Tevye decided to stay in Shoshana until the birth of Hodel’s baby, which was only a month away. He forbade Bat Sheva to speak to Ben Zion, and asked Goliath to keep his eyes open to make sure there were no rendezvous. Tevye, by nature, had a trusting, good-natured soul, and in the past, it had led him to be too lax with his daughters. This time, he was determined to keep a tight rein on his youngest, lest her impetuousness lead her astray.
Hava went to work in the kitchen. For all of her openness to modern ideas, Hava felt ill at ease with the notion of women’s rights. To her way of thinking, a man had his duties, and a woman had hers. The theory that a woman could do the work of a man seemed foolish to her. As far as she was concerned, it was better to work in the kitchen, feeding people, than to work in a stable, feeding horses and cows.
Everyone in the commune ate together in the dining hall, so there was always plenty of work to occupy Hava, and to keep her from thinking about Hevedke’s new life in a faraway Jaffa yeshiva. The kibbutz diet consisted of sour cereals, vegetables, olives, goat’s cheese, black bread, eggs, and sardines. Meat was a luxury which the treasury of the kibbutz could rarely afford. The unrefined olive oil they used for cooking was purchased from Arabs in goatskin bags which gave the oil a bitter taste. There were not enough knives and forks for everyone, and settlers had to sometimes eat their main course with spoons. Though many of life’s staples were lacking, a spirit of thankfulness and singing accompanied the meals. Even Tevye was impressed. He had been in the luxurious homes of the rich people of Yehupetz and had never experienced such genuine happiness and joy. Inspired by their mission of working the land, the kibbutzniks were happy with the little they had. Hava tried to do what she could to improve their conditions, but when she put flowers and tablecloths on the tables for the Friday night meal, she was criticized for being bourgeoise.
For all of his devotion to Torah, Tevye was not a fanatic. Though the lifestyle in Shoshana irked him, he was able to restrain his chagrin over the secular character of the kibbutz. He remembered the words of the wise Rabbi Kook who said that the very act of settling the Land of Israel was a religious act in itself. Hadn’t the Sages of the Midrash taught that living in the Land of Israel was equal to all of the commandments in the Torah? Perhaps it was his age, or because Hodel was his daughter, or because Tzeitl’s death had left him too tired to fight – whatever the reason, Tevye accepted the lapses of Yiddishkiet as a situation which was not in his power to change.
Shmuelik’s reaction was different. The fervent scholar was horrified by the kibbutzniks and by their disdain for Jewish tradition. While Tevye had traveled far from Anatevka with his wagonful of cheeses, rubbing elbows with the rich and meeting free-thinkers in Boiberik and St. Petersburg, the young Shmuelik had never left the sheltered confines of his shtetl. To him, the kibbutznikim were heretical apikorsim who were to be avoided as much as the plague. “Gentiles who speak Hebrew,” he called them. Their desecration of the Sabbath, of the dietary laws, and the laws of family purity, were offenses that cried out to Heaven. That their heretical behavior should occur in the Holy Land was even more of an outrage in his eyes. When he learned that an animal pen under construction was intended for the breeding of pigs, that was the end. Though Shmuelik had come to love Tevye as a father, he found the situation unbearable. After ten days, he decided to set off for Zichron Yaacov, where the central office of the Jewish Colony Association was located. Just as Jacob’s son, Yehuda, had journeyed to Egypt to prepare the way for his family, Shmuelik would scout out new settlements and send word to Tevye regarding the opportunities he found. That way, Tevye would have a kosher, religious community waiting for him when he left the kibbutz. Alexander Goliath, the oversized Jew with the oversized heart, decided to stay by Tevye’s side. At Tzeitl’s gravesite, he had made a solemn promise to look after her children. Her last wish had been that Moishe and Hannie would grow up with Ruchel and Nachman, and Goliath felt it was his duty to carry out her request.
Hillel faced a much harder decision. While he had long ago made peace with his bachelor’s existence, an awakened yearning stirred the blood in his veins. Tevye’s daughter, Bat Sheva, aroused dreams in his head which pushed out all other thoughts. It wasn’t just her beauty which attracted his fancy. Her unrestrained spirit which yearned to break boundaries appealed to the artist in him. While his music provided him with horizons of freedom in which he could roam, balancing the constraints of a life bordered with religious restrictions, her wanderlust was impulsive and untamed. He knew that he couldn’t compete with the swaggering Ben Zion, but he had a minstrel’s hope that she would come to hear the song in his heart.
