Word arrived that boatloads of new Jewish immigrants from Russia were arriving in Jaffa. Rumors spread that a wave of bloody pogroms were causing thousands of Jews to flee from their homes. Every settler was anxious to learn which villages had been attacked. Everyone had friends and relatives in Russia, and, of course, all of the settlers were worried about their fate. Not only was the Czar’s empire in turmoil, all of Europe was quaking in the throes of a cataclysmic war. As if overnight, enlightened, “civilized” Germany had become a raging, bloodthirsty beast. At least for the moment, the remote Turkish province of Palestine was far away from the conflict.
More often than not, the Turkish authorities refused to grant permission to allow the boatloads of immigrants to disembark. Many Jews had to sail back to Russia or Italy. Others journeyed on to Egypt. The fortunate and the brave either swam, or were secretly ferried ashore along the desolate Mediterranean coastline. Among the Jews who received legal papers, and among those who didn’t, a trickle found their way to Olat HaShachar.
With all of the building on the settlement, and with the success of their first two harvests, a decision had to be made. To keep up with the rate of development and expansion, more workers were needed. If the pioneers of Olat HaShachar truly wanted to conquer the land, they first had to conquer the workload. Presently there were not enough hands. Acres and acres of farmable land lay untouched. Sand dunes waited to be leveled and turned into vineyards. Barren wasteland waited to be transformed into pastures. The possibilities for growth were endless, but many more workers were needed.
One afternoon, a group of thirty young Jews marched into the colony. None had beards, and many didn’t even wear caps. Their backpacks were filled with apples, bread, blankets, and coconut oil, which some used for cooking and others for protecting their skin in the sun. They were led by a distinguished gentleman named Dr. Arthur Ruppin. He explained that the new immigrants had all joined his workers’ union, which he fittingly called “The Workers of Zion.” The goal of the movement was to unite all of the Jewish labor in Palestine, secure favorable terms for the workers, and thus make the Jews of the land independent, without having to depend on Arab labor to survive. Ruppin told Shimon, Tevye, Elisha, and a crowd of curious settlers, that the worker’s union was willing to hire out the laborers to the colony for minimal wages and board.
While the veteran pioneers gathered around the new immigrants to learn what was happening in Russia, Shimon took Tevye and a small group of other settlement leaders aside.
“This is a godsend,” Shimon said. “We’ve been desperate for workers for months.”
“Now we can get rid of the Arabs we hired to work in the fields,” Elisha added.
“Hiring these Jews will surely cost us much more,” Baruch said. He was Shimon’s right-hand man, in charge of the administration of the colony.
“Not according to this Ruppin,” Shimon answered.
“It’s too good to be true,” Tevye said.
The others all turned to him.
“What do you mean?” Shimon said.
“I thank the good Lord for every Jew who steps foot in the Land of Israel. But, I am sorry to say, I don’t see any rabbis among them