“Embarrass him?” Tevye said in wonder. “You’ve given him the well. You’ve promised him 500 pounds. The only thing you haven’t yet surrendered is the harvest.”
“Would you prefer war?”
“Five-hundred pounds is more than the kibbutz treasury has in reserve,” Bronsky remarked.
“We can borrow from Kibbutz Degania,” Perchik said.
“I feel this is something we should vote on,” Mendelevitch advised.
“A vote was already taken,” Perchik reminded him, “And we won the right to negotiate a settlement.”
“I advise that we take a vote between us right now.”
Perchik hesitated. Bronsky and Mendelevitch were the treasurers of the kibbutz. It was largely due to their tight-fisted policy that the commune was holding its own. If peace had a price, they could be expected to vote against it, even if the alternative meant bloodshed. Karmelisky was a close friend of Perchik, a vote he could trust. That meant that once again, the issue would be decided by Tevye. Hands went up for and against the agreement.
“Well, Tevye, your vote decides,” Perchik said. “What do you say?”
On the one hand, Tevye thought, an Ishmaelite couldn’t be trusted. It was a lesson Abraham had learned long ago. Ever since then, history had proven it again and again, wherever Jews had lived under Moslem rulers. On the other hand, the Jews were still a minority in Palestine and had to survive as peacefully as they could until more reinforcements arrived. Then again, only a fool would agree to pay twice for the same piece of land. On the other hand, if Perchik returned to the kibbutz with a signed agreement, it would be a blow to Ben Zion. To Tevye, that was the most important factor of all. Thus, once again, Tevye sided with Hodel’s husband.
Victorious, Perchik swung his leg over the back of his horse and slid down to the ground. Smiling, he walked up to the sheik and held out his hand. Ceremoniously, the chieftain lowered himself from his mount and accepted the hand of the Jew.
“On behalf of our kibbutz, I invite you to an evening of song and cultural exchange in Shoshana,” Perchik said.
“Perhaps,” the sheik answered.
“There is a lot we can learn from each other,” Perchik continued.
“Perhaps,” the Arab responded.
“Your people have a knowlege of farming, and we have new scientific advancements. Hopefully one day, all fences can come down, and we can live side by side in peaceful co-existence, an example to the world.”
“A wonderful dream,” the Arab said, with no trace of a smile.
To Tevye, the chief did not seem overly enthused, but as Tevye had to admit, only a fool could become excited over Perchik’s crazy meshugenneh ideas.
Pleased with their agreement and with the peace he had made, Perchik returned to his horse.
“Maybe we should get something in writing before we leave,” Bronsky suggested.
“There isn’t a need to force things. These Arabs stand by their word,” Perchik assured.
“The Torah says otherwise,” Tevye advised.
“Your Bible stories are fantasies,” Perchik said. “In these modern times, our task is to reach the heavens without leaving the earth of reality. All men are basically good, Jews and gentiles alike. You just have to treat everyone fairly, and you will be treated fairly in return. No people or religion is better than any other. We are all equal in the eyes of the Creator, and one day we will be a united community of nations without racial hatreds, class inequality, and worker exploitation. How fortunate we are to be the pioneers in this great dream of harnessing the winged horse of utopia with the wagon of pragmatic action and thought.”
Perchik’s speech was a lot of double-talk to Tevye, but he didn’t bother to argue. He knew that debating with his son-in-law was a hopeless affair.
When they arrived back at Shoshana, a Galilee sunset was bathing the kibbutz in a warm golden glow. The stillness of the late afternoon was only interrupted by the sound of Goliath splitting logs, but the whacks of his axe did not spoil the serenity in the air. On the contrary, the sounds of the wood chopping seemed a natural part of the pastoral setting. Before entering the straw-roofed, adobe house where his family was living, Tevye prayed the afternoon prayer in the yard, facing south toward Jerusalem. The tumult of the day melted away, leaving him alone with his Maker. It was a time of reflection, reminding a man that although he was commanded to labor and toil, the success of his endeavors depended on God. When he opened his eyes at the end of the prayer, little Moishe and Hannie stood at his feet.