Latest update: May 29th, 2013
After a year of prayer, and hard, back-breaking work on the soil, patches of greenery reappeared in the fields of Olat HaShachar. Fruit trees budded. Tomatoes sprouted once again on their vines. God’s anger seemed to have passed, leaving the settlers with a new hope for the future. Even Shilo was filled with a revitalized spirit. As it turned out, his eyes never feasted on the money-paved streets of New York. His Rebbe had answered his letter asking for permission to go to America with the command that he stay in Eretz Yisrael, where with patience, everything would work out for the best. With the Rebbe’s encouragement, the carpenter set back to work with a renewed belief in his mission of rebuilding the Holy Land.
While their life wasn’t easy, Tevye strove to be content with his lot. As the Sages taught, the truly rich man was the man who was happy with what he had. Tevye was naturally optimistic by nature, and it was important to be a beacon of faith for the morale of the community. True, there was a long list of things to complain about, but who had the strength? After a long day of labor, Tevye would eat and gladly collapse into bed. On the Sabbath, he studied a little Torah with Guttmacher’s son. But his greatest pleasure came from his son. The golden-skinned toddler could walk and even put simple sentences together. He spoke Hebrew, the language which his father and mother spoke in the house. With an indescribable pleasure, worth more than all of the wealth in the world, Tevye taught his son the words of the Shema Yisrael prayer. When Sharagi asked Tevye why he didn’t teach the boy Yiddish, Tevye answered that Yiddish belonged to the past. Their future was in the mountains and plains of Eretz Yisrael, and not any longer in the confines of a ghetto.
The east winds which had brought the locusts were replaced by winds from a different direction. Each time a wagon arrived from Jaffa, settlers ran to meet it to hear the latest news about the war which was raging in Europe. At the beginning of the bloody conflagration, the battle between Germany, Russia, England, and France didn’t affect the small Jewish colony in Palestine, but when Turkey became an ally of the German Kaiser, things began to change. At first, many of the settlers wanted Germany to win and crush the Czar’s army, to punish the Russians for their oppression of the Jews. But when the Turk’s secret pact with the Germans was revealed, the Jews sided with the British, hoping that England’s forces in Egypt would roust the Turks and expel them from Eretz Yisrael.
One Friday afternoon, Hava and Isaac arrived in Olat HaShachar for a family reunion. Hava was pregnant with a child, and her Talmudic husband was pregnant with news. The former Hevedke had changed so completely that he bore no resemblance to the Russian poet of the past. His beard was longer than Tevye’s. He wore glasses, and covered his barbered blond hair with a hat. His baggy black jacket hid his muscular build, and he no longer held himself straight, but rather stooped in a humble pose which made him seem much smaller than he was.
With shining eyes and great excitement, he spoke at the evening meal, telling them everything he had heard about the war, and about Rabbi Kook’s visit to Europe. Hodel and Hillel, along with Ruchel with Nachman, joined them for the meal, and of course, Nachman listened intently to every word which Isaac related about the revered Rabbi Kook. For Tevye, it was a supreme Sabbath joy to have his family together. Like the cluster of glowing Sabbath candles which his wife and daughters had lit, a radiance shone on his face.
“Before the war broke out,” Isaac related, “the Agudat Yisrael organization in Germany invited Rabbi Kook to come to Berlin to participate in a rabbinical congress against the Zionist movement. Agudah represents the German ultra-orthodox who are adamantly opposed to the secularists. They believed that by having Rabbi Kook at their assembly, they could deal a blow to the Zionists who had been trying to win world approval for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. At first, the Rav couldn’t decide whether to attend the congress or not. He said it was extremely painful for him to leave the Holy Land’s shores, but he felt he might be able to influence the Agudah rabbis to moderate their opposition to the Zionist cause. Finally, his doctor recommended that a few weeks stay in a Swiss sanatorium might be beneficial to the Rebbetzin’s ailing health, so the Rav agreed to make the journey for the sake of his wife. When the war broke out, the congress was canceled, and the Rav was stranded in Switzerland with no way of returning to Jaffa. Apparently, all passenger ships have been refitted and turned into ships of war.”
“What is he doing in Switzerland?” Nachman inquired.
“He is writing, I’m told. An important congregation in London has invited him to be their rabbi while he is in Europe, but he has not yet decided. In a letter to the yeshiva, he wrote that he still hopes that he can find some way to return to the Holy Land.”
