“I don’t know if your decision to join our kibbutz is genuine, but thank you for standing behind me.”
“I didn’t do it for your sake,” Tevye said.
“Then for the cause of peace.”
“Not for peace either.”
“Well, whatever your reason was, you saved the kibbutz a lot of needless bloodshed. Come with us when we go to meet with the Arabs. You are a businessman. You know how to negotiate. I respect your experience.”
“A milkman is not really a businessman,” Tevye said modestly, not unaffected by his son-in-law’s flattery. “Still, I did have my share of dealings with a wide range of clients who were willing to pay a few extra kopeks for my top line of cheeses.”
“The tastiest in the region, I remember,” Perchik agreed.
Tevye also remembered how the young, university student would gobble down the delicacies which Golda set before him as he prattled on and on about his crazy farblondzhet ideas.
“Even back then when you invited me into your home to teach your daughters to read, I recognized your worldliness and wisdom,” Perchik said.
That was a joke, Tevye thought with a grumble, recalling that black, tragic day. What Tisha B’Av was for the Jewish people as a whole – the day marking the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction – the day that Tevye had taken a fancy to Perchik marked the crumbling of the protective wall which Tevye had erected around his family. If Tevye were really so wise, he never would have opened his door to the loquacious Shabbtai Tzvi.
Outside, the dining room, Bat Sheva was nowhere in sight. Neither was Ben Zion. But Tevye did not have the time to set off on a search. Already, Perchik was organizing a negotiating team to meet with the Arabs. Once again, Tevye found himself mounting a horse. Even as they rode out of the gate of the kibbutz, he looked back for a glimpse of his daughter.
True to Tevye’s fears, she was in the barn with Ben Zion. He had found her there sitting alone with the milk cows.
“Thank you for trying to help me,” he said.
“I don’t know why I did it,” she answered. “You are really not worth it.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Well, it’s true. The way I was raised, if a man likes a woman, he asks her to marry him without a thousand test kisses. That is the honorable way to behave.”
Ben Zion walked around to the other side of a cow, as if to keep it between them.
“This isn’t Anatevka,” he said.
“Are people so different here?”
“In a way, I suppose they are, yes. We no longer live according to the rules of the past.”
“What rules do you live by?” she asked.
“I don’t live by rules. I do what my feelings tell me.”
“I see. And what do your feelings say about me?”
Ben Zion patted the cow. “I like you very much. But I am not certain that I am ready for marriage.”
“Well until you decide, there will be no more kisses, at least not with me.”
Turning her back to him, Bat Sheva strode out of the barn. Ben Zion smiled as he watched her march out of the door.
“That was interesting,” he mused. The girl had more spunk than he realized. For the first since he had met her, he began to give her some serious thought.
“What do you say, cow?” he asked the beast in the stall. “Should I marry the milkman’s daughter?”
Bat Sheva strode away from the barn, secretly hoping to hear Ben Zion call her. She wondered if she really believed in what she was doing, or whether it was the influence of her sister, Hodel, to whom she had gone for advice. After all, Hodel had been in a similar dilemma with Perchik, when she had had to choose between her feelings of love and the ties of the past. Though Perchik and Ben Zion had different political views, they were fish from the very same pond. After Bat Sheva had poured out her heart, her older sister warned her not to succumb to passionate promises and even more passionate stares. After their discussion, Bat Sheva resolved to cling to her honor. But immediately upon leaving the barn, she had second thoughts.
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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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