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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.

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“It’s all right,” Tevye said, snatching her up in his arms.

Her face was bleeding from scratches, but otherwise she seemed all right.

“Can you run?” he asked Moishe.

“Sure,” the boy said.

“Grab a hold of my pants,” Tevye told him.

Carrying the girl, Tevye headed back toward the house. Moishe ran alongside him. Once, he slipped, but Tevye held him up by the collar. Battered and bleeding, they made it safely back to the house. With a groan of relief, Tevye collapsed into a chair. His little son, Tzvi, looked up from the floor. Seeing his bloodied father, the child started to holler and cry.

“Wash the blood off of your face,” Carmel told her husband as she rocked Hannei back and forth in her arms. “You’re frightening the child.”

“Thank God the baby wasn’t outside in the fields with you,” Tevye replied. “The locusts might have carried him away.”

Tevye wasn’t joking. In the first plague of locusts, four lambs and a dog had disappeared. Whether they had run off, or been eaten by the locusts, nobody knew. This time, after another week-long invasion, three goats were missing. When God’s wrath abated, the settlers once again took up their pots and their pans and started chasing the locusts off of their devastated property. Once again, the settlers and the union workers got down on their knees to search for the eggs left behind. Ditches were dug and more arsenic was shipped in from Jaffa.

A feeling of hopelessness pervaded the settlement. At night, Tevye had nightmares of slugs hatching into locusts and bursting through the floor of his house. Sleep became a terror. In his weakness, he started drinking vodka again. At an emergency meeting, when Shilo suggested they abandon the area for some other part of the country, at first Tevye remained silent along with everyone else. Then he said no. One place was just like the rest. The Master of the Universe had many messengers, whether they be mosquitoes, marauders, locusts, or wars.

“Since I have stepped foot in Zion,” he said. “I have buried two daughters and a half-dozen friends. I have been shot at by Arabs, stricken with fever, nearly drowned in a swamp, and now I’ve watched hordes of locusts wipe out our crops. If things can get worse, I don’t know how. Therefore I vote that we stay.”

One after another, the other settlers agreed. Almost immediately, their perseverance was rewarded. Shimson returned with the news that the Baron Rothschild was giving them a loan – nothing astronomical, but enough to get the colony back on its feet.

The work of burying the locust eggs continued. Ditches were dug day and night. Everyone anxiously waited for the two-week gestation to end. If the eggs hatched, no one knew if the strength could be found to withstand another assault of the insatiable grasshoppers.

Blessedly, the devils didn’t come back to life. The harsh decree ended. No more black clouds appeared in the sky. But the settlers of Olat HaShachar could only tremble in awe as they gazed out at their fields. The locusts had transformed their property back into a desolate wasteland.

A few days later, the union workers abandoned the stricken yishuv. Once again, the settlers faced the task of rebuilding alone. A horticulturalist employed by the Baron visited the settlement and advised them to let their fields lay fallow for a year. Tevye received the news as if he had been hit on the head with a hammer. Not work for a year? It was out of the question. How would the settlers survive? Rallying the others, he said he was going back to his farming, even if he had to plow and plant his field all alone.

No one responded. No one agreed. Even Nachman and Shirnon were silent.

“Are we going to let a bunch of grasshoppers defeat us?” Tevye asked. “Is that all the mettle we have?”

“Why break our backs working if the Baron is willing to pay us to sit and do nothing?” Sharagi wanted to know.

“Because we came here to work,” Tevye said. “And not to take handouts like beggars.”

Alone, he strode off to the barn to fetch a mule and a plow. Shilo hurried to catch up to him.

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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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