“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.