Inevitably, the effects of the war reached Palestine too. For one thing, there was no aliyah. To the Turks, the Jews asking entry from Russian were citizens of an enemy state. New Jewish immigrants ceased to arrive. As the war spread and spread, a steamship or freighter wasn’t to be seen in Jaffa’s harbor. In a short time, staples like flour, sugar, and rice all disappeared from the market. People started storing up food. Export trade stopped. Loans stopped arriving for the settlements. The Baron’s Jewish Colony Association was headquartered in France, and France was at war with the Germans, and the Turks, who were allied with the Germans, were reluctant to grant special favors to the benefactor of the Jews. Without funds to sustain them, the settlements became imperiled, and yeshivot in Jerusalem had to close.
In the third year of the war, the Turkish military government of Palestine started a countrywide draft. Tevye was spared because of his age. Nachman was deferred because he was the colony’s rabbi. Hillel was rejected because of his leg. But others, who couldn’t afford to bribe their way out, were taken away to be turned into soldiers in the Ottoman army. Shimon, the settlement leader, went into hiding. The Turkish soldiers searched the stables and barn, but they didn’t think to lift up the floor of the tool shed where the bulky Shimon was hiding in a secret cellar the settlers had dug. Not to leave empty handed, the Turks confiscated the tools that they found and conscripted them into the war effort.
In short, the colony work force was crippled. A month later, more armed Turkish soldiers arrived and took away clothing and food. On their next visit, they took horses, wagons, camels, and mules. When harvest time came, soldiers confiscated half of the produce. Heavy taxes were levied, and only by bribing a Turkish captain was the colony left with some food.
Word came that the Jews of Jerusalem were starving. The community of rabbis and scholars in the holy city depended on charity from abroad, and when the country’s foreign banks closed, their survival was threatened. Soup and bread kitchens were opened, but dozens of poor people starved to death every month. Only through the great kindness of the American Consul, a righteous gentile named Glazebrook, were the Jews of Jerusalem saved. Until the United States entered the war against Germany, he continued dispensing the charity which he received from America, even though the Turks kept a close watch on everything he did.
Miraculously, just before all postal service was suspended to Palestine, a letter arrived from America. It was from Baylke. Months had gone by without a letter from the family in Israel, and she was worried. She had started to light candles on Friday night, and when she ushered in the Sabbath, she prayed for their welfare with all of her heart. There were rumors, she said, that America would have to enter the war to fight against the Germans. In the meantime, she and her husband were fine. Padhatzur had won several promotions, and his stock investments had paid a handsome return. She was sending five-hundred dollars to the family through the American Consulate in Jerusalem, and she wanted her father to receive it himself. It was all the money she had managed to save.
To Tevye and his family, five-hundred dollars was a fortune. The money which the Baron had given for Moishe and Hannei had long ago been loaned to the treasury of the settlement to help it get back on its feet. So Baylke’s letter came like a gift out of Heaven. Immediately, Tevye set off to Jerusalem on foot. The colony had no wagon to spare, not even a mule. Luckily, the good Lord was with him. A carriage carrying JCA officials from Zichron Yaacov to Jaffa stopped on the way. When they learned that Tevye was the father of the infirmary nurse, they graciously made room in the carriage. Brushing the dust off of his clothes, Tevye climbed into the crowded, but comfortable compartment. After politely refusing a flask of brandy and a cigarette from a shiny silver case, he answered their questions about the effect of the war on Olat HaShachar. Then Tevye listened as the Company officials confidentially discussed the state of the JCA.
To make a long story short, the Baron was in a pickle. On the one hand, he had to display allegiance to the Turkish government in Palestine, and on the other hand, he had to continue to take care of the Jews. His chief agent, Kalorisky, had traveled to Istanbul and Damascus to appeal to Turkish leaders that Jewish settlers be freed from serving in the army so that they could continue the farming which kept the country alive. Whether out of rudeness, or to display their power, the Turks had delayed giving an answer. In the meantime, Jamal Pasha, the Turkish Military General of Palestine, was trying to destroy the entire Jewish enterprise. He had ordered all Jewish schools, factories, and hospitals closed. Jews were forbidden to bear weapons and to leave their houses at night. Letters could not be sealed, and writing in Hebrew and Yiddish was banned. The Zionist Bank had been closed. Jewish land had been confiscated, and heavy taxation was driving Jewish colonies into bankruptcy. Leaders of the Jewish community had been arrested without trial, and Jews refusing to become Ottoman citizens had been uprooted from their homes and deported. Dozens of others had fled on their own. To make matters worse, typhus fever and cholera were sweeping through the stricken community, claiming dozens of victims each month.
Tevye listened in silence. After all, he was a simple farmer, a pawn in the great drama of history. When the flask of brandy was passed around once again, this time Tevye accepted the offer. Not to take a real drink, but just for a sip to wet his parched tongue. Surely by taking a tiny little sip, he wasn’t breaking his vow.
