“Have pity,” Tevye pleaded. “It’s all the money we have.”
“If we had pity, we would be priests, not robbers. Now get down from the wagon and hand over your rubles.”
Tevye had no choice. He didn’t have a gun, and even if he had, he didn’t know how to use one. Slowly, he stepped down from the wagon. His daughters huddled together, shielding the children. Just then, the protecting angel whom Tevye had prayed for appeared. As Tevye opened the wooden chest containing their valuables, he heard a loud roar like the sound of a bear. It was Goliath. With a terrifying bellow, he charged at one of the highwaymen. The startled bandit swung around in his saddle and fired his weapon. Miraculously, the shot missed its mark. The giant rammed into the horse and its rider, toppling them both to the ground. Before the other highwayman could steady his own horse and fire, Goliath grabbed his leg and dragged him out of the saddle. A wild shot went off in the air. The robber’s head hit the ground with a thud. His partner scrambled for his gun which had fallen to the road, but Goliath leaped over and crunched a foot on his hand, cracking his bones. Yelping in pain, he scurried off into the forest. Goliath picked up the rifles and broke them in half, as if they were twigs. Tevye grabbed the reins of the riderless horses.
“It looks like we have two new horses,” he grinned.
Goliath hurried back to the wagon. “Are you all right, Tzeitl?” he asked.
“And the children?”
Breathless, Tzeitl nodded again. Tevye checked through the pockets of the unconscious robber sprawled on the ground. He found close to two hundred rubles.
“Booty from the battle,” he said, holding the money in the air. “As the Good Book says…..”
When Tevye couldn’t think of a verse, Nachman came to his aid.
“`Thou has smitten all of my enemies on the cheek; Thou has broken the teeth of the wicked,'” he quoted a Psalm by heart.
To Tevye, it was a sign that their mazel was changing. At the first farm they came to, he was able to sell the two horses at a respectable price. When they arrived, exhausted but cheerful in Odessa, they headed straight for the port. Odessa was the biggest city Tevye’s daughters had ever seen. The stores, the boulevards, the carriages, and the smartly dressed women looked like they were part of a dream. Yet the wonder which made everyone stand up in the wagon was the sight of a motorized carriage that rode along the street without being pulled by a horse! Nachman said it was a miracle. Tevye called it an automobile. He had seen them before in his travels. For the moment, he was more concerned with the soldiers who stood idle at every corner, as if waiting for some menacing order. Though the wagon load of Jews looked out of place in the bustling city, no one ordered them to stop. Nevertheless, the milkman from Anatevka was reluctant to ask directions. He relied on his instincts and his sense of smell to lead them to the port. Though they may not have found the shortest route, before long the odor of fish and seawater filled everyone’s nostrils.
To the simple milkman’s family, the giant steamships and freighters which towered over their wagon as they road along the dock were symbols of the great new world which lay waiting over the ocean. Even a man as worldly as Tevye had never seen anything close to their size. The yachts belonging to the aristocrats in Boiberik were like tiny rowboats compared to these motorized whales. Workers, cargo men, porters, and passengers scurried over the dock, but Ben Zion, Naftali, Peter, and their friends were nowhere to be found. Tevye and Nachman ventured into a few shipping offices to inquire about boats leaving for Palestine, but they only received discouraging shakes of the head. There were ships taking vodka to France, potatoes to Hong Kong, coal to Spain, and lumber to Portugal, but none seemed to be taking Jewish pilgrims to Palestine.
With fallen spirits, Tevye and Nachman returned to the wagon. To their surprise, a little pitseleh of a man with a beard and a cap was standing by Goliath, barely reaching up to his waist.
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. 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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