“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.