Either influenced by the liquor, or because they felt they could trust Hava’s father, the men began to discuss what sounded to Tevye like military secrets. To pass the time on the road, one official after the next disclosed what he knew about the Jewish underground movement which was spying against the Turks. Putting the sometimes incomplete pieces together, Tevye sat silently and listened to the riveting story.
One of the keys to the Mediterranean was the Suez Canal, which was controlled by the British. In the spring of 1915, after a Turkish attack on the Canal had been repulsed, a small group of Jews decided to secretly approach the British and offer their aid in conquering the Land of Israel. Aharon Aaronson was the name of their leader. A renowned scientist in Palestine, he had many high connections in the Turkish Military Government. At the beginning of Jamal Pasha’s oppressions, he came to the conclusion that the Jews had no future under Turkish rule and organized an underground cell to fight against them. The spy ring was called “Nili,” an abbreviation of the Biblical verse, “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishacker,” meaning that the Eternal One of Israel would not lie by abandoning His promise to stand by the Jews.
Along with Aaronson, the leaders of the group were Aharon’s brother, Alexander Aaronson; their sister, Sarah; and Avshalom Feinberg. Though the men in the carriage spoke about them with a mixture of admiration and scorn, it was obvious that the JCA leadership in France was against them, fearing that their activities, if discovered, would bring reprisals from the Turks. Aharon Aaronson was considered a renegade and an individualist capable of taking irresponsible risks in convincing Jewish soldiers who were serving in the Turkish army to spy for the British. They were to report on all Turkish troop movements, installations, and plans. As special advisor to Jamal Pasha on the persistent locust problem, Aaronson himself had access to valuable information. “Nili’s” goal, one of the travelers disclosed, was to facilitate a surprise British invasion by landing forces on the coast. Tevye couldn’t help but glance at the flask of brandy which the Company official was clutching in his hand. Hearing all of these secrets, he longed for a fortifying drink. He even thought about yelling for the driver of the carriage to stop and let him out before he heard anymore. What if he were arrested and interrogated? Would he be able to withstand torture and not give these secrets away? Not to mention being thrown into prison as an enemy of the Turkish regime!
Frustrated with problems in relaying information by boat to the British in Egypt, Avshalom Feinberg was captured trying to cross the border to Egypt himself. He was accused of spying, but Aharon Aaronson interceded and succeeded in arranging for his release. Be that as it may, Feinberg was discovered murdered, apparently by Bedouins working for the Turks.
With a groan, Tevye moved his legs to a different position. In the cramped compartment, his back was beginning to ache from the bumps of the journey. Once again, the bald-headed official with the flask offered him a drink.
“Just a sip,” Tevye said. He twisted off the cap and took a long greedy sniff of the brandy. If he couldn’t fill up his belly, at least he could fill up his lungs.
The spy ring, Tevye learned, consisted of no more than eighty men. They used boats to smuggle supplies to the Jewish settlements along the coast, and to transfer information from the port of Gaza to British encampments in the Sinai. Now, with the arrest and murder of Avshalom Feinberg, the JCA officials were worried that the Turks would crackdown on the Jews.
True to their fears, when the carriage arrived in Jaffa, the Jews were in an uproar. Soldiers on horseback stampeded through the Jewish market, hauling down canopies, smashing tables and booths, and upturning merchandise all over the road. A rider clubbed a Jew on the head.
It was a scene Tevye remembered from Russia. An official in the carriage shouted for the driver to flee, but Tevye jumped out to be with his endangered brothers. Finding the bleeding Jew in the road, Tevye dragged him to safety. The man’s eyes were frightened, but thankfully, his arm had deflected the blow to his head. When he grew calmer, Tevye asked what was happening. That morning, he said, Jamal Pasha’s soldiers had rounded up hundreds of Russian Jews. Men and women had been beaten, families had been split up, and sword-wielding soldiers had herded Jews off to the dock. Anyone who didn’t have a valid immigrant permit, and anyone refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the Turks, was loaded onto a boat and shipped off to Alexandria. The wounded Jew had hid from the soldiers on the roof of a building. His wife, thank God, had signed the paper. But he was still worried. If the British won the war, she could be put into prison for being loyal to the Turks.
Down the road, Turkish soldiers continued to ransack the Jewish market. Produce was scattered all over the street. Booths were destroyed. When there remained nothing left to overturn, the cavalry of hoodlums grouped around their commander. Tevye recognized him at once from the way he sat straight-backed in his saddle. It was Jamal Pasha, the same black-eyed dog who had ordered the destruction of the cottages which Tevye and his friends had built in Morasha.
Tevye spit in the dirt. “Murderer,” he whispered, recalling his oath of revenge.
