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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.

“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.”

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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