One afternoon before sunset, when the kibbutzniks gathered outside the dining hall, awaiting their dinner, Hillel joined the kibbutz band in playing a medley of the Zionists’ favorite tunes. Noticing Bat Sheva’s pained expression as she stood to the side watching Ben Zion dance the hora with the girls of the kibbutz, the accordion player could readily see that she was in love with the egotistical shvitzer. But like all Jews, Hillel believed in the power of miracles. When Ben Zion picked Sonia up in the air and swirled her around in circles which made her dress fly up over her legs, Bat Sheva’s face turned the color of beet soup. She ran away across the yard into the low-roofed barn. Hillel stopped playing and followed.
Lugging his accordion, the lame musician stepped quietly into the wooden structure which the kibbutznikim called a tzreef. Bat Sheva stood slumped over a haystack, weeping. Hillel reached into his pocket and took out his harmonica. Softly, he started to play. Hearing the music, the girl looked up and sniffled. Hillel smiled as he brought forth a melodious tune filled with hope and longing. The notes reached into her soul, coaxing her out of her gloom. She walked over and sat down beside him.
“Isn’t their dancing awful?” she said, glad to have someone to talk to.
“Well, to be truthful, it looks like a lot of fun, but of course, mixed dancing is strictly forbidden.”
“Everything is forbidden,” she said.
“Not everything,” he answered.
“Music. Poetry. Love.”
Bat Sheva ignored the hints which seasoned his remark.
“It’s disgusting the way he plays with her as if she were a doll.”
Hillel didn’t answer. Bat Sheva kept speaking, as if she were pouring her heart out to one of her sisters.
“I can’t imagine what he sees in her. She doesn’t have a brain in her head. She’s rude and opinionated. And she isn’t even that pretty,” she said.
“Not as pretty as you.”
“Do you think so?” she asked.
“Absolutely. I think you are very special indeed.”
Hillel began to play a soft Sabbath tune which told of the love between a husband and wife.
“I wish Ben Zion thought more about me, but he is in love with that girl.”
“From what I see, he seems more in love with himself. I suggest you forget him, and find someone more faithful.”
“Well, there is me, for example.”
Without thinking, Bat Sheva laughed. “You?” she said with a giggle as if it were the most ridiculous thing in the world.
Hillel blushed. “Am I as pitiful as that?”
“Oh no,” she said, realizing that she had hurt him. “You are so much older than I am, that’s all.”
“And I can’t dance like Ben Zion, can I?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that at all. Who cares how he dances? You play music like an angel. That’s a real gift.”
Uncomfortably, she backed away from the minstrel. She was angry at herself for having been so inconsiderate. She didn’t know how she could take back the wound which her insensitive laughter had caused.
“I have to be going,” she said. “It’s my turn to watch the children.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “You don’t have to apologize.”
In a moment, she vanished, leaving Hillel alone in the barn with the horses. He picked up his accordion, just as he had all of his life. His fingers moved melancholically over the keys, evoking a melody of exile and heartbreak, the lot of the Jews. But then, as if his fingers had a will of their own, they began to dance over the keyboard in a happier tune. Playing as hard as he could, Hillel lifted himself out of his sadness. After all, a Jew was commanded to serve His Maker with joy. Soon his body was swaying, and his lame foot was stomping the ground. While everyone was eating dinner in the dining hall, a lone and lonely accordion player sat in the barn with the animals, pouring out the love in his heart.
A few days later, Hillel said “L’hitraot” to Tevye and set off with Shmuelik over the mountains toward Zichron Yaacov, trusting that God, in His kindness, would lead him to the woman he was destined to wed.
Their departure left Tevye saddened, but he didn’t have time to brood. Not wanting to be a shnorrer dependent on others, he insisted on working alongside the kibbutzniks for as long as he stayed in Shoshana. The back-breaking day started at five in the morning. Though the milkman habitually woke up every morning while the stars were still in the sky, he was not used to the strenuous physical work in the fields. True, milking a cow put a strain on the spine, and lugging containers of milk wasn’t easy, but after tilling the rocky soil for hours on end, Tevye understood how the Jews in Egypt must have felt when Pharaoh increased their slave labor.
The first day, in order to show the young settlers that he was no stranger to hard, honest toil, he picked up a pickax and joined in the work of upturning the rocky earth to clear a new field for planting.
“Conquer the work, conquer the land!” Perchik yelled out as the work day began.
The young people labored with unbounded enthusiasm. Singing songs, the pioneers dug up the soil, as if in conquering each new patch of earth, they were performing some joyous religious devotion. In trying to keep up with them, Tevye failed to notice his heavy breathing. Long before noon, with the sun beating down on the nape of his neck, he began to feel dizzy. The ground beneath his feet started swaying as if he were on a boat. Blisters broke out on his fingers and palms, and trickles of blood dripped down the handle of his pick.