Pasha shouted out an order to his troops. The horsemen reared their mounts, and the soldiers galloped off down the road. Burning with anger, Tevye ran into the street. He wanted to drag Pasha down from his horse, and give the devil a thrashing, but he was surrounded by a wall of his soldiers. The horses thundered by. Tevye stood in the cloud of their dust, his hands clutching at air. The moment the soldiers could no longer be seen, Jews started appearing from every direction. Merchants ran to their booths to salvage whatever they could. Seeing a small bearded Jew trying to drag a large crate, Tevye hurried over to give him a hand. To Tevye’s amazement, he recognized the man’s face. It was Eliahu, the Jew who had helped them escape from Odessa!
“Eliahu!” he shouted, embracing the startled fellow in a bear hug.
“Mercy,” the small man cried. “I need my arms intact to feed my family.”
“Remember me?” Tevye asked.
“I am sorry to say that I do. It was a black day in Odessa when you left. The same curse that has befallen us today, fell upon us then. Then the butchers were Russian. Today, they are the Turks. The names and countries change, but their hatred remains the same.”
“I heard you were arrested.”
“Not for the first time, and probably not for the last. Officials I knew arranged for my release from the Odessa prison, at the expense of most of my savings. As you can see, I’ve gone down from being a respectable shipping agent to a miserable shlepper.”
“Thank God you are alive,” Tevye said. “The oversized fellow who threw that Russian policeman into the harbor was killed in a plague of cholera.”
“May the good Lord have mercy on all those who have left us, and on all who remain, and may He send the plague on our enemies, for as the wise Sage, Rashi, teaches, the enemies of the Jews are the enemies of God.”
“Amen,” Tevye responded.
As if for old time’s sake, Eliahu arranged for Tevye to ride to Jerusalem in a wagon carrying emergency food to the city. Knowing he was going to receive the money which Baylke had sent from America, Tevye invited his friend along, so that he could more properly reward him. But Eliahu refused, saying that he had to look after his family and put their fatumult, topsey-turvy life in order. As a gesture, Tevye gave him the small amount of money he had left after paying the driver of the wagon. After all, Tevye reasoned, it was his fault that Eliahu was forced to bail himself out of the Odessa prison.
Though it was an exceedingly bleak time for the Jews in the Land of Israel, Tevye felt an indescribable thrill on his wagon ride to Jerusalem. Riding up the mountainous ascent to the holy city, Tevye had the feeling he was ascending to the palace of the King. Who ever thought that the dream of Jerusalem could ever come true? As they journeyed up the slow winding ascent from the coastal lowlands to the mountains of Yehuda, Tevye felt a spiritual elevation as well. Tevye, the milkman from Anatevka, was going up to Jerusalem. The dream of his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before them was now only hours away.
How could it be, you ask? How could it be that a city which Tevye had never seen could occupy such a powerful place in his heart? For a Jew, the answer was simple. For two-thousand years, three times a day, Jews prayed to return to their city. After every meal, after every piece of bread, and every piece of cake, they prayed for Jerusalem’s welfare. No matter where a Jew lived, the city of Jerusalem was to be the center of his life. It was the place where the Pascal lamb was to be eaten on the Passover holiday, and where first fruits were brought on the Festival of Shavuot. There, by the pool of Shiloach, joyous water celebrations were held on the holiday of Sukkos. It was the site of the ancient Temple, the Beis HaMikdash, may it soon be rebuilt. It was the place where the Sanhedrin declared the new months, and where the High Priest atoned for the nation on Yom Kippur. There, the miracle of Hanukah had occurred when the Maccabees had won their great victory over the Greeks. For Jews all over the world, each day started with the hope – perhaps this was the day when God would rescue them from their exile in foreign lands and bring them back to Jerusalem.
Yes, the journey up the mountain was tiring. Yes, his bones ached and his body cried out for rest. But a singing in his heart made all of the pains disappear.
Finally, miles and miles from Anatevka, after what seemed like a two-thousand year journey in itself, the wagon approached Jerusalem. Billowing white clouds floated just over Tevye’s head, as if crowning the city. Rays of sunlight slanted down from the sky, bathing the Biblical hillsides in a soft, golden glow. Suddenly, the city came into view, spreading out before the wagon a plateau surrounded by hills. The city’s holiness extended out to greet a traveler even before he entered its walls. Protruding over the massive, Old City walls were Ottoman towers, ramparts, minarets, and a golden-domed mosque. Inside the fortress-like citadel were clusters of dwellings, constructed from sand-colored stone. Gone were the palaces of King David. Gone were the magnificent stables of Solomon. Gone were the Temple, the Sanhedrin, and the throngs filling the streets for the Festivals. Gone were the Altar, the Menorah, and the Holy of Holies, along with the Ark with the Tablets of Law. Alas, as the Prophet Jeremiah lamented, “Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?”
