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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Forty: Locusts

The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“Hear this, you old men, and give ear all of you inhabitants of the land. Has such a thing transpired in your days, or even in the days of your fathers? That which the cutting locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten. And that which the swarming locust has left, the hopping locust has devoured. Awake drunkards and weep. Howl all you drinkers of wine, because the sweet wine is cut off from your mouth…. Be ashamed, O you farmers. Wail, O you vine growers over the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is perished.

The assembly was silent. The voice of the Prophet seemed to echo through the synagogue like a condemnation from the past.

“Sanctify a fast!” Nachman read. “Call a solemn assembly! Gather the elders and all of the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord!”

“We have to make peace with the workers!” a settler stood up and shouted.

Other voices assented. Settlers turned toward the non-religious laborers in conciliation and friendship. Everyone shook hands. A fast day was called for the morrow. In the morning, as dawn rose, the locusts still clung to the crops. The corn fields had been wiped out completely. Ears sagged like empty sacks. Here and there, kernels littered the earth. Stalks, like wounded soldiers, wilted lifelessly toward the ground. Not a tomato was left in Tevye’s garden.

Predictably, the Arab laborers didn’t show up. Instead, the striking union returned to the fields. For the first time in a month, the Jews set off together. But no one knew what to do. If they left the locusts alone, the voracious insects would wipe out the crops. But when the settlers tried to beat them away, they flew into other orchards and fields. Most dangerous of all, Elisha told them, was the chance that the locusts might begin to lay eggs. He had seen storms of locusts in Yemen, and they had always left starvation and ruin in their wake. The only thing that could save them, he said, was a wind that would blow the ravenous grasshoppers into the sea.

Like the sands on the seashore, there were so many locusts, they could never be numbered. The settlers decided to try to shovel them into wheelbarrows and beat them with brooms, but the strategy proved hopeless. The enemy was simply too numerous. True to Elisha’s warning, the locusts hopped away onto other stalks. The women of the settlement followed after the men, carrying shovels and sacks. As the men whacked at the locusts, knocking them to the ground, the women scooped them into the folds of the burlap. Not every woman’s stomach was strong enough for the job, and gradually their ranks began to dwindle. But as soon as the settlers cleared one row of stalks, more locusts would fly through the air to replace them. The settlers and workers were finally united at work, but the peace they had made proved fruitless against their common enemy. When they tried to harvest whatever crops they could salvage, locusts swarmed in their faces. Defeated, the workers returned to their barracks, and the settlers retreated to their homes.

The afternoon brought another dry wind and cloud after cloud of locusts. Darkness fell over the colony. Gloom fell over everyone’s heart. Not a furrow or field was spared in the onslaught. The following morning, a feeling of despair hung over the whole yishuv. Not knowing what else to do, a strategy suggested by Elisha was put into action. Settlers emerged from their kitchens carrying all of the pots and pans they could gather. Like a marching band, they walked along the rows of their crops, clanging the utensils together, making a thunderous noise. Startled by the racket, the locusts flew into the air. All morning long, the settlers chased after the demons, pots and pans crashing like cymbals. Determined to win, the Jews chased the unwanted invaders from field to field until they flew off in a cloud further south. With cheers of success, the settlers returned to their fields. But the joy of their victory didn’t last. The damage was almost total. Most of the season was lost. Only the melon crop was spared, and the carrots, turnips, and potatoes which had been in the ground. But at least they had gotten rid of the enemy.

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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