“Lunch break!” someone finally called out.
The words echoed in Tevye’s ears like a bell. He had worked without respite, refusing to surrender to his thirst and exhaustion, and now that he could relax, a feeling of weakness made his limbs tremble. The pickax dropped out of his hand. He took one step forward and fainted. While the young people walked off for some food and some rest, Tevye lay collapsed in the field. Flies buzzed hungrily around him, but he didn’t have the strength to brush them away. He lay on his back, unable to move, blinded by the fiery sun.
When her father didn’t return with the others for lunch, Hodel ran out to the field, holding a flask of water in one hand, and her pregnant belly with the other. She found him sitting up dazed in the sun, his yarmulka on the ground, his lips parched, blood on his hands, his pickax lying on the soil beside him.
“Abba,” she hollered in a fright.
“I’ll show them,” he mumbled. “I’ll show them.”
“Look at you.”
“I’m fine, don’t you see?”
“I see a stubborn old man who doesn’t know when to stop. You don’t have to be such a hero.”
Gently, she let him drink from the flask she had brought from the house, and splashed drops of water over his face.
“The day is still young,” he said.
“For you, the day is over,” she answered.
“I want to do my share of the work.”
“You have done enough work for one day. Tomorrow, you will do more. But not in the fields. I’ll have Perchik put you to work with the cows.”
“I want to work the land too, like everyone else,” he insisted.
“My brave pioneer,” Hodel said, wetting her kerchief and moistening his forehead and his dry, sun-cracked lips.
Together, they walked back to the colony of thatched, mud-brick houses. Hodel soaked her father’s hands in soapy water to wash off the blood and the dirt. After lunch, with a groan, he pushed himself up from the table, put on his cap, and insisted on returning to work. When Hodel blocked the door with her big, swollen belly, Tevye let out a roar.
“I am still your father,” he bellowed.
Obediently, his daughter stepped away from the door. Grabbing a water pouch, Tevye strode outside and headed determinedly back to the fields. Tevye, the son of Reb Schneur Zalman, was nobody’s freeloader. Nobody was going to say that he didn’t carry his share of the load. Nobody was going to say that a religious Jew didn’t work as hard as the Zionists. Not on his account anyway. Arriving back at the field, he waved to his fellow workers and reached down for his pick.
“Easy, easy, old man,” a handsome, clean-shaven kibbutznik advised.
The girl working beside him laughed as Tevye swung the pickax over his head and drove it into the stony soil. The pick hit a rock. The handle reverberated in his hands, painfully reopening his blisters. Seeing Tevye wince, the kibbutznik held out a spade.
“Let’s swap tools for a while,” he said. “I enjoy working with a pick, and with your weight, the shoveling will go easier.”
Without arguing, Tevye switched tools. He stuck the spade into the ground and pressed his boot on the rim of its blade. The spade broke through the crusty topsoil. With a flick of his wrists, Tevye flipped the shovelful over, revealing a richer, darker soil below. The kibbutznik was right. Using the weight of his body to break up the earth, Tevye was able to relieve some of the strain on his hands. Working at a more relaxed pace, he upturned a long stretch of field and started back in the opposite direction. What was the hurry, he thought? It was a big country, and after all, the Almighty had made him a man, not an ox. What they didn’t finish today, they would finish tomorrow. As the famous Baal Shem Tov had taught, in serving the L-rd, the main thing was to be happy.
“Want to learn a new song?” he asked the young workers around him. They all gladly said yes.
“It’s a mitzvah to be happy,” he sang. “It’s a mitzvah to be always happy.”
Tevye repeated the simple tune a few times until his fellow workers joined in. Soon, everyone was working to the rhythm of the song. Maybe, Tevye thought, there was a hidden reason why God had brought him to this encampment of secular Jews. Maybe he could teach them some Yiddishkiet. Surely, he thought, without a connection to Torah, all of their love for the Land would one day turn sour. How long would a man break his back, struggling to coax life out of a desolate wasteland for socialist dreams?
That night, Tevye slept like a baby. Not even the rapacious mosquitoes disturbed him. If the night guard hadn’t pounded on the door of his adobe-brick hut in the morning, Tevye would gladly have slept until noon.
Though it was summertime, the nights in the Galilee mountains were cool, and the kibbutzniks took advantage of the pre-dawn breezes to put several hours of work behind them before the sun rose in the sky. When the workers paused for a drink of tea, Tevye took out his tefillin and prayer shawl, and prayed.