As the wagon approached the Jewish Quarter of the city inside the Damascus Gate, starving Jews in tattered garments ran forward to meet it. Men, women, and children, with gaunt, yellow faces and emaciated frames, clambered around the emergency shipment of food. Officials of the Jewish community pushed their way to the wagon, shoving the poor masses away. Tevye was aghast. The proud remnant of Jerusalem had been turned into paupers. The guardians of the Holy City, who labored day and night over the Torah, had been compelled to go begging. Women lay swooning in the street. Children wandered through the alleyways in sackcloth. Dogs prowled through the deserted market like foxes, looking for morsels of food.
Nonetheless, standing in Jerusalem, Tevye experienced an incredible sensation of awe. The milkman reached up to make sure that his cap was planted securely on his head, just as he would have done if he were entering a king’s palace. The windmill built by Moses Montefiore stood like a sentry, guarding the city. The ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where the resurrection of the dead would begin, shone with an unearthly white light on Jerusalem’s eastern hillside. Outside the towering Damascus Gate, locals engaged in commerce with formally dressed Europeans who looked out of place in the timeworn setting. A Turkish policeman ordered Tevye to disembark from the wagon and proceed into the walled city on foot. A Jew who reminded Tevye of the little Eliahu said he would guard their wagon and possessions for a meager ten kopeks. Tevye walked on, mystically pulled into the labyrinth of alleys, as if his feet had a will of their own, as if he had passed in this direction before. Merchants called out to him to stop and examine their wares. Water carriers approached at every corner, offering drinks from the inflated animal skins on their backs. Suddenly, Jews were everywhere. Most were pious, with long beards, sidelocks, and black coats and hats, the color of mourning which Jews had worn for centuries to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem. Other Jews, with dark Mediterranean complexions, wore long white robes and round furry hats. Nachman had said that the Jews of Jerusalem were scholars who devoted themselves to learning and prayer. They weren’t in Jerusalem because of Theodore Herzl, or the writings of Echad HaAm. Their forefathers had lived in the holy city for centuries. They were its protectors and keepers.
With long anxious steps, Tevye proceeded along the narrowing foot paths into a shadowy Arab casbah. When he emerged from an archway, it was as if he were back in the shtetl, surrounded by Jews of all kinds. There were Jewish shops and Jewish smells, and doorways that had mezuzahs cemented into the walls. Cats walked confidently through the alleyways as if they had the right of way. Tevye noticed a donkey-drawn cart inscribed with bold, Hebrew-lettering, spelling CHALAV. The cart belonged to the Jerusalem milkman. On any other occasion, Tevye would have greeted the man and stopped to exchange a few words of professional gossip, but now he was on a mission. He felt a force like a magnet pulling him toward the Wall.
The Wall. The Kotel. That was how it was known to Jews all over the world. The Western Wall of the ancient Temple courtyard. The Wailing Wall, where Jews had poured out their tears for nearly two-thousand years. Tevye hurried through a maze of tiny alleys, around buildings and shacks, and there it was, suddenly towering over his head. The Kotel. The dream of a lifetime, pulsating with a holiness you could reach out and touch. Its massive stones had withstood every siege and assault, every battering-ram and fire, every attempt by the nations of the world to erase every last trace of the city’s Jewish history. Goose-bumps broke out all over Tevye’s flesh. In this world of earthly existence, standing at the Kotel was the closest a man could ever come to God.
Turkish soldiers stood at the entrance to the alley leading to the Kotel. They stopped Tevye and demanded to see his papers. He stood obediently waiting, controlling the anger he felt toward the arrogant heathens who behaved with such self importance. They were the trespassers, not he. They were the ones who should be showing their papers. Palestine was his homeland, not theirs.
Returning the permit to Tevye, the soldier let it purposely drop to the ground. He laughed as Tevye bent down to pick it up. Containing his anger, Tevye walked away and approached the sacred Wall. His fingers gripped its great boulders. His cheek pressed against the cool stones. This place was the ladder to Heaven. The gateway of prayer. God’s Presence hovered over the Wall for all people and nations to bask in its light. Even though only a small part of the Wall could be seen, its size told of the grandeur of the Temple which the Romans had long ago razed. Turks and Arabs had defiantly built houses against its holy stones, hiding its full length from view. Civilization after civilization had fallen at its feet, burying its deep foundations. Yet even along its narrow, uncovered span, the light which shone off its boulders was blinding. Behind it was Mount Moriah, the site of the ancient Temple, where Abraham had had been tested with the sacrifice of Isaac. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had given their lives defending the Temple against Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman conquest. Jewish women had hurled themselves from its ramparts, rather than be captured by the enemy. For these reasons, Jews cried when their hands touched the Wall.
