Then, scribbled at the bottom of the page was a brief explanation, “I am writing in my childhood Yiddish because I don’t trust the shipping clerk either.”
Except for the letter, the envelope was empty. Tevye looked up at the bookish shipping agent who had returned to his work and his papers. A feeling of shame swept over Tevye for having judged the young Zionist in too hasty a fashion, thinking he had run off with his money. But he felt even worse knowing that the money had ended up in the pocket of the clean-shaven Laban before him.
“Excuse me,” Tevye said. “There was supposed to be money along with this letter, but the envelope is empty.”
The agent looked up with an innocent glance.
“Maybe your friend forget to put the money inside. I seem to remember that he was in a big hurry.”
“No,” Tevye answered. “He writes that he put it inside with the letter.”
The shipping agent shrugged.
“Somebody stole my money,” Tevye said.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you. Since I received the letter, it has been right here, locked up in my drawer. And I am the only one with a key.”
“That sort of limits the possibilities,” Tevye said.
“I resent the implication,” the clerk answered. He stood up with a look of great indignation. “If you would like to cancel your contract, I will be happy to oblige. I certainly won’t stand here and be insulted by a Jew. If you have a complaint, go tell the police.”
“Don’t you worry, I will,” Tevye threatened.
He strode out of the office. Wouldn’t you know it? A policeman was walking alongside the dock, eyeing the women in the wagon. Tevye decided to approach him. He was so enraged, he didn’t seem to notice that Hevedke was standing near the wagon talking to Hava.
Seeing Tevye and Nachman stride over to the policeman, Goliath walked over to find out what was the matter.
“A good day to you, officer, and to all upholders of the law” Tevye said. “I have reason to believe that the shipping agent in that office has stolen a considerable sum of money from me.”
“Who are you?” the policeman asked, staring at the thickly bearded Jew.
“Tevye, the milkman, from Anatevka.”
“It’s a long way from Anatevka for a milkman,” the policeman said. “What brings you to Odessa?”
“We are on our way to Palestine.”
“Have a good voyage. When Russia is free of all you stinking parasites, it will be a better country.”
“What did you say?” another voice asked. It was Goliath. He towered beside Tevye.
“Look what we have here,” the policeman said, staring up at the giant. “A whole mountain of filth.”
Nachman’s “No!” came too late. Goliath reached out and grabbed the policeman by his collar. With one hand, he lifted him off his feet into the air. With three giant strides, Goliath reached the edge of the dock. Grunting, he hurled the startled policeman through the air, down into the water below.
“Gevalt,” Tevye moaned, leading the race back to the wagon. When all of the Jews were aboard, he whipped the reins of the horse and the wagon sped off. Hevedke held his hand in the air and hollered out, “Wait!” but Tevye urged his steed onward as if he were in the midst of a chariot race. As the wagon thundered down the cobblestones of the dock, the women held fast to their mother’s galloping coffin. Porters rushed out of their way. Passersby cursed them. Though no one was chasing them, Tevye didn’t relax until they reached the neighborhood of the Jews at the outskirts of the city. “Refuge,” Tevye thought. Store signs were written in Yiddish. Shops sold pickles in barrels, dried fruit, chickens, and fish. Rolls of fabric stood in the doorway of one store, dresses in the window of another. If there was a problem of anti-Semitism in Russia, you wouldn’t have known it from the busy life of the Odessa ghetto.
Tevye found the address which Eliahu had given him. He lived in a small basement apartment, cramped with relatives and children. Like a king entertaining royal guests, the diminutive Jew sat them around a table and ordered his wife to bring rugelach cakes and tea. When Tevye told him what had happened at the dock, an aghast expression spread over his face.
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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