The long work day finished, Tevye could barely drag his legs back to the dining hall. Nevertheless, after dinner, he forced himself to follow the kibbutzniks to the schoolroom where a two-hour class in Hebrew was taught. More often than not, he fell asleep in his chair at the back of the room. After a few classes, the teacher got used to raising her voice over the sound of Tevye’s snoring. Bat Sheva and Hava sat beside him in class, nudging him awake whenever he started to slumber. What could he do? Didn’t they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do? Now that he was in Israel, he had to learn to be a Sabra, and that meant speaking Hebrew. True, Hebrew was a serious, holy language, lacking the spicy words and curses which made Yiddish such a rich, tasty soup. But as the Zionists asserted, Yiddish was an heirloom of the exile, the language of the shtetl, a jumble of foreign expressions and tongues.
“Did Moses speak Yiddish?” Ben Zion asked Tevye during one of their frequent discussions. “Did King David? Did Rabbi Akiva?” No they had not, Tevye conceded. So, at the end of the day, though he was exhausted and dreaming of bed, Tevye would squint at the new Hebrew words on the blackboard. Sometimes he felt that the classes at night were as punishing as his labor during the day. Instead of a pickax and shovel, he was using a pencil and eraser to overturn the rocks in his brain. As the Elders had taught – when you write on a new sheet of paper, the ink is absorbed; but if you write on an old sheet, the ink drips off the page. The grammar which his daughters grasped after repeating one or two times, Tevye had to hear time and again. Fortunately, he could already read Hebrew, and he already knew the Bible and Mishna, so he didn’t have to start out from the first letter, alef.
“Don’t be discouraged,” Ben Zion told him one evening. “Rabbi Akiva was forty years old when he began to learn how to read.”
“True, but Rabbi Akiva was Rabbi Akiva, and I am Tevye, the milkman turned farmer.”
“Before he was Rabbi Akiva, he was just Akiva the shepherd, was he not?”
“I suppose that he was,” Tevye admitted.
“Be patient, old man. You will catch on like everyone else.”
“Haleviy,” Tevye sighed, relying on a timeworn Yiddish expression. “I hope you are right.”
Not only was the milkman from Anatevka learning a new profession and struggling to speak Hebrew, Ben Zion decided it was time for Tevye to begin using his Hebrew name.
“Tuvia,” he called him.
“Tevye,” the milkman insisted.
“Tevye is Yiddish. You’re Tuvia now.”
Tevye wasn’t convinced. True, God had changed Abram’s name to Abraham when He brought him to the Land of Israel. As the Sages taught – change of name, change of fortune. And, after all was said and done, his Hebrew name truly was Tuvia the son of Schneur Zalman. Tuvia meant “the goodness of the Lord.” But just like you can’t change a horse’s name in the middle of a journey, Tevye stayed Tevye, just like Golda would have wanted.
When he finally reached his bed after a day of hard work, Tevye would fall into a cavernous slumber, still dressed in his clothes. Often, he dreamt of sword-yielding Cossacks and sea storms, but one enchanted evening, he dreamt that his Golda was hanging up the day’s wash on the Shoshana kibbutz.
“Ahh, Golda, Golda,” he sighed. “The Almighty was right. It is not good for a man to be alone.”
“So get married already,” Golda said.
“But I am married,” Tevye said, as startled as a man could be. “I’m married to you.”
“You were married to me, but I’m not around anymore.”
“Then why are you here, hanging my wash up to dry?”
“Somebody has to do it,” she said. “But it’s a chore for me to come down from Heaven to do it for you, so get married already.”
Tevye bolted upright in bed. It was a dream which set him to wonder. But the idea of marrying a woman other than Golda was so preposterous that Tevye soon put it out of his head.
After her father had fallen to sleep, Bat Sheva would sneak outside to join the other young people around the nightly campfire. Poems and short stories were read, songs were sung, and books were discussed at great length. For the young girl from Anatevka, the cool summer evenings under the stars opened up exciting new vistas. The kibbutzniks spoke about writers with reverence, the way her father spoke about the Sages of Torah. Inflamed with curiosity, Bat Sheva asked Perchik to lend her some of his books, and he was happy to give her a novel of Tolstoy called Anna Karenina. Late into the night, she would stay up reading the breathtaking romance by candlelight until the wax melted down to the table.
Tired with her job of watching the children, Bat Sheva decided to join her father in the fields – at least for a few well-meaning hours. Trying to impress Ben Zion and keep up with the energetic Sonia, who were working together nearby, she overtaxed her strength and collapsed into her father’s arms in exhaustion. He carried her to a sycamore tree at the edge of the field and sat her down in its shade.
“Why are you working so hard?” he asked.
“Why are you?”