Tevye’s head became dizzy. Words of prayer spilled out from his heart.
“My God and God of my fathers. Who am I to be standing before You in this sacred place? Who is Tevye, the son of Reb Schneur Zalman, that You have brought him here to Your holy dwelling? You know my sins and my temptations, my complainings and kvetchings. My life is an open book before You. Only through Your mercy and kindness can I open my mouth to speak, for what great difference is there between Tevye and his horse? King of the Universe, please bless all of my family. Bless my Golda in Heaven, and don’t let her be angry at me for having remarried, as You Yourself have commanded a man to do. Bless all of the Jews of Anatevka, wherever they may be. May the Czar, and all of the Czars after him, meet the punishment they deserve. Look upon the disgrace of Your people and have mercy upon us. Drive out the wicked Turks from Your holy habitation, and bring all of Your children safely home to Your Land. Please don’t forget us forever. Renew our days as of old.”
When Tevye reached the American Consulate, a long line was waiting to enter the building. Jews pushed and shoved, trying to inch forward toward the door. Widows with children, kibbutznikim, rabbis, workers, Hasidim, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, new immigrants, and Jerusalemites whose families had lived in the city for ten generations, all crowded together. A Hasid came out of the building with a smile as if the Mashiach had arrived. To Tevye’s surprise, the man took off his shtreimel hat and overcoat and handed them to a simply dressed worker. Instead of the round, furry head covering, he placed a ragged blue cap on his head. Quickly, the worker put on the other man’s outfit.
“What are they doing?” Tevye asked the man next to him in line.
“Sometimes more money is handed out to the ultra-religious. They have all kinds of charity organizations in America for schnorring. Some people lie and say they belong to one of their groups.”
Tevye learned that Glazebrook, the American Consul, had been keeping the Jews in the city alive. The elderly, gentile professor was a personal friend of President Wilson. He had asked for an appointment in Jerusalem because he loved the Land of Israel, and he wanted to help the Jews, whom he called the “Children of the Bible.” After paper currency became valueless with the outbreak of the war, he would travel to Jaffa himself to receive the gold coins which arrived on boats from America. The coins were kept in a big safe in his office, and he distributed them to the needy.
“Why do the Turks allow him to continue to help the Jews?” Tevye asked his new acquaintance in line.
“That’s a good question. I will tell you the answer. The rabbis of Jerusalem agreed to distribute a sizable portion of the charitable funds to the poor among the Turkish residents of the city. Since it comes to a lot of money, the Turks allow American ships carrying gold to enter the port in Jaffa. In other words, the Turks let him continue, but it’s not out of their love for the Jews.”
Little by little, the line inched forward, and Tevye finally stood under the red, white, and blue flag which hung over the door of the Consulate. After another few minutes, he was escorted into the lobby by an American soldier who motioned him to wait in the hallway.
“Maybe you know my daughter, Baylke?” Tevye asked. “She lives in New York.”
The blond cadet looked at him blankly.
“You don’t speak Russian, I guess,” Tevye said. “What about Hebrew or Yiddish?”
“English,” the soldier answered.
Tevye shrugged. The only word he knew in English was “dollar.” Suddenly, at the end of the hallway, a group of Jews started screaming. Their hands waved excitedly through the air, as if they were throwing punches. A lean, spectacled gentleman appeared from the office behind them. He wore a three-piece suit, and a watch chain dangled from the pocket of his vest. With a dignified air, he escorted the shouting Jews along the corridor. Naturally, they were arguing about how to divide up the money they just had received. Their shouting continued all the way to the door. The stately Professor Glazebrook accompanied them down the hallway until he stood by Tevye.
“It is easier to raise one million dollars in America,” he said, “than it is to distribute one thousand in Eretz Yisrael.”
Tevye was struck by the American’s use of the original Hebrew name for the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael was the name used by Jews to express their great love and longing for their Biblical homeland, whereas the Roman-coined “Palestine” was for foreigners. Obviously, this kindhearted gentile felt deeply attached to the land. Courteously, he invited Tevye into his office. Two American soldiers stood by the door. The large room was filled with books, a presidential-sized desk, stately chairs, an American flag, and photographs framed on the wall. The famous iron safe stood in a corner. “Please have a seat,” the Consul said in Hebrew.
Tevye sat down and glanced at the thick, leather-bound Bible on the Professor’s orderly desk.
“I read a chapter of the Bible every morning,” he said. “It gives me my strength for the day. Today I read the inspiring words of the prophet Ezekiel, guaranteeing that the outcast Jews would one day return to their land. How lucky we are to be living at this time in history when God’s word is unfolding in front of our eyes.”
His speech reminded Tevye of the lessons of Rabbi Kook.
