Months passed. Yankele and his family boarded a freighter and headed back to Russia. Guttmacher’s brother either never received, or didn’t bother to answer the letter Tevye had written to him, so Guttmacher’s two orphaned children became permanent fixtures in Tevye’s home. Another addition to the family also arrived. Ruchel and Nachman had a baby – a princess of a girl whom they named Sarah Tzeitl.
Buildings continued to sprout up in the Olat HaShachar colony. The dry beds of the swamp land were plowed. Crops were planted, wheat, barley, maize, and rye. Looking out from the hilltop synagogue, fields and vegetable gardens decorated the landscape like a colorful patchwork quilt. Wagon loads of water melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, beets, and onions were shipped off to the Jaffa market. Citrus trees were planted, but the religious law of orlah, one of the agricultural laws which God had commanded the Jews to obey in the Holy Land, forbade the settlers from eating the fruit for the first three years of its growth. Laws requiring that gleanings and the corner of fields be left for the poor were also strictly observed, as well as the rules governing mixed plantings and tithes. Nachman, who had spent several days in Jaffa studying the agricultural laws with Rabbi Kook, was appointed to oversee their enforcement on the yishuv.
As if it were another law of the land, Arab marauders made periodic raids on the colony, stealing whatever they could lift or uproot. When two bulls were stolen, the settlers began chaining the legs of their livestock at night, but the measure didn’t foil the Arabs. Instead of leading the bulls away, they chopped them up with machetes and hauled them away in pieces. Once again, the Jews complained to the local Turkish officials, but nothing was done to apprehend the offenders. Past experience had taught Tevye that only a decisive response by the Jews would discourage the Arabs from further encroachments. His motion to organize an ambush was accepted. For a week, the Jews hid at night in the small forest of eucalyptus trees which had been planted to dry up the swamp. On the sixth night, a group of armed Arabs snuck out of the sand dunes bordering the colony. Silently, they darted through the darkness toward the barn. With a roar, Tevye rose to his feet and charged forward. Like a platoon following its commander, the other Jews raced out from their hiding places. Their shouts startled the Arabs. Only four of the settlers had rifles, but the roar of their gunfire terrified the thieves. Dropping their weapons, they ran to their horses and fled. Though none of the marauders had been wounded, the Arabs learned a lesson. Half a year passed without a further incident of trespassing or theft.
For the time being, life was a pleasure. A long stretch of spectacular weather arrived. Work progressed in leaps and bounds. At the end of the day, Tevye collapsed into bed in happy exhaustion. He felt that his sins, as well as the sins of the land, had been granted atonement. New life sprouted up everywhere. In his heart, in his house, and in the once desolate fields. Like the fruit of the sabra cactus which grew wild in the hills, the land was thorny and hard on the outside, but sweet and juicy within. As if overnight, wherever the eye looked, instead of swamp and sand, blossoming gardens and orchards covered the landscape.
“Blee ayin hara,” his wife Cannel said.
Anytime Tevye would praise their good fortune, his wife would whisper, “Blee ayin hara,” hoping that the evil eye would not cast its glance on them. It was an expression she had learned from her father. In this world, a man could never be certain what lay ahead. He could never take credit for his achievement and success, believing that his own wisdom and strength had brought him his good fortune. Everything was a blessing from God, and a man had to keep his head humbly bowed and always give thanks to his Maker.
At least for the moment, Tevye’s heart was at peace. As the Rabbis said, why should a man look out for a storm on a clear, sunny day? Or maybe Tevye had said that. Sometimes he couldn’t remember which words of wisdom the Rabbis had written, and which expressions he had coined on his own. Be that as it may, the only small worry that Tevye had was his unmarried daughter.
Ever since her divorce from Perchik, his poor daughter, Hodel, had become the opposite of her usually happy and spontaneous self.
“Why the sad face all of the time?” Tevye asked her. “You should be happy. Thank God that you are finished with that scoundrel.”
But Hodel was not consoled. After all, Perchik had been her whole life. As an impetuous teenager, she had run away from home to marry the man of her dreams. She had torn herself from her family, and from all of their ways. She had followed after him to Siberia, and then, when he had become bitter with the revolutionary cause, she had followed dutifully after him to the Land of Israel. She had trusted in him and shared all of his visions. And now, their great balloon ride had come to a tragic crash. He had introduced her to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, to Shakespeare, Voltaire, and Abraham Lincoln, but what good did it do her now? She was alone. She was abandoned. She was betrayed. The rib she had shared with her husband had cracked. A part of her was missing. Bringing up their child kept her busy, but a child wasn’t a husband. A child wasn’t a man.