“We are few in number, and there is a lot of work to do in farming the land,” he said.
“Then why shouldn’t I work as hard as everyone else, just like you?”
“You are not built for it, that’s why.”
“I am as strong as all of the other girls,” his daughter insisted.
“Oh, so that is the reason,” Tevye said, suddenly understanding. “When are you going to stop trying to win that false messiah’s attention?”
“I am not trying to win the attention of anyone,” she answered in protest.
“He is not the man for you.”
“He might be if you and Goliath didn’t watch over me like hawks.”
“It is the task of a shepherd to guard over his flock,” her father answered.
“I am old enough to make my own decisions.”
“Yes, very old. Sixteen, seventeen, I forget.”
“I am almost eighteen years old.”
“A wrinkled old maid, indeed.”
Bat Sheva blushed. “Don’t you try to rule over my life the way you did with my sisters,” she answered.
Tevye paused. He remembered his battles with Tzeitl, Hodel, and Hava. Experience had taught him that curses and threats did not influence head-strong, love-struck daughters. In a huff, Bat Sheva stood up and marched back to work.
Where did the girl’s stubbornness come from, Tevye wondered? Obviously from her mother’s side of the family. Golda, may her memory be for a blessing, could be as obstinate as a mule. He, on the other hand, followed the advice of the Sages to be like a reed which sways in the wind without breaking.
Bat Sheva bent down to pick up her hoe. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ben Zion staring at her with a confident grin. She blushed, angry at herself that he could so easily see into her heart. Raising the tool, she began beating the earth. Once, twice, three times, the metal hit the ground with a clang.
“You are hitting a rock,” Ben Zion said, walking over. “Let me help you dig it out with my pick.”
“I don’t need any help, thank you,” she told him.
In response, he flashed her one of his know-it-all grins.
With a mighty swing, she brought her hoe down on Ben Zion’s foot. Yelping like a wounded puppy, he hopped on one leg, and fell to the ground on his butt.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Bat Sheva exclaimed.
At the very same moment, both she and Sonia knelt down beside him. The women stared at each other like two cobras ready to do battle. Ben Zion pulled off his boot and moaned, pained by the blow, but enjoying the attention of the two pretty girls.
“You did that on purpose,” Sonia accused.
“I did not,” Bat Sheva answered.
“You’re jealous, that’s all. I see it in your eyes. I see the way you look at us when we dance. Wouldn’t the sheltered religious girl just love a man to sweep her around in a circle and give her a kiss?!”
Dropping her hoe, Bat Sheva sprang at her rival. She scratched at Sonia’s face with her fingers, but Ben Zion wedged his arms between them and pushed them apart. Now it was their turn to fall on their bottoms. Indignantly, both girls stood up and charged off in opposing directions. Ben Zion laughed. Across the field, Tevye stood glaring at him, clutching his pickax in his hands like a weapon. Seeing Bat Sheva’s father, the grin slowly vanished from Ben Zion’s face. Not that he was frightened of Tevye, but with his scraggly beard and angry eyes, Tevye looked like some enraged Biblical prophet poised to hurl a lightning bolt down from the sky.
Tevye looked up at Heaven.
“Please God,” he said, “let my Hodel give birth to her baby, so that I can take up my journey and rescue my youngest daughter from the hands of this vilda chaya of a beast.”
That evening, Bat Sheva stayed by herself in the house while everyone went off to the dining hall. She was tired of Ben Zion’s confident glances, and the embarrassment they caused her. She had been a fool long enough. Her father was right. It was time she start thinking about a husband and not an imaginary romance. But later in the evening, when she was out walking to cool off her passions, Ben Zion and Sonia galloped by her on their way to guard-duty patrol. The kibbutz girl wore a cartridge belt across her chest, and a rifle was strapped to her back. She bounced gracefully in the saddle. Her long locks of hair spread out in the wind. Bat Sheva’s heart sank. How could she ever compete with a creature like that? Compared to the pioneer girl, Tevye’s youngest daughter felt like a dinosaur out of the past.
It was exactly the reaction which Ben Zion had planned. Two days later, while Tevye was plowing a field with a team of two horses, Ben Zion surprised Bat Sheva in the barn, where she had been put to work cleaning the stalls.
“I need someone to join me for guard duty,” he said. “Want to come?”
He held up a spare rifle. Bat Sheva’s hands trembled on the broom she was clutching. Her heart pounded like galloping horses.
“I have never held a rifle,” she said.
“I’ll teach you.”
“I’m not very good at riding a horse.”
“You can ride with me. Come on. We’ll be back in two hours before the workers finish in the fields.”
