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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter One: Anatevka

Tevye Book Cover

Nemerov, the district Police Commissioner, reared his horse in the air.

“Three days,” he warned. “The Jews of Anatevka have three days to clear out of the area.”

Tevye spat in disgust at the ground. “Three days,” he brooded. Three days were all the authorities were giving the Jews to sell their belongings and evacuate the village they loved.

It didn’t matter that the Jews had lived in Anatevka long before the Russians. The Police Commissioner didn’t care that Tevye’s great-grandfather, may his memory be a blessing, had cleared the forest by the lake and built the first house in the region. It didn’t matter to the Czar and his soldiers that for as long as anyone could remember, the Jews had dutifully paid the taxes which had laden the Czar’s table with food, while the pantries of the Jews remained bare. Nor did it matter to them that the Jews had cleaned out the stables of the Russian landowners, chopped their wood, sewed their garments, and delivered their milk. It didn’t matter that a Jew would bow in respect when a Russian passed by, just to keep peace. Nor did it matter to them that the decent folk of Anatevka had no other place to call home. They were Jews, and that was that. The Czar, may he and his loved ones be cursed, had made his decision in the interests of the motherland. His order was final. The Jews had three days to get out. The butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers of Anatevka had been declared enemies of the state.

The usually goodhearted milkman spat in anger as the Police Commissioner and his soldiers rode out of the village. Then he looked up at the heavens and prayed.

“My Father and King, Whose ways are perfect and just, and Who does only good to His people – even if we can’t understand Your kindness in throwing us out of our homes – after the Jews of Anatevka have journeyed to some faraway land, may the Czar and his Cossacks be swallowed up into the earth.”

Not that all Russians were as wicked as the Czar and his soldiers. After all, the same God had created all people, Jews and Russians alike. Loving God meant loving all of His creation. But sometimes, it wasn’t so easy. When someone kicks you out of your home, and treats you like dirt, it’s hard for a man to be grateful.

Where would they go? Tevye didn’t know. To Broditchov, in a distant part of Russia, where the pogroms had not yet struck? To America? To Poland? To the Land of Israel? To England? Or France? Tevye didn’t have time to think up a plan. He would simply go along with everyone else in his village, wherever the Almighty led them. After all, had Abraham known his destination when God told him to leave his birthplace for some faraway land? As the Torah says, “And Abraham believed!” He trusted in God. Without complaining, he packed up his belongings and went.

Tevye’s head kept spinning like it did when he drank too much vodka on Purim. There were so many things to arrange. How do you pack a lifetime into three days? Maybe he should have pulled the Police Commissioner off of his horse and given him a good thrashing. Maybe he should have rallied the Jews to rebellion. But what would that have accomplished? Reports of pogroms had reached them from all over Russia. Burnings, lootings, evacuations, the slaughter of innocent women and children. Just because they were Jews. How could they rebel? Did the Jews have an army? Did they have weapons with which they could fight? Was Tevye Judah the Maccabee, that he could rally people to follow him? What kind of resistance could the lowly Jews muster?

Tevye trudged back to his tiny castle, the home he had built long ago with more youthful hands. Was a house merely pieces of wood that a man could so easily sell it? What about all of the years, the memories, the joys, and the sorrows? True, Tevye thought, he could have survived just as well without all of the sorrows, but that was the life of a Jew. There were good times and bad. A house could be sold, but what about all of the memories engraved in the planks of the walls? Well, he supposed he could take his memories with him.

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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