“Why did we come on this journey? We could have died just as easily in Russia.”
“At least there we had water.”
“The Spies that Moses sent to scout out the Land were right,” another voice moaned in despair. “This is a land that devours its settlers.”
Tevye began to feel gloomy. Was this to be their destiny after months on the road – to drop dead from thirst on the promised shores of Zion? To be roasted alive by the sun? To be swallowed up by a wasteland still angry for the sins of the past?
“Rachmonus,” Tevye begged, looking up at the sky. “Is it too much to ask for some mercy? After all, is this any way for a Father to act towards children who have come home seeking shelter? Are we to perish on Your doorstep without food or drink?”
Once again, as if God merely wanted to hear Tevye’s prayer, salvation was wrought from the depths of despair. Just when the heat overcame the new immigrants, and the strongest among them collapsed in exhaustion at the peak of a sandy incline, their eyes were feasted to an oasis of greenery and life. Spread out in the valley before them were shade trees and orchards, fields of barley and corn, and a sparkling blue pond. Houses were clustered along the road running through the center of the colony. But the thing that made Tevye believe he was dreaming was the sight of the settlers who rushed forward to greet them. They were all bearded Jews like himself, with yarmulkahs on their heads, tzitzit dangling out of their breaches, and farmers’ tools in their hands. Their faces were the color of gold, and their handshakes were like the grip of a blacksmith. Could these really be Jews, Tevye thought?
The moshav was called Rishon LeZion, one of the first Jewish colonies which the Baron Rothschild had established in the Land. When the news spread that immigrants had arrived from the old country, work in the village stopped. Settlers flocked to greet them, each one dressed in a different style, depending on where he had come from in Russia. Others wore articles of clothing they had picked up on their journeys. Some men sported vests and brown derbies, others Russian military shirts with high collars, while others wore khaki jackets and the broad-rimmed hats of hunters, as if they had just returned from an African safari. Field workers strode forward in boots. They wore caps on their heads and dirt-stained aprons over their clothes. Young boys out from heder and Talmud Torah schoolswore caps like their fathers, jackets and knee-length knickers. Many went barefoot. Women wearing aprons and bonnets brought food and drink in abundance, as if the new arrivals were kings. Everyone had questions. Everyone spoke out at once. Where were the newcomers from? Had they heard what had happened in this place and that? Did they have letters? Did they want to join the Rishon community? Were they under contract to the Baron, or free to strike out on their own? When they reached the colony, someone named Aharon stood on the steps of a porch and waved his cap, inviting them to stop all of the chatter and kibbetzing and come into the mess hall to get something substantial to eat.
Tevye was more concerned with finding a doctor for Tzeitl. She was taken into a house and fed sips of water until she opened her eyes and smiled. Only when the doctor told him not to worry did Tevye think to quench his own thirst. Along with the fresh fruits spread out on the meeting-hall table, there were bottles and bottles of wine brewed from the grapes of the Land of Israel, from the vines of Rishon LeZion! The sweet, pungent beverage made the heads of the newcomers spin and made their hearts burst with song. It made Tevye’s tired feet dance and his parched lips forget the punishing sun. “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to sit together!” everyone sang in an outburst of spontaneous simcha. The Jews of Rishon were equally jubilant upon the arrival of a new group of pioneers. As the name of the colony implied, these first settlers of Zion were encouraged by the reinforcements. More Jews meant more workers and more helpers in their dream of rebuilding the Land. But in the ecstasy of their dancing, in their closed eyes, clasped hands, and fervent expressions, there was something much more. The whirling circle of men seemed to spin around and around with a spiritual force beyond the strength of their legs. There was a messianic fervor to their singing, and the feeling that the Mashiach was just around the bend.