It was now or never, she thought. Going with him was madness, but she couldn’t say no. With a fluttering heart, she leaned her broom against a haystack and followed him out of the barn. The main thing, she thought, was to let him see she was brave. He swung himself onto his horse and held out a hand to lift her up behind him.
“Put your foot on my boot,” he said.
A whimper escaped her lips as he grabbed her hand and swung her up behind him onto the horse. She held tightly onto his waist, frightened by the dizzying height of the steed. With a commanding “Yalla!” he flicked at the reins, and they rode off in a gallop. Bat Sheva grasped at his clothing as she was bounced up and down on the hard, muscular back of the horse. The earth passed by beneath them at an incredible speed. Wind blew in her face. When she opened her eyes, they were racing over a hill, away from the kibbutz, into a valley she had never seen before. Her heart beat wildly, not as much from the ride as from the feeling that she was doing something terribly sinful. But another voice said, nonsense – what was sinful in riding a horse? The hooves of the animal pounded the earth beneath her. Her body trembled from the jolts of the ride, loosening all of her joints. The sense of freedom was dizzying. As they rode up a hillside, she clung to Ben Zion’s back, wondering if he were a man she could trust or a demon?
Finally he stopped by the well where Peter had been wounded. He slid down from the horse and reached up with both hands to help her. Suddenly, she was in his arms, her toes just touching the ground, captive in his embrace. He grinned with his handsomest smile and squeezed her tightly around her waist. When he released her, her legs didn’t stop trembling. Her heart kept pounding as if she were still on the horse.
“Have a cool drink,” he said.
He stepped over to the well and began pulling on the rope. Soon, a bucket appeared splashing with water.
“I found this spring with Peter,” he said. “A few times when we were out riding, we saw gazelles grazing around this oak tree. When we investigated, we found puddles of water and realized that there must be an underground stream here. We started digging and discovered this well.”
The water in the bucket was clouded with dirt, but after a few moments, the sediment sank to the bottom. The taste of the water was clean and refreshingly cool. Bat Sheva poured some into her hands and washed the dust of the ride off her face.
“I hope you are not still angry with me about our last meeting in Russia,” he said.
Bat Sheva blushed. “Why should I be angry.”
“Some women think a kiss is a proposal of marriage.”
Bat Sheva kept silent.
“It seems to me a man and woman can love each other like friends without rushing to get married.”
Bat Sheva still hadn’t stopped trembling. She blushed, imagining that she looked like a frightened little girl.
“Your father warned me not to talk to you, so I have been keeping my distance.”
“My father doesn’t own me,” she said. “I am old enough to live my own life. My sister, Tzeitl, got married to Motel when she was my age, and my mother was even younger when she married my father.”
“I don’t think that age is the problem. Your father dislikes me because I am not religious.”
“Everyone is religious in his own way,” she answered.
“That’s what I believe.”
He smiled at her in a way that made her cheeks even pinker than they were.
“Then we can continue to be friends?” he asked.
“I don’t see why not,” she replied. Her legs were still quivering, no longer from the ride, but from the strain of trying to appear unflustered and poised.
“Good,” he said with a broad, tooth-filled grin. “Come over here, and I will teach you how to shoot your rifle.”
Bat Sheva followed him to the other side of the shade tree. The valley spread out before them. Hills surrounded them on all sides. As far as she could see, they were completely alone. He told her to kneel down and handed her a rifle.
“Put the butt on your shoulder. That’s right. Now place your left hand on the barrel.”
He knelt down beside her and reached over her shoulder to position her hands on the rifle. He was so close to her, she could feel his breath on her cheek. Once again, she started to tremble.
“Hold it steady,” he said.
He reached his other arm around her to steady the barrel. Now their cheeks were touching. When she turned her head toward him, she fell into the pool of his piercing blue eyes. Their lips met. The rifle slipped from her hands. He caught it and set it gently down on the ground.
“I waited a long time for that kiss,” he said.
“You really did?” she asked, wanting to believe him.
“Yes.” He smiled and kissed her again. She knew that their kissing was wrong, but she didn’t have the strength to resist.
“Don’t move!” a gruff voice commanded.
It was the voice of an Arab. Bat Sheva didn’t understand the words, but she knew it was an order. Ben Zion froze in her arms. Slowly he pushed her aside.
“Don’t move!” the voice warned.
Bat Sheva saw a pair of sandals and the long, hanging skirt of a Bedouin. He bent down and picked up her rifle.
“Now yours,” the voice ordered.
Two other Arabs stood with their rifles aimed at the Jews. In the distance, another Arab stood holding the reins of their horses. The highwaymen had left the horses behind to sneak up on foot.
