Shouts of protest rang out from the crowd.
“Who is he?” Tevye asked Aharon.
“Dupont – the ‘Yaka’ manager. The watchdog of the Baron.”
“What is Yaka?” Nachman inquired.
“It’s the Hebrew abbreviation for the Jewish Colonization Association,” Aharon answered.
“Is he a Jew?” Tevye asked.
“He claims he is. But a lot of the Company managers aren’t.”
Dupont started to walk down the porch stairs, but a horde of new immigrants rushed forward, surrounding him, cursing him, even reaching out to bat him on the head. Not accustomed to such uncivilized treatment, the miniature baron quickly retreated to the safety of the porch. Not being indentured to anyone, the new arrivals had nothing to lose. They were all exhausted from the long journey, thankful to be alive, and here this little knocker of a Frenchman was ordering them to get lost!
“One minute, one minute,” he called. “You don’t seem to under-stand.”
A few of the newcomers followed him threateningly up the stairs.
“Who put you in charge?” an angry Hasid yelled.
“He deserves to be lashed and hung from a tree,” another asserted.
The mob cheered and pushed toward the porch. Aharon shoved his way through the crowd to come to Dupont’s rescue.
“These newcomers are liable to act on their threats,” he warned the little Napoleon. “They don’t understand the rules of the Company. Let them stay here for the night, and tomorrow I will make the necessary arrangements to help them on their way.”
Dupont’s confidence seemed shaken. He squared his hat on his head. The uprising was a threat to his rule. But any objections he had were quelled by the jeers of the crowd and the formidable figure of Goliath who strode up the porch steps looking like a walking eucalyptus. Four company workers arrived on the scene carrying rifles. They halted as Aharon raised up his hand.
“Very well,” Dupont conceded. “You speak with them. But they can only stay here one evening.”
Aharon nodded. He turned to the crowd.
“The manager has asked me to explain that everyone is welcome to stay for the night, and that tomorrow, arrangements will be made for everyone’s placement at another Company colony.”
The crowd of Jews applauded. Aharon hurried Dupont into the mess hall, and led him to the rear door, where a getaway carriage was waiting to meet him.
“Put them all in the barn for the night and make sure they are back on their way in the morning,” the colony manager ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Aharon answered.
“What chutzpah!” Tevye said after the carriage had sped away. “Does he think this is Russia?”
“Even in the Holy Land, it isn’t always easy being a Jew,” Aharon answered.
“Why do you let him pretend he’s the Czar? You outnumber them ten to one.”
Aharon nodded. “That is true, but we need them to survive. Turning sand dunes and swamps into farmland takes time. The Baron sends us a lot of assistance. In return, he has his rules, his managers, and his J.C.A. company policy. As they say, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
“I don’t understand,” Tevye said.
“I’ll explain it to you later,” Aharon assured him. “But first I want to get everyone settled.”
Aharon returned to the indignant new immigrants, and after a brief explanation, herded them off to the barn where everyone was to bed down with the horses and cows. Many of the Jews had a list of complaints, but most of the travelers were so tired, they soon fell fast asleep. For modesty’s sake, because of the women, the devoutly religious slept outside under the stars. Once things were organized, Aharon invited the more vocal Jews to his house for a cup of black Turkish coffee and a lengthy discussion. Tevye went with them. Nachman and Ruchel decided to seek out the local rabbi to inform him of their decision to marry. Goliath and Hevedke bedded down near the barn door to watch over the children, and Hava and Bat Sheva sat by Tzeitl’s side in the infirmary where she was fitfully sleeping.
Aharon lived in a tiny, cramped cottage whose yard was planted with tomatoes plants, melons, and a strange looking gourd he called dlatt. A vine laden with grapes hung from the veranda at the entrance to the house. Inside, the men crowded around a table and savored the rich, aromatic coffee which Aharon’s wife served them. An evening sea breeze blew through the open shutters. Patiently, for more than an hour, Aharon explained the intricacies of the Jewish Colonization Association. Behind him, on a small wooden shelf, was a small blue metal box of the Jewish National Fund, filled with Megidas, Napoleons, and whatever other small coins the family could spare to help purchase land in the country.