“If your honor doesn’t object to my saying – these days, the lucky person is the person who doesn’t have to wait two hours on line.”
“Yes, I apologize about that, but when has it ever been easy to be a Jew?”
Tevye nodded as if the man across the desk were Jewish himself, the way he sympathized with the children of the Bible.
“I would very much like to chat further with you, but as you mentioned, the line is long, and I really don’t like to keep people waiting. Please tell me, what is your name and where are you from?”
“Tevye from Olat HaShachar.”
“Ah, Tevye,” the Consul said with a smile. “I have been waiting for you.”
He stood up and walked toward the safe.
“I have nothing but respect for you pioneer builders of the land.”
“The land is building us more than we are building it,” Tevye philosophically answered.
“Very well said,” the Professor responded.
He opened the safe, and after a brief search, he pulled out an envelope.
“This is a letter,” he said. “In addition, your name is on my list to receive five-hundred dollars in gold. Is that correct?”
“That’s what my daughter wrote me.”
“You have your papers with you, I presume.”
“Certainly,” Tevye said.
He handed the Consul his immigrant papers and received the letter in return. Inside the envelope was a large newspaper clipping, folded several times over. The first thing which caught Tevye’s eye was a photograph of Padhatzur. Scanning over the Yiddish text quickly, Tevye understood that the article was about his son-in-law’s success in the banking world of New York.
“Good news I trust,” the Consul said, handing back Tevye’s papers.
“Yes. Thank the good Lord.”
With another warm smile, the Professor counted out five gold coins and set them in Tevye’s hand.
“If you would like to change them into smaller coins, there is a currency exchange on the other side of the lobby. The black market rate may be higher on the street, I really don’t know, and it isn’t my job to offer financial advice, especially when it is against the law of our good friends, the Turks.”
“May their rule be erased from the land,” Tevye said.
“Precisely,” Glazebrook agreed. “But, as I am sure you understand, there are certain things my position doesn’t allow me to say.”
“Thank you,” Tevye said. He reached out and grasped the Consul’s hand. “May the Lord bless you for helping us.”
“My work is blessing enough. I feel very privileged to have been chosen for this great and holy task.”
The Professor escorted Tevye back to the door and bowed in a respectful farewell. The Jewish farmer bowed back.
“If I can help you in the future, please let me know,” the kind Consul added.
With his hand on the money in the pocket of his pants, Tevye made his way back to the door. Soldiers escorted him to the lobby as another Jew was led toward the Consul’s office. Not wanting to chance being swindled in the black market, Tevye exchanged three of his gold coins in the building before venturing out to the street. Though evening was approaching, the line extended all of the way down the block. As Tevye passed, people rushed forward to ask him for money, as if he were the Baron Rothschild himself. True, a Jew was commanded to give a tenth of his earnings to charity, but charity began at home. Tevye had to take care of his daughters, plus Moishe and Hannei, and Guttmacher’s two children, not to mention his own little boy. And his friends on the settlement needed money as well. Hurrying along, he brushed away the outstretched hands.
“The Lord have mercy,” he thought. “May the British army soon come and chase the cursed Turks from the Land.”
Suddenly, two men stepped forward and grabbed Tevye by the arms.
“Come with us,” one said in an urgent whisper. His hand held Tevye’s arm like a vise.
“What do you want from me?” Tevye asked in alarm. The men pushed him forward.
“We won’t hurt you, don’t worry.”
Quickly, they herded Tevye into an alley.
“Thieves!” Tevye screamed out.
One of the assailants covered Tevye’s mouth with his hand. The other shoved Tevye up against a wall.
“We aren’t thieves,” the larger man said.
If Tevye thought of fleeing, the sight of a revolver changed his mind.
“Have you ever heard of “Nili?” one asked
“No,” Tevye answered.
“Never,” Tevye said, sweating.
“Tell us the truth, grandfather. We’re on your side.”
Tevye shook his head no. The man holding the gun slipped it back into his jacket.
“We’re with “Nili,” he said.
Tevye stared at them. He tried to keep a blank expression on his face, as if he didn’t know what they were talking about.
“One of the passengers in the carriage you took to Jaffa told us about you. You told him you were on your way to Jerusalem to pick up some money.”
“Me and my big mouth,” Tevye thought. Golda had been right – if he hadn’t bragged to her cousin, Menachem Mendel, about the money the rich ladies of Boiberik had given him for rescuing them in the woods, he would still have been a rich man today.
“We need money to continue the struggle against the Turks.”
“I am a poor man,” Tevye said.
“We are all poor men. The Turks have kept us that way. Now is our chance to topple their government and expel them from the Land.”
