Latest update: April 17th, 2013
Tevye frowned. He wanted to tell his daughter how foolish she was, but remembering the dead man in the wagon, he resisted the temptation to begin a lengthy discussion.
“Come to Olat HaShachar if you can,” Tevye said, walking back to the wagon. “We would all love to see you.”
Hava promised that she would try to come for a visit. Giving her father a kiss, she waved goodbye, and the men set off in the wagon.
“Involved in his studies?” Tevye wondered, riding away with Guttmacher’s corpse. “What man could be so involved with his studies to ignore his young wife right after their marriage? Not only that, but Hevedke, or Issac, as he called himself now, had been separated from Hava for over a year. Like a mad, panting dog, he had followed her across half of the world, and now he was content to see her every few months? Something smelled fishy. As the Rabbis taught – a man is a man, and not an angel. At the first opportunity, Tevye made up his mind to investigate. If that smooth-talking imposter had some other woman in Jaffa, Tevye would make sure he boarded the first steamship leaving for Russia.
In the middle of the night, they reached the ghost town on the dark Morasha hillside. Their Arab neighbors had not only razed the houses and barns, they had also smashed gravestones and desecrated the small Jewish cemetery. Tevye gazed at the scene in despair.
“It’s good that we came,” Ariel said. “There is other work to do here besides burying Guttmacher. In Yemen, the Moslems would desecrate our cemeteries all of the time.”
Late the next evening, Tevye and Ariel returned to Olat HaShachar. Long before they could see the colony of tents, the stink of the swamps filled their nostrils. An ocean breeze wafted the nauseating stench into their faces, reminding Tevye that come morning, he was to take Guttmacher’s place in the swamp. Tevye was exhausted, but he felt he had made the right decision. The undertaker was now resting peacefully beside the graves of his wife and his daughter.
The ordeal was over for Guttmacher, but for his children, it was just getting underway. Tevye had to tell them the heartbreaking news. The milkman had already decided to take care of the orphans if they wanted to stay in Palestine. There was room in his tent. They were both nearing the age of bar mitzvah – they were old enough to decide for themselves. Why return to Russia? What future was waiting for them there? In any event, God would provide for their needs. As far as Tevye was concerned, they could even share some of the money which the Baron had given to Moishe and Hannei.
Arriving at the colony, Tevye trudged off to his tent. He would tell the children in the morning. Now he needed to sleep. But surprisingly, his wife was not home. Where could she be at this hour of the night? Stepping outside, he saw a group of dark figures down the path leading toward Bat Sheva’s tent. Coming closer, he made out his wife, Carmel, standing with her father and one of her sisters. They didn’t have to say a word for Tevye to sense that bad news awaited. Their usually smiling expressions were as somber as the night. Inside the tent, Ariel sat by the bed, holding Bat Sheva’s limp hand. In the dim candlelight, Tevye could see beads of sweat on her forehead. He stood frozen, unable to believe the sight confronting his eyes. His other daughter, Ruchel, stood up from a chair when her father appeared. Ariel turned and looked up at Tevye. The hollow gaze in his eyes made the older man tremble.
“How is she’?” Tevye asked.
Ariel shook his head. “Come see for yourself.”
Tevye stepped closer and gazed down at his daughter, his beautiful, beautiful daughter. All of the rosiness was gone from her cheeks. All of the life was drained from her features. In the flickering candlelight, she looked like she had already been claimed by some other world.
“She has been sleeping all day,” Carmel said, taking her place beside her crestfallen husband. “Yesterday, after lunchbreak, she said she felt too weak to return to the swamp. We found her in bed with a fever. She managed to sip a little quinine, but then she passed out. We’ve tried to wake her, but she doesn’t seem to hear.”
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.
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