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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Seventeen: The Milkman’s Daughter

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

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.

“What isn’t?”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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.

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." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. 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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