Tevye found it difficult to talk to his daughter. He didn’t understand her deeper emotions. To his way of thinking, she was depressed because of the shame. After all, in Anatevka, a divorce was unheard of. If a man and woman didn’t get along, they learned to live with each other for the good of their children. The stigma was so great that a matchmaker wouldn’t even consider arranging a match for person whose parents had divorced. Nonetheless, Tevye told his daughter, if a divorce meant getting rid of an unbeliever like Perchik, it wasn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it was a great mitzvah.
“You don’t understand me at all,’’ she told him sadly. “‘Unfortunately, you never have.”
“That ended their conversation. Perhaps, it was true, Tevye thought. After all, Hodel belonged to a generation which was far different from his. Young minds were full of questions. Simple answers weren’t enough. Tevye’s simple faith was scoffed at. The wisdom of the Sages, all of their insights, and all of their pearls, were looked at as primitive prattle. For the young generation, the existence of God had to be proved! In short, sons and daughters grew up with minds of their own, and parents no longer knew how to answer their bewildering questions.
Strangely, Tevye didn’t have the same problem at all with his wife. Though she was almost the same age as Hodel, she understood Tevye completely. Sometimes Tevye felt that Carmel had slipped into his beloved Golda’s soul, may her memory be for a blessing. True, his young wife was from Yemen, and Jews had lived a sheltered life there. The thought of disagreeing with her husband and challenging his ways never entered her mind. Peace was achieved by giving in to the man of the house. And besides, she truly respected her husband’s life experience and wisdom.
But in Anatevka, living side-by-side with the gentiles, how could a father protect his children from the modern world and the heretical culture it bred? It was no wonder that one generation didn’t get along with the next. Outside of the ghetto, the world changed every day. Now there were automobiles, airplanes, and telephones. The eternal truths stayed the same, but in an age of cameras and fast-moving pictures, who was interested in dusty, worn volumes of Talmud? So, instead of getting into a quarrel with his daughter, Tevye sent his wife to find out what was the matter.
“She needs a new husband,” Carmel said after spending a long evening with Hodel.
Tevye’s wife didn’t know who were Spinoza, Mendelssohn, or Karl Marx, but she knew that Hodel needed a man.
“Did she mention anyone in particular?” Tevye asked.
“No. She’s still too hurt about Perchik to be thinking about getting married again.”
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“You know her better than I do,” Tevye’s wife answered.
“She’s fiery, and stubborn, and is filled with all kinds of highfalutin ideas. I remember that she always liked music, that is, before she learned how to read.”
Carmel was silent. Tevye loved her for that. She knew when to speak up, and when to leave matters to him.
“You know, that isn’t a bad idea” Tevye said.
“Who?” Carmel asked.
Tevye’s wife thought and nodded her head.
“Unless you think he’s too old for her,” Tevye added with a grin.
His wife smiled back. The great difference in their ages was a joyful joke between them.
“Do you want me to suggest it to her?” Carmel asked.
“No, no,” Tevye said. “That would end it before it began. If she thinks that it’s something I’ve planned, she’ll say no just for spite. She may have learned a big lesson about husbands, but if I know my daughter, she still has a stubborn, willful streak. So we have to proceed with caution.”
Tevye grabbed a bottle of wine, and without waiting another minute, he set off to the barracks where the bachelors all slept. The musician was leading a symphony of snoring. Tevye sat on his bed and poked at his friend until he woke up with a startled expression.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“It isn’t good for a man to be alone,” Tevye said.
“You’ve woken me in the middle of the night to tell me that?” Hillel asked.
“It’s time you got married.”
Hillel wiped the sleep from his eyes. “With whom?”
Whispering, Tevye related his plan. The lovelorn musician agreed with a big grin at once. As if concluding a transaction, the father of the bride handed the bottle of wine to the groom.
“L’Chaim,” Tevye said.
“L’Chaim,” Hillel answered. Singing the blessing in the traditional wedding tune, he raised the bottle to his mouth and drank. Then he handed the bottle to Tevye.
“I can’t,” Tevye said. “When I was sinking in the swamp, I made a vow to give up drinking.”
“This isn’t drinking. It’s a toast.”
“A vow is a vow,” Tevye said. “But if my daughter agrees to marry you, I will speak to a rabbi before the wedding to see if I can take a sip or two to celebrate such a great simcha.”
The very next day, outside the packing house of the colony where Hodel worked packing vegetables into the sacks and crates which were sent to the market, a man started singing a love song behind her. It was Hillel. He had been “transferred” from the fields to the packing house to help speed the packing.
