The emergency bell clanged throughout the valley of the Shoshana kibbutz. Workers who were building the first stone edifice on the settlement put down their chisels and masonry tools. Field hands set aside their scythes and their sickles and started back toward the compound of mud and wood dwellings. Within minutes, all of the settlers sat crowded together on the benches in the dining hall. With great indignation, Ben Zion related how the Arabs had ambushed them at the well and stolen his horse and two rifles. He demanded that a small force be organized immediately and set off in retaliation.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” someone asked.
“We were outnumbered, and I did not want to endanger the girl,” he answered, leaving out the embarrassing details of how the Arabs had snuck up and surprised them.
“You know the rule that a shomer is forbidden to go out on guard duty alone. Why did you break it?”
“I was teaching the girl how to shoot.”
“I wish he would teach me how to shoot,” a plain-looking girl quipped loudly enough for her neighbors to hear. Other girls giggled. Ben Zion’s friends broke out in laughter. Since it was Gordon’s turn to preside at the general meeting, the gavel was in his hand. He gave it a bang on the table, and the ruckus subsided. Sonia, standing in a corner of the hall, flashed a look of accusation at the faithless Don Juan. Ben Zion smiled. Rogue that he was, he cherished all of the attention.
“No one wants a war,” Perchik said. “Let the Arabs have the well. We can always dig another.”
Immediately, another clamor broke out in the crowd. Shouts of protest or agreement came from all corners of the hall. Once again, the fierce-looking Gordon wielded his gavel.
“Water can’t be found everywhere,” a kibbutznik asserted. “Without our wells, what will we do in the event of a drought?”
“What about the stolen horse and the rifles?” another man asked. “Do we give them away too?”
The uproar resumed. This time it took a full minute of gavel banging to restore a semblance of order.
“I volunteer to lead a contingent from the kibbutz to enter into negotiation with the Arabs,” Perchik announced. “If nothing can be accomplished in a peaceful manner, then we can think about fighting.”
“If we don’t respond with a show of force, they will only take advantage of us in the future,” Ben Zion warned.
Once again, a vote was taken. This time, Ben Zion’s followers were one vote shy of a deadlock. Peter had gone to Tiberias to have a doctor examine an infection in his wounded shoulder.
“That’s not fair,” Ben Zion protested. “Peter is not here to vote.”
“You know the rules of the voting,” Gordon responded. “A voter has to be present.”
Ben Zion cast a frustrated look over the crowd.
“One minute,” a voice called from the doorway. “You didn’t count me. I vote with Ben Zion.”
It was Bat Sheva.
“She doesn’t belong to the kibbutz,” Sonia called.
“I want to join,” Bat Sheva responded.
Tevye stood up from his seat on a bench in the back of the room and glared at his daughter. She stared defiantly back at him. Ben Zion’s frown immediately turned to a grin.
“The vote is even,” he said.
“No it isn’t!” Tevye bellowed. “I too want to join the kibbutz. And I vote with Perchik!”
It was no easy decision for Perchik. On the one hand, Tevye’s vote assured a majority for his non-violent faction, averting the danger of military encounter. On the other hand, if Tevye were actually to reside in Shoshana, that would be the end of Perchik’s happy home life with Hodel. But, then again, if Ben Zion’s forces won out, Perchik’s influence on the kibbutz would be seriously weakened. For Tevye also, siding with his socialist son-in-law was no easy matter, but he was willing to do it to bring about Ben Zion’s defeat.
“We have the majority,” Perchik claimed, accepting Tevye’s vote.
“The decision is final,” Gordon announced. “We negotiate with our neighbors.”
Another commotion erupted. Everyone had something to say, either about the Arabs, or about the way the kibbutz had accepted new members without a community vote. Bat Sheva glared at her father and strode out of the hall. Tevye started after her, but Perchik walked over and gave him a congratulatory pat on the back.