Ben Zion decided that this was not the time to be brave, especially with the girl at his side. Slowly, he pulled the strap of his rifle over his head.
“Don’t worry,” he told her.
“Quiet,” the Arab shouted.
Ben Zion held out his rifle. The Arab closest to them reached down to take it. Slowly, Ben Zion stood up.
“What do you want from us?” he asked the leader in Hebrew.
“This is our well,” the Arab replied in a Hebrew as good as the Jew’s.
“I dug this well with my friends,” Ben Zion insisted.
“We dug the well first. When we moved away from here, we covered the well up. Now we have come back to pasture our sheep on our land.”
“This is our land,” Ben Zion protested. “We bought the land from the Turkish government, and we have the deed to prove it.”
“My grandparents were here before the Turks,” the Arab maintained.
“That doesn’t make legal ownership,” Ben Zion answered.
“For us it does. We dug this well, grazed our flocks in this valley, and planted the olive trees on the hillsides.”
Ben Zion realized he wasn’t going to convince the Arabs with arguments, but without his rifle, and with the girl at his side, a fight was out of the question. Guns were pointed at them from all sides.
“We want you to stay away from our water. You and all of the Moscowbim with you.” Because the settlers came from Russia, the Arabs called them Moscowbim.
“And we forbid you to plow up our fields.”
“Good neighbors shouldn’t quarrel,” Ben Zion answered. “If there has been a misunderstanding, I am sure we can clear it up. I suggest we bring this dispute before the Turkish magistrate in Tiberias.”
The Turkish magistrate can be bribed, and you have more money than we do.”
“You may not recognize his authority, but if you harm us, my comrades will make sure that your leaders are put into prison, and your tribe will be expelled from the region.”
Bat Sheva could not tell from the Arab’s dark expression whether Ben Zion’s threat had made an impression.
“Take their horse!” the leader commanded.
One of the Arabs grabbed the reins of Ben Zion’s horse.
“That’s robbery!” he said.
“You steal from us, we steal from you.”
With a bow, the Arab started to walk backward. When they were a safe distance away, they turned and ran back to their horses. Bat Sheva breathed in relief. The Arabs galloped away up the hillside, pulling Ben Zion’s stallion in tow.
“Now what do we do?” Bat Sheva asked.
Ben Zion pondered in silence. “First, we had better drink a lot of water, and then we will start walking back to the kibbutz.”
“On foot?” the girl asked.
“If you walked from Anatevka to Palestine, you surely can walk from here to the village.”
“I rode most of the way in our wagon,” she said.
“If I could summon a carriage for my princess I would. Since that is not possible, I suggest that we walk, unless you prefer to wait here alone while I go and fetch you a wagon.”
“No, no,” Bat Sheva said with a nervous glance at the desolate landscape. “Of course I’ll come with you.”
When they had finished drinking, Ben Zion started off across the valley and up the rocky hillside. Suddenly, his passion for Bat Sheva had vanished, and he seemed to forget the ardor which he had displayed a short time before. He strode along, plunged in his own contemplations, as if she weren’t even there. Vowing to set off in revenge, he ranted on about the need to form an army and expel the Arabs from the region. Not only had the scoundrels stolen their horse and their rifles, they had nearly killed Peter. If the kibbutz didn’t retaliate promptly, the Arabs would believe that the Jews were afraid to strike back.
Bat Sheva listened in silence. Venting his anger, Ben Zion spoke on and on about bringing hundreds of thousands of Jews to Palestine from Diasporas all over the world. He spoke about war and conquering the Turks.
“By blood and fire, the land of Judea fell, and by blood and fire, the land of Judea will rise,” he claimed, quoting the fighting creed of the Hebrew shomrim.
As he led the way back to Shoshana, he described the day when Jewish labor would transform the deserted wasteland into blossoming gardens and fields. The land of Zion would be not only a physical refuge for all of the Jews, but a cultural refuge as well. A new spiritual renaissance was beginning, proclaiming the rebirth of the Jews, who, instead of being the downtrodden Jews of the ghetto, would be proud and upright Israelis. Hard work and sacrifice were in order, and the willingness to fight for the new Jewish State.
Bat Sheva grew tired of listening. Never once did he speak about her. Never once did he mention the word marriage. Never once did he mention the day when they would build their own family. She realized that their future together, if it existed at all in his dreams, was only a detail in Ben Zion’s magnanimous plans for the Jews. He continued on with his lecture, as if forgetting that she were still at his side. When she stopped to rest, he kept right on walking and talking. Finally, he seemed to recall. He stopped and looked around for the girl.
“Bat Sheva,” he called. “Bat Sheva?”
