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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nineteen: A Trail of Tomatoes

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

The incident taught Perchik a lesson. Now, when Ben Zion insisted that more men were needed for guard duty, he didn’t argue that the manpower was better put to use in the fields. While the shomrim reclaimed the well for the Jews, the loss of the harvest, and the loan which had to be repaid, were blows to the young kibbutz. Perchik’s star plummeted among the kibbutznikim, and Ben Zion’s influence began to be more and more dominant.

For Tevye, life on the kibbutz returned to normal. If it could be called normal to have a grandson born in the Land of Israel! Throughout the labor, Hodel hollered as if the house was on fire, but, thank God, when it was over, both the mother and baby were healthy. It was an event of great celebration, not only for Tevye, but for everyone on the kibbutz. To their way of thinking, the newborn was the cooperative’s child, not the exclusive possession of the parents. Thus everyone participated in the joy of the birth.

Tevye couldn’t recall the last time he had drank so many “L’Chaims,” and the child’s brit milah was still eight days away! Since he was more concerned than anyone else that the mitzvah be carried out properly, Tevye volunteered to ride to Tiberias to notify a qualified mohel. A circumcision was not a job for any ordinary klutz with a knife. It required a delicate, experienced hand. Tevye half-expected Perchik to protest that a brit milah was a cruel and primitive rite, but the happy new father didn’t express a word of objection. No matter how far a Jew was from observing the Torah, a circumcision was the mark of his heritage, binding him to the holy covenant which Abraham had entered into with  God    .

Since Tevye was already in Tiberias, he decided to spend the night in the beautiful lakeside city and have a good kosher meal at the home of the town’s only Ashkenazic rabbi. In the morning, he prayed in a minyan. An enterprising Jew approached him and offered to take him on a visit to the holy gravesites of the great medieval scholar, Maimonides, and the famous Sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess. For a few piasters, of course. Tevye gladly assented. It was only because of great Sages like these that the Torah had survived through the centuries of persecutions, assimilations, and pogroms. If a Jew cut himself off from his past, he had nothing to pass on to the future.

“Oh God,” Tevye prayed, bending over their graves. “In the merit of these great Rabbis, and all of the Torah they learned, please bless my new grandson, the son of Hodel and Perchik, and bless Moishe and Hannie, the children of Tzeitl and Motel, and let them grow up to be filled with a love for Your commandments. May they see Your Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem, and may they witness the coming of the Mashiach. Amen.”

The night before the brit, Tevye sat awake studying Torah in Hodel’s house to keep away evil spirits. Outside, another sort of guarding was supposed to be taking place – the guarding of the kibbutz. Ben Zion, who was in charge of security, had arranged for Sonia to be his partner for the night. To rest from their rounds along the fence’s perimeter, Ben Zion suggested they share a cigarette in the dark tool shed which was located at the edge of the colony.

“Is this where you take Bat Sheva?” Sonia asked as he led her inside.

“Bat Sheva? Who has anything to do with Bat Sheva?” he answered.

Striking a match, he lit the wick of a lantern and hung it over a nail in the wall.

“You can’t fool me,” Sonia said. “I see the way you look at her.

“It’s your imagination. Besides, I would much rather look at you.”

“Truthfully?”

“Truthfully.”

Not for the first time, he took the girl in his arms and kissed her. Without letting her go, he backed her against the wall of the shed. Tools fell to the ground with a clang. She pretended to put up a struggle, but her protests fell on deaf ears. At first, when he felt the sharp metal blade rip into his back, he thought that Sonia had stabbed him. Then when she screamed, he knew that he had made the same mistake once again. The Arab standing by the door of the shed glared in hatred and fled. Ben Zion heard Arab voices and footsteps running away. He reached for his rifle, but his hands had no strength. Falling forward, he collapsed into her arms.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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