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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter One: Anatevka

Tevye Book Cover

What was left of his daughters, Tevye mused. On the road back to Anatevka, waves of pent-up sorrow poured out of Tevye’s heart. The milkman, had been known for his beautiful daughters. Seven more radiant creations could not be found. Their graces were praised all over the Pale. “Vanity of vanity, says Tevye, all is vanity.” What did their beauty bring except endless trouble? Did not the wise Solomon teach, “Grace is deceptive, and beauty is vain – a woman who fears the Lord is the one to be praised?” It would have been better if his daughters had all looked like him, with his big shnoz of a nose, and not like his beautiful Golda. Not that Tevye was complaining. After all, who is a man to complain? Doesn’t everything he have belong to his Maker? As it says, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord takes away.”

What could a father do? He had tried to raise his seven daughters in the traditions of his people. Like the four legs which hold up a table, there were four pillars to every good Jewish home. The honor due the father and mother; the honor due the Sabbath; the honor of Torah; and the honor of God.

But modern times had crept in, and newfangled notions, like termites, had begun to eat away the foundations of the past. First, Tzeitl wanted to pick her own husband. The match her father had arranged with Lazar Wolf, the butcher, wasn’t to her fancy! She was in love with the poor tailor, Motel! In love! What did his daughter know about love? Living with a woman for twenty-five years – that was love. When you worked all day like a slave, and came home smelling like your horse, and your wife opened her arms to you and clung to you in the night, even though you didn’t know if there would be food to feed another child – that was love. Not the beating of the heart that comes from a walk through the woods.

“But I love him!” Tzeitl had pleaded, with tears in her eyes.

What was Tevye to do? Was his heart made out of stone? Besides, Motel was a good boy. A bumbling shlemiel of the highest order, that was for sure, but he could read from a prayerbook, and it was certain from the way he looked at Tzeitl that he would burn their candles down to the wick, sewing garments all through the night to provide a decent life for Tevye’s daughter.

But as the saying goes – when the milk begins to go sour, it soon begins to stink. His second daughter, Hodel, was even more of a beauty. Her features were stately, like the portrait of a queen hanging on an aristocrat’s wall. Her flight from the nest had been Tevye’s own fault. He himself had brought the free-thinking Perchik into their home to teach her to read. While the father was in the barn, milking his cows, the young revolutionist was in the house, milking his daughter’s dreams.

“A new Russia! A classless society! A worker’s state! Equality for all!” the young communist preached.

Tevye got headaches listening to his speeches, but to Hodel, he was a prince on a gleaming white steed. And his stock only went up with the girl when he was arrested. The memory haunted Tevye even now – the picture of Hodel standing at the railroad station, waiting for the train which would take her away to her Perchik in exile on the other side of the Pale. What a long wagon-ride home it had been for Tevye, not knowing if he would ever see his beautiful daughter again!

But at least Perchik had been a Jew. Tevye and Golda could thank God for that. A Jew with his head screwed on backwards, but a circumcised member of Abraham’s faith. Their third daughter, Hava, hadn’t been so lucky. In Tevye’s mind, she was dead. His third daughter had ceased to exist. When she ran off with the poet, Hevedke Galagan, that was the end. Here the line had to be drawn. Hodel’s sister’s marriage to the heretic Perchik was a tragedy which had to be mourned, but there was always the chance that the Almighty would hear Tevye’s prayers and open the misguided youth’s heart to the Torah. But that a heathen poet should marry his daughter? To allow such a breach would mark the doom of his people. It was a rejection of Tevye’s whole life, of everything he had ever believed. A gentile was a gentile, and a Jew was a Jew. The two shall not come together in marriage. When a priest informed Tevye of the secret elopement, Tevye ripped his shirt in anguish, the sign of mourning, as if his daughter were dead. He tore her memory out of his heart. The name, Hava, was never, ever, to be mentioned in his house!

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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