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July 29, 2015 / 13 Av, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Seven: ‘Get Thee Forth to the Land’

Tevye in the Promised Land

Because of the clear skies and the gently rocking sea, the captain and his crew had little to do. They spent most of the day playing cards and drinking liquor. There were drunken arguments, and an occasional fight, plus a steady stream of bawdy songs and jokes that made the women blush. Goliath sat protectively near Tevye’s daughters and whittled stick-figure dolls to pass the time. If the crewmen entertained any non-kosher thoughts, the sight of the giant guarding the ladies was a convincing deterrent.

The gently rolling waves had a soothing effect on Hava also. The lullaby of the sea and the steady wind in the masts calmed her restless spirits and restored her belief that everything would work out in the end. To pass the time, she read the book of Psalms. The songs and prayers of King David lifted her out of her worries and transported her to a world where goodness and justice would triumph. For her, the boat ride was exactly what the Psalmist had penned, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.”

Only the downcast Bat Sheva remained obsessed with stormy ruminations. Tevye’s youngest daughter tried to push Ben Zion out of her mind by organizing meals for the crew, but her thoughts were possessed with schemes of revenge. Like rolling waves, her passions swayed back and forth. Chopping potatoes, she would dream of cutting off the hands that had held her; while peeling onions, she would cry at the thought that the gallant Zionist already had found some other woman to wed.

To make a long story short, everyone but Bat Sheva was in jubilant spirits when they reached Constantinople. Stepping onto dry land, Nachman said a blessing of thanks for God’s faithful providence, and everyone answered Amen! The dock of the port was bustling with action. Turks garbed in an assortment of caftans, turbans, and robes, scurried in every direction. Porters carried enormous loads on their backs: piles of silk, carpets, bananas, and ivory – bounty from all over the world. A red flag decorated with a yellow crescent moon flew over the roof of a limestone building which was guarded by red-turbanned policemen. Sweet, exotic smells filled the air. The new arrivals from Anatevka gazed around in a daze. Dressed in their winter clothing, the Jews looked out of place in the bright Mediterranean setting. Tevye and Goliath stood holding Golda’s coffin, not knowing in which direction to turn.

Just then, a small apparition, dressed like an Arab, rushed up to greet them in Yiddish. With his black moustache and beard, he could have been Eliahu’s double. It was as if the little Jew from Odessa had sped ahead to Constantinople to continue his work assisting fellow landsmen as they arrived in the strange, foreign port. Excitedly, he led them to a shipping office filled with flies, a broken overhead fan, and the stench of Turkish tobacco. For a small fee, he helped them book passage to Italy, where they would switch boats for the last leg of their journey.

Once again, after waiting ten days in Constantinople, the Lord blessed their trip. This time, their ship was a ship! The travelers even had cabins, and though the airless quarters made their stomachs rise up in their throats during the long nights of unending swells, come morning, the fresh air on deck brought color back to their cheeks. For the children, the ocean voyage was an exciting adventure, but their poor mother couldn’t bear the suffocating nights. She coughed and she coughed, as if gasping for breath, so Tevye slept up on deck with Tzeitl. With his daughter bundled in blankets in his arms, Tevye stared up at the stars and beseeched the Creator of heaven and earth to heal his ailing, firstborn girl.

Disembarking from the ship in Trieste, Tevye half-expected to meet an Italian version of Eliahu. Instead, he was greeted by an even bigger surprise. The tall, blond figure of Hevedke was waiting for them on the dock! Seeing him, Tevye almost dropped Golda’s coffin. Hava waved and called out his name. Her whole face was a radiant smile. She looked at her father and grinned.

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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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-seven-get-thee-forth-to-the-land/2012/07/30/

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