Though other unmarried women worked alongside her, with a woman’s intuition, Hodel felt that Hillel’s ballads were being aimed in her direction. By their smiles, the other women seemed to sense it too. As his love songs continued, Hodel felt herself blushing.
Without looking at Hillel, she fastened the lid on a crate of tomatoes and carried it toward one of the wagons. Yentel, the wife of the butcher, walked over beside her.
“Running away from a love song?” she asked.
“Nonsense,” Hodel answered.
He certainly isn’t singing to me. I’m married, and so are Minnie and Ruth.”
“And the other girls are too young to get married.”
“A minstrel doesn’t need a reason to sing,” Hodel answered.
“Perhaps not. But Hillel has been long-faced for months. All of a sudden, you show up, and he turns into a nightingale.”
Again, Hodel blushed. Walking back to her heap of tomatoes, she caught Hillel’s eye. He stared at her with an unabashedly friendly smile, the kind of a smile which a religious man doesn’t give to a woman unless he has serious intentions. With a polite, if frigid, reaction, Hodel set back to her work.
“Can I marry Hillel, the minstrel?” she thought. He was the age of her father! And lame! Not that lameness was a sin, but it certainly wasn’t an attractive quality in a man. “Why does a man have to be attractive?” a voice inside her asked. Her husband, Perchik, had been attractive and where had it gotten her? It turned out that he loved himself more than he had loved her. What did good looks matter if a man was a rogue inside? And in this world, in one way or another, wasn’t everyone lame? No one was perfect, except the Creator, so who was she to look askance at the shortcomings of Hillel or anyone else?
The sweetly sung song courted her ears. Though the lyrics metaphorically spoke of the love between a man and a woman, she knew it was a song about a Jew’s love for God.
“Love, shmov,” she heard her mother’s voice say. “What does love have to do with marriage? A man and a woman are brought together to bring children into the world. They live in the same house to raise up a family. What does love have to do with anything? Cooking, and cleaning, and scrubbing, and folding, and putting up with a man’s moanings and tantrums, that’s love.”
Immersed in her thoughts, Hodel began putting tomatoes into a potato sack. Yentel smiled and gave Hodel a wink as Hillel limped by, lugging a load of tomatoes over to the wagon.
“You’re not a spring chicken anymore yourself,” the older woman whispered, as if reading Hodel’s thoughts.
“Oh stop it,” Hodel protested.
It was ridiculous. How could she marry a man her father’s age?
Just as her mind asked the question, a wagon rode over and stopped a short distance away from the packing house. A mountain of tomatoes had arrived, waiting to be crated and shipped. Tevye was driving. Carmel sat beside him, holding their baby. The boy was big enough now to take along into the fields. While his mother picked tomatoes, little Tzvi Schneur Zalman rested nearby in the shade of an improvised lean-to. With a big, happy grin, Tevye got down from the wagon. He held out his hand and helped Carmel climb down with the child. How happy they seemed, Hodel thought. And though her father was much older than his wife was, they looked like a match made in Heaven.
“More of the Lord’s tomatoes,” Tevye cheerfully said to the packers. “The bounty of the land. Nurtured by hard work and God’s blessing. Sun-ripened tomatoes, harvested out of the remains of a swamp. Treat them gently, dear ladies, for the vegetables I set before you are not plain tomatoes – they are miracles! Yesterday, they were ravenous mosquitoes, and today, instead of them eating people, people are about to eat them!”
Everyone laughed. Tevye’s happiness was infectious.
“How’s my big tomato?” he asked, pinching Hodel’s cheek. Indeed, the way she blushed, there was a resemblance. Strolling off with his wife and child, Tevye stopped to say shalom to his good friend, the musician. Her father liked Hillel, she knew, and her father was a good judge of men, except, of course, in the case of Menachem Mendel, who had conned her father out of the family’s modest savings. If her father liked a man, it meant he was honest. And being a musician, Hillel’s mind certainly wasn’t closed down to art, literature, and creative inquiry, like so many other religious Jews. The beauty of his singing revealed that his soul, like hers, needed unfettered horizons. Yet, at the very same time, he was unquestionably God fearing. As the man of the house, he was sure to pass on the Jewish traditions which had become important to Hodel ever since Tzeitl’s death.
The next evening after dinner, someone knocked on the door of the cottage where Hodel lived with her child and four other young, single women. It was Hillel. Gallantly, he took off his cap and bowed.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he said. “But a wagon load of tomatoes has just arrived from the fields and workers are needed to pack them.”