One way or the other, God collects His tithes, Tevye thought. If he hadn’t been so tight-fisted when he turned all of the beggars outside the Consulate away, these two rogues would never have been sent in his path. True, their cause was just, but how could he become a benefactor of “Nili?” He could be hanged by the Turks for collaborating with spies!
“Whatever you can afford will help our joint cause. Other
people are risking their lives.”
Tevye stared at their sincere eyes and their tense, serious expressions. When the Jews were at war, it was an obligation for every Jew to join in the battle. Tevye was too old to fight, but he could at least stand behind people younger and braver than himself. Was there a greater mitzvah than defending one’s land against enemies? Hadn’t Joshua, and King David, and Judah the Maccabee been soldiers? It wasn’t enough to settle the Land of Israel and farm it, the Jews had to re-conquer it too.
Tevye reached his hand into his pocket and took out a gold coin.
“May God help you,” he said, handing it over.
“You mean to say, may God help us. This is everyone’s fight.”
“Yes,” Tevye said. “May God help us vanquish our enemies.”
Both of the men doffed the tips of their caps, then scurried surreptitiously away down the alley. Fortunately, the way back to Olat HaShachar passed without further adventure. Two days later, Tevye thanked the good Lord as the roof of the hilltop synagogue appeared in the distance. Tired from jolting wagon rides, and a long six-hour walk at the end of his journey, Tevye was happy to be home. Jingling the coins in his pocket, he hurried toward his cottage, eager to recount the events of the journey with Carmel. Though the day was still young, the colony’s fields were deserted of workers. A scarecrow in the tomato patch was cracked and bent over. Dozens of birds hopped between the vines, having an undisturbed picnic. Hollering, Tevye charged forward, frightening them away. The crows circled in the air and flocked down on the nearby blackberry patch. Tevye roared out a curse and charged the scavengers again. Hearing her husband, Carmel hurried out of the house, holding little Tzvi’s hand. The boy broke away from his mother and ran along the path.
“Abba, Abba!” he called.
A big, hand-knitted kippah covered his head, and little tzitzit dangled down from under his shirt. Tevye scooped up the boy in his arms.
“Where is everyone?” Tevye asked his wife when she reached them.
“They’re gone. My father, Munsho, Shilo. The Turks took them away to build roads in the south. Only Nachman, Hillel, and Sharagi remain, along with the older Lovers of Zion.”
“What about Shimon?”
“With his wife?”
“No. She’s still here. But she hasn’t heard a word from him since he left.”
For all intensive purposes, the settlement was doomed. Tevye did his best to take the place of the draftees, and perform as many tasks as he could, but he could never keep up with the work. He milked the cows and looked after the chickens; he plowed new fields and planted new crops; he climbed up ladders to repair roofs and lofts; he picked clusters of grapes and taught the children to stomp them into grape juice and wine; he drove the wagon to neighboring settlements to gather vital supplies; and he put in a few hours of guard duty at night. The Turks had confiscated their rifles, so all Tevye had to defend the settlement from prowlers were his prayers and a rusted old pistol. Sharagi continued to instruct the children in Mishna, while Nachman gave up his learning to work in the fields. Hillel became a chopper of wood, but because lumber was scarce, the Jews had to use the dung of their camels for fuel. The older children shared in the agricultural labor, but throughout most of the year, the brunt of the work fell on Tevye, Nachman, the older pioneers, and on those who had hid from the Turks. Carmel, Ruchel, and Hodel worked day and night in the fields, in the gardens, in the stables, and in their homes. On the Sabbath, there was barely a minyan of men to make up a service. After the Torah reading, Tevye added a prayer of his own that the British would soon rout the Turks and chase them out of the land.
Their petitions for JCA aid were rejected. Every settlement was suffering, and Olat HaShachar was considered a breakaway colony. Reinforcements finally arrived when the Jews of Tel Aviv and Jaffa were forced to abandon their homes. The Turks claimed that the evacuation order was meant to protect the Jews from a British invasion, but it was really another stage Jamal Pasha’s goal of destroying the Jewish community in Palestine. Most of the refugees headed for the northern cities of Tiberias and Safed, and others were leaving the country for Syria, but Tevye managed to persuade a few religious families to take up residence in Olat HaShachar. One pious Jew, an acquaintance of Hevedke, reported that Tevye’s son-in-law had moved to Hebron to continue his studies when the yeshiva in Jaffa had closed. Immediately, the new families joined in the work. Then, to everyone’s joy, Ariel returned from the army with a dozen other young men from the colony. The JCA had succeeded in persuading the Turks to release Jewish soldiers from duty so that they could return to their agricultural work in the fields, not for the sake of the Jews, but to save the impoverished, starving country. With the supply of new manpower, Olat HaShachar was saved.
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. 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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