“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?”