rowboats will take your people as close to the beach as possible.”

“But most of these people can’t swim!”

“Take it or leave it,” the captain replied.

Once again, Tevye had no choice. But when the captain demanded the rest of the money, Tevye insisted that he would pay only when all of the Jews had reached the beach safely. Tevye wasn’t a seaman, but he realized the undertaking would be no easy matter. The waves crashing onto the beach, and the powerful undertow they caused, prevented the rowboats from reaching the shore. The small crafts had to stop a considerable swim from the beach. A crew member swam into shore with the end of a rope which he fastened to a trunk of a palm tree. From the rowboats, the Jews would have to hang onto the rope and battle the waves and the undertow the rest of the way to the Holy Land.

“What about everyone’s belongings?” Tevye asked. “How will people manage if they have to hold on to a rope?”

The captain shrugged. “You can always change your mind and sail the rest of the way to Alexandria,” he said.

Who knew what new disasters would arise on the way to Alexandria, Tevye thought? Eretz Yisrael was so close, they could almost reach out and touch it. Jews were already pushing and shoving to climb down the ladder of the ship. They jumped into the small rowboats as if the chance might never come again.

“At least take the belongings ashore,” Tevye pleaded. “It’s everything these people have in the world.”

“I can try,” the captain said. “But it has to be worth risking a boat and its crew.”

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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