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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter One: Anatevka

Tevye Book Cover

Tevye felt as if a demon had snuck up behind him and stuck a knife in his back. Pedhotzer wanted to send him away to the Land of Israel! And Baylke, his warmhearted Baylke, stood silently at her rich husband’s side, staring at her father with a gaze as cold as a winter day. What had happened to her? What had transformed his sweet, loving princess into such a statue-like queen?

As Tevye’s friend, Sholom Aleichem, would say, to make a long story short, money is not always a blessing. Carrying his wounded pride as nobly as he could, Tevye made his way to the door of the mansion. As things turned out, that was the closest he had gotten to Jerusalem. The winds of revolution in Russia changed the future for everyone. Suddenly, Pedhotzer’s government contracts were canceled. His fortunes plunged. His building empire collapsed. Baron Rothschild found a different partner. Almost overnight, Pedhotzer was penniless. Baylke had to sell her silk dresses and furs to help buy them passage to America. Her husband was humiliated, just as he had humiliated Tevye. Measure for measure, the wise Rabbis teach. The doings of man do not go unnoticed. An Eye sees, and a Hand records. Not that Tevye felt any great satisfaction. True, his insult had been repaid, but at the expense of his daughter. Who knew if he would ever see his Baylke again?

At least Tevye still had his babies, Bat Sheva and Ruchel, to comfort him in his solitude. Both were as pretty as their sisters. They had not yet found husbands, though their turn under the wedding canopy had come. No doubt they had postponed their own happiness to look after their poor, widowed father. Not that Tevye needed any special attention. After all, he was a man, not a horse. But that was the nature of his daughters. They were kindhearted, just like their mother had been.

Not only were Bat Sheva and Ruchel still with him, but Tzeitl, the eldest, had returned to Tevye’s house after her poor tailor of a husband dropped dead. Motel was taken from the world by the croup, his reward for mending clothes night and day in his damp basement workroom, in order to buy a decent piece of meat to honor the Sabbath.

Tevye laughed. Joke of all jokes. All of a sudden, with Motel’s untimely departure, grandfather Tevye, the “Zaida” became Tevye the “Tata” the substitute father for Tzeitl’s two little demons, Moishe and Hannie. Just when the old stud had been whipped and broken, when his legs barely could walk, and his heart could no longer pull the load of the wagon, when his horse had a nail in its shoe, just when he longed to be put out to pasture, Tevye became a father for Tzeitl’s two wild little kinderlach!

“Not so fast, Tevye,” God seemed to be saying. “You think I have no more surprises in store? You think your mission on earth is completed? No, no, my precious Tevye – your adventure is only beginning!”

After all, wasn’t Rabbi Akiva forty years old when he started learning Torah? And wasn’t Moses eighty years old when God first spoke to him in the wilderness? And wasn’t Abraham 100 years old when Sarah gave birth to Isaac? For the Jews, the people of miracles, life was always just beginning. Who knew what tomorrow would bring? Tevye was not even allowed to feel sorry for himself, which was the only real luxury a poor man had. The Almighty had many more tricks up His sleeve!

He was at home, making last preparations for their departure from Anatevka when Tzeitl told him she had a surprise.

“A surprise,” he asked? “What kind of surprise?”

“Please, Tata,” she said, “Give her a chance.”

Give who a chance, Tevye wondered? Tzeitl opened the door to the bedroom and who was standing there? A dybbuk? A ghost? No. It was Tevye’s dead daughter, Hava! His beloved Hava who had run off with the Russian poet, Hevedke.

“Tata,” she cried. “Tata!”

Before Tevye could react, his daughter rushed forward and threw herself in his lap. “Tata, forgive me,” she tearfully pleaded. “Forgive me!”

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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