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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.

“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.

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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