She was hiding behind a large boulder. When his calls became urgent, she stood up and stepped into view.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I wanted to see if you remembered that I was still with you.”
Ben Zion blushed. “Sometimes I get carried away,” he admitted. “Though my dreams may sound like wishful thinking, I can envision the future before my eyes as if it were already happening. If only Jews the world over would wake up and rally behind the Zionist banner.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” she said. “I know it means a lot to you.”
“To all of us,” he said, holding out his hand.
“We had better not,” she said. “We are close to the kibbutz, and I wouldn’t want Sonia to see.”
“Sonia!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“You seem to stick together like glue.”
“She’s like a sister, that’s all.”
Bat Sheva wanted to hear how she was different, but Ben Zion didn’t add another word. Down the hill, at the entrance to the kibbutz, a figure stood waiting. He stood with his hands on his hips, staring up into the hills.
“It looks like we have been missed,” Ben Zion noted.
“It’s my father,” she said.
“Yes. I recognized the thunderbolts crashing over his head.”
“Surely he’s worried.”
“He probably has the whole kibbutz searching for us.”
“What are we going to tell him?”
“The truth,” Ben Zion said.
“He will kill me.”
“He’ll probably want to kill me too. We can be buried in the same grave, like Romeo and Juliet.”
“Like who?” Bat Sheva asked.
“You have never heard of Romeo and Juliet?”
“No. Who were they?”
“You really are something special, aren’t you?” he said, as if noticing for the first time.
Bat Sheva blushed, though she couldn’t tell if he meant it as a compliment, or whether he was simply laughing at her.
“I will tell you the story the next time we meet,” he said. “In the meantime, let’s tell your father that you went out for a walk and got lost. I happened along and found you.”
Bat Sheva agreed. She wasn’t sure she could lie to her father, but it was worth a try. When they reached the bottom of the hill, her father squared his shoulders and snorted like a bull preparing to charge. Bat Sheva tried to return his gaze, but she couldn’t. His fiery look pierced through her body like horns.
“Nu?” was all he said, waiting for his daughter to explain. But before she could speak, he held up a hand.
“On second thought, I don’t want to hear. Why add the sin of lying to the dishonor you have shown toward your father?”
Bat Sheva lowered her glance to the ground.
“Go to the house!” he commanded.
“But, Abba,” Bat Sheva began.
Hearing his daughter address him in Hebrew made Tevye more enraged than he was, reminding him of the dangerous breaches taking place on the kibbutz all around him, cutting him off from the familiar safeguards of the past.
“Go to the house!” he roared at his daughter.
Blushing, the girl hurried along the path toward the tiny dwellings. Tevye turned to Ben Zion. Under his milkman’s blue work shirt, his muscles were twitching.
“You remember my warning to keep away from my daughter?”
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Reb Tevye,” Ben Zion said. “I found her lost in the valley surrounded by Arabs. I had to barter my horse and my rifle in order to save her.”
“You are a liar,” Tevye accused.
“I am willing to swear by the Five Books of Moses,” Ben Zion avowed.
“I won’t let you profane the Good Book on my account. Nor will I let you profane the honor of my daughter.”
Tevye’s eyes were glowing. His hands squeezed closed as if they were already grasping the veins of Ben Zion’s neck.
“Let’s settle this here and now,” he said.
Ben Zion felt confident that he could fend off the aging milkman, but he had second thoughts about standing in the way of a mad stampeding bull.
“I am telling you the truth,” he said.
“The children saw you ride off with Bat Sheva this morning,” Tevye revealed.
For a moment, Ben Zion was silent. His eyes darted from side to side, like a fox trapped in a barn. Vaguely, he remembered seeing children playing with horseshoes in a yard when he and Bat Sheva had galloped off.
“Please, Tevye, believe me,” he tried to explain. “Nothing happened between us. Not even one kiss.”
A bellow rumbled in Tevye’s chest. He charged forward, hands outstretched, head lowered like a ram. Ben Zion realized that he couldn’t rely on his own strength to save him from the upcoming collision. So he dodged to the side and started to run. Like a gazelle frightened away by a gunshot, he bolted away from the onrushing danger. Tevye stumbled a few lunging steps after him, but the agile youth was already prancing away down the road.
“I’ll kill you!” Tevye shouted, waving his clenched fist in the air. “If you ever speak a word to my daughter again, I’ll rip out your tongue! If you ever dare touch her, I’ll cut off your hands!”
The threat echoed across the hillsides. “Your hands! Your hands!”
Tevye panted for breath. Why didn’t Hodel give birth already, so that he could flee this modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah? The longer they stayed in Shoshana, who knew what fate awaited his daughter?
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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