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June 30, 2015 / 13 Tammuz, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter One: Anatevka

Tevye Book Cover

You would think that a milkman had been punished enough for his sins. But the Almighty was only beginning. Oy, Shprintza, Shprintza, my pretty little bird, thought Tevye, as his horse automatically stopped by the lake. Tevye recalled the scene as if it were yesterday. The crowd of people. The running. The screams. With a voice of doom in his heart, Tevye had jumped down from his wagon. The crowd made way as he bent down by the girl’s body. Shprintza, drowned! Heartbroken over the suitor whom Tevye had brought to the house. The wealthy Aaronchik had stolen the tender girl’s heart, and then disappeared like a thief, may both he and his mother be drowned!

The shock proved too much for Golda. A more valorous woman never existed, but after Shprintza died, a part of Golda went with her. The light in Golda’s eyes seemed to flicker and fade. Tevye brought her flowers and a new dress from the best boutique in Yehupetz, but nothing could lessen her pain.

“Why did you squander our money?” she asked. “Couldn’t I have sewn a dress just as pretty?”

That was his Golda. That was why he loved her. Tevye spoke soothing words, sang happy songs, and even romanced her with a dance around the table, but nothing could bring her out of her mourning. One tragedy after another proved too much for her heart. Hodel had left home to follow her Communist into exile. Hava had run away with a sweet-talking Chekhov. And now Shprintza had drowned. The strong Golda simply shattered like crystal. Late one evening, Tevye came home from work and found his wife sprawled dead on the floor.

Why had King David composed his Psalms if not to help mortal man find strength in trying times like these? As the Rabbis teach, God’s ways are not our ways. Who is a milkman to understand the mysteries of heaven and earth? With every tragedy, the sun still rises in the morning, the rooster crows, the Jew has his prayers, the cows must be milked. In short, life must go on.

And where was Baylke, the most beautiful rose of Tevye’s bouquet? Already in America, with her good-for-nothing Pedhotzer. Who could have foretold it? Before her wedding, Baylke was certain she had found the key to the Garden of Eden on earth. And so, to be truthful, had Tevye. Wasn’t Pedhotzer fantastically wealthy? A builder of houses, bridges, and roads. His house was a castle. His yard an estate. He had two silver carriages, with a team of Arabian horses for each. People said there was a servant in every room in his mansion. Even his ashtrays were gold. Tevye knew. He saw them himself, on the day Pedhotzer summoned him to appear at his home.

The extraordinary invitation came several months after the wedding. Tevye had not seen his little girl since the happy, regal affair. Finally, a messenger arrived with a call from her king. Pedhotzer wanted to see him. Finally, Tevye thought, his fortune was changing. His daughter had not forgotten her poor, aging father. Surely she had secured him a job of prestige and authority, with a servant, a driver, elegant new clothes, and summer vacations at Boiberik Lake with all of the other rich Jews from the city.

“Tevye,” he said. “I know I can talk straightforwardly with you, because I know you are an honest man. You know I am wealthy, and I intend to give your daughter all of the treasures on earth. I have been informed from very private sources that the great Baron Edmond de Rothschild is interested in doing business with me. In fact, I expect him to come for a visit to our house very soon.”

Tevye was anxiously waiting to hear the fantastic job offer.

“Tell me,” his new son-in-law continued, “how do you think the Baron would react if he heard that my wife’s father is a milkman?”

He said the word milkman as if it were something disgusting. Baylke stood by his side, looking like royalty in a dress the likes of which Tevye’s poor Golda had never even seen in her dreams.

“That is why I think it would be better for everyone if you were to take a long trip to Eretz Yisrael. I’ll pay all of your travel expenses, of course, and even help get you started in a business if you decide you want to stay there.”

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." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.


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