“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.