“Your friend did what with the policeman?” he asked incredulously. Tevye, Nachman, and the oversized Alexander Goliath all started laughing. Their host failed to see anything humorous.
“Something like this can bring a pogrom on all of the Jews of Odessa,” he said.
“What should we do?” Tevye asked.
“You’ll have to set off on your voyage tonight.”
“But how? Our ship doesn’t leave for two weeks.”
“You can’t go back to the dock. The police will be waiting for you,”Eliahu warned them. “There are small boats for hire that can be secured for a price. The crossing is dangerous, but others have made it. With God’s help, I can arrange for one of the captains to sail tonight.”
“In a sailboat?” Nachman asked.
“That’s your only other choice. Unless you want to walk across Russia and Turkey, and that can take a year.”
“How dangerous is dangerous?” Tevye asked.
“I haven’t made the crossing myself,” the little Jew confided. “But there are Russians who do it for a living, and even a gentile doesn’t want to get killed. But I’d be lying if I told you that there haven’t been shipwrecks and drownings. The Black Sea isn’t a duck pond. It’s as big as an ocean and the winds can be treacherous.”
“God will answer our prayers for a safe journey,” Nachman said with his unflinching faith.
“What about the money I paid to that thief at the dock?” Tevye asked.
The Jew held up his hands. “Kaporas,” he said. “It is lost. May it be considered an atonement for your sins.”
The little Jew was right, Tevye decided. Why cry over spilled milk? Right now, the important thing was escaping from Odessa without going to prison. And besides, in the turn of events, there was one big consolation which Tevye didn’t dare mention. By sneaking off on a boat in the middle of the night, they would be rid of the tenacious Hevedke forever!
The Jews got down to business. The voyage would cost them three hundred rubles. It was almost half of the money that Tevye had left. And there were still two more sea journeys to follow. Which meant that they would be landing in the Holy Land with an empty purse and a prayer. As if sensing his thoughts, Goliath offered to pay the cost of the passage for everyone.
“It’s my fault that we have fallen into this mess,” he declared.
“You meant well,” Tevye retorted. “Besides, you upheld the honor of the people of God, and no man should be penalized for that.”
Finally, when it was agreed that each man would put up his own share of the fare, their host hurried off to arrange for a boat. In the meantime, Nachman wandered off to find an evening prayer minyan where he could say the mourner’s Kaddish for his father. Having spent the greater part of his life voyaging through Talmudic texts in the study hall of the yeshiva, it was his father’s dying blessing which gave Nachman the confidence to set out on such a hazardous voyage. As the Talmud states, a man who undertakes to do a good deed will be Divinely protected from the dangers of travel. And could there be a greater deed than going to live in the Land of Israel, a precept which was equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah? Especially when it had been his father’s last wish that Nachman pray at the sacred Wall in Jerusalem, at the site where their ancient Temple had stood. Surely, in the merit of his father, the Almighty would protect them on the way.
In a matter of hours, the Constantinople-bound Jews rendezvoused with Eliahu under the cover of nightfall. Sneaking out of the city like fugitives, Tevye’s daughters were frightened with the great rush and mystery. The boat was waiting for them at a dock at the edge of the forest. From the bow to the stern, the vessel was several wagons long, but it was tiny compared with the great freighters they had seen at the port. Eliahu introduced the captain as Leo. He wore what looked like an admiral’s jacket and cap, but Tevye eyed him with doubts. The captain’s breath reeked of cheap liquor. Not that Tevye blamed him for drinking. The roar of the waves, and the blackness of the sea in the distance invited the thought of a strong vodka or two, but it wasn’t something that inspired confidence at the start of a voyage. Especially since Tevye had never learned how to swim. And neither, of course, had his daughters.