“Now? In the evening?” Hodel asked.
“The fresher they are, the better price they will command in the market,” he answered. “When the harvest time comes, you can’t tell tomatoes to wait. A wagon is leaving for Jaffa tonight.”
“I’ll get my shawl,” Hodel said with a blush.
Hillel waited outside. They walked to the packing house without speaking. He whistled happily, as if to draw attention away from his limp, which really wasn’t so bad, Hodel decided. At the packing house, a wagon piled high with tomatoes had been left unattended, waiting to be unloaded and packed for shipping, but no other workers were present.
“Where are the others?” Hodel asked.
“I don’t know,” Hillel said.
“Who sent you to fetch me?”
“Shimon,” Hillel answered, making up a tiny little lie for the sake of keeping peace between Tevye and his daughter. For in truth, the wagon load of tomatoes had been Tevye’s idea, and if she found out, she would be furious with her father for interfering in her life.
“Who else is coming?” Hodel asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Without other helpers, this will take us all night.”
“I suppose that it will, but I don’t have anything else on my schedule this evening. Do you.”
“Yes,” Hodel answered, though she really had nothing at all to do once her child went off to bed.
Hillel started pulling tomatoes out of the wagon. They were big, hard, and red – sure to bring a good price at the market.
“Do you ever get lonely?” he asked.
“Lonely?” she repeated, embarrassed by the question.
“Well, I have a child to take care of, and my work.”
“Yes, I know. But an adult person cannot really talk with a child, and certainly not with tomatoes.”
“I can talk to my sisters and friends,” Hodel said.
“Yes, I suppose so. I have no family here in the Holy Land, and the friends that I came with died in the plague, except for Nachman, but he’s busy with his studies and teaching. Before your father got married, we used to live together in the barn, and I used to talk for hours on end with him about everything under the sun. But, of course, I can’t blame him for wanting to get married, can you?”
Hodel was silent. She tried to concentrate on her work, but she felt that something was happening beyond her control. “Can you?” he asked once again.
“Can I what?”
“Blame your father for marrying again? As the Bible says, ‘It is not good for a man to live alone.’”
“Who am I to disagree with the Bible?”
“Don’t they seem happy together? It’s a match made in Heaven. Even though, on the surface, you might never think it possible. I mean she’s from Yemen and he’s a Russian Jew. And of course, their ages are very far apart.”
“My father is young at heart.”
“I feel young at heart too,” Hillel answered. “Look.”
He picked up three tomatoes and started to whistle. It was a familiar tune about being constantly happy. At the same time, he juggled the three tomatoes in the air. His hands moved so fast, Hodel could hardly follow their speed.
“Don’t bruise them,” she said. “Nobody buys bruised tomatoes.”
One by one, Hillel caught them and held them out for her inspection. Not a blemish could be found.
“Playing the accordion makes one’s fingers very nimble. Here, have a look.”
Hillel playfully held out his hands and wiggled his fingers. Thinking he was going to touch her, Hodel gasped and pulled away.
“Don’t worry,” Hillel said, grinning. “I wasn’t going to touch you. After all, this isn’t Paris.”
Hodel blushed. The lantern-light picked up the reddish glow of the tomatoes and cast it over her cheeks.
“You have been to Paris?” she asked.
“No, but I have read several classics of Hugo which unfold in the enchanted courtyards of the city.”
“You have read Victor Hugo?” Hodel asked in surprise.
“Why certainly. Do I look like an ostrich that has his head in the ground? I love literature as much as I love music. In fact, other than the Bible, I think that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favorite book. Have you read it?”
“Yes, I have,” Hodel confessed. It was one of the books Perchik had given to her, to show her how the peasant class must be freed.
“Quasimodo is my favorite character,” Hillel said. “You can understand how a lame musician like myself could identify with a hunchbacked bell ringer. Tell me, do you think that Esmeralda came to recognize the inner beauty of his soul?”
“Yes, I’m sure that she did,” Hodel answered. “I’m sure that she realized that he was someone entirely different inside.”
“I found the end especially poignant. When the Hunchback and Esmeralda are discovered buried together in a grave. Of course in Judaism it’s unthinkable, but I felt that Hugo found the perfect metaphor to reveal that in the real world of souls, beyond the fleeting imprisonment of our bodies, they were truly a match made in Heaven.”
“Yes,” Hodel said, swept away by Hillel’s discourse. Looking at him, his faced seemed to change. For the first time since she had met him, she glanced deeply into his eyes, discovering the gentle, passionate, deeply-sincere man inside. His gaze struck a chord in her heart, more powerful than words. For a long moment, all barriers seemed to collapse. In the very same moment, they both understood that they were two lonely people, brought together on account of something more than tomatoes. When the moment began to linger too long, they both glanced away.
“Of course,” Hillel said, bringing them back to safer ground, “I feel that the Bible and our own Jewish literature should command the most honored place in the home, but I see no reason why serious artistic works can’t be given a respected place also. Naturally, books have to be screened by parents for any heretical ideas that could lead children astray, but I believe that Judaism isn’t a fragile glass structure which can’t withstand novel ideas, whatever their source.”
“Yes,” Hodel said, feeling weak in her knees.
She was spellbound to have found such sensitivity in a face adorned by dangling sidelocks and a beard. But it was truly a beautiful face, filled with gentleness, happiness, and wisdom.
That night, after packing a few thousand tomatoes, Hodel collapsed into bed. Her eyes stared up at the roof of the tent which she shared with some younger girls. Even though she was exhausted, she couldn’t fall asleep. Not because of the heat, nor the crowing of roosters who forgot that they were supposed to keep still until morning. She couldn’t get to sleep because of a dizzying feeling she had. When she closed her eyes, she saw her sister, Tzeitl, smiling. If Tzeitl approved, it meant that Hodel had found the right man.
She woke up after dawn, dressed in her clothes. Her little boy, Ben Zion, was still fast asleep. Quickly, she rushed to the cottage of her father. He was still wearing his prayer shawl and tefillin. Seeing his daughter, he finished his devotions.
“I woke up too late for the minyan,” he said, explaining why he was davening at home, and not in the shul.
“I have something to tell you,” Hodel said, taking an extra breath for courage.
Tevye glanced over at his wife with an innocent expression.
So early in the morning?” he said, lifting the small black tefillin box off of his head. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything is fine, Abba, finally.”
“Finally?” Tevye asked. “What can that mean?”
“It means I have news.”
“Good news, I hope. Otherwise, it would be better if I first ate my breakfast. Then we can get on with your riddles.”
“I think I want to marry Hillel,” she announced.
“Hillel!” he roared. Theatrically, he spun around as if in great surprise. With his mouth hanging open, he fell into a chair, still draped in his tallit. Carmel turned her back so that Hodel wouldn’t see her laughter.
“Hillel, the accordion player?” Tevye asked.
“That’s right,” Hodel answered. “Do we know any other?”
“He’s almost twice your age!” her father protested.
“So? What’s wrong with that? Look at you and Carmel.”
Like a born actor, Tevye looked over at his wife and back at his daughter. A flabbergast expression filled his whole face.
That’s true,” he said. “And we are certainly happy, blee ayin hara. But tell me. When did all of this happen?”
“Well, it hasn’t happened yet. I mean, he hasn’t proposed. But I know that he will if I give him a sign. Only I wanted to ask your opinion.”
“My opinion?” Tevye said, standing up in wonder. “You have come to ask your father’s opinion? Can this really be Hodel that I see before me? My little girl, Hodel? When did you ever ask my opinion before?”
“I’m not the same little girl that I was in Anatevka. I’ve learned a few lessons. Other things are important to me now.”
Tevye removed the tefillin which was still on his head. Lovingly, he gave the small, black box a kiss. Inside was parchment penned with the words of the Shema Yisrael prayer.
“Bless the Lord Who has kept me alive to see this day,” Tevye said.
“Well?” Hodel asked.
“Is Hillel a good choice?”
Dramatically, Tevye paused. He put his fist to his chin as if thinking. Then he nodded his head. “Yes, he’s a good choice. He’s a good, honest man. He’ll make a good, faithful husband. And a wonderful father to your children, may you be blessed with many more.”
Hodel rushed into his arms.
“Oh, Abba,” she said. “I’m so glad.”
Hodel and Hillel were married two weeks later. If Hillel was lame, no one would have known it from the way that he danced at the wedding. His feet never seemed to touch the ground.
And, of course, the bride’s father was in fine form himself, hugging all of his friends, and dancing up a storm. For just this one occasion, Nachman said that Tevye could drink a glass of wine, since Hillel had given his new father-in-law the honor of reciting the marriage blessing of “boreh pree hagefen,” thanking God for having created the fruit of the vine.
Seemingly a lifetime ago, Tevye had stood at the Russian railway station saying a tearful goodbye to his daughter. Today, embracing her under the nuptial chuppah, he felt like he was once again saying hello.Tzvi Fishman
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. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" will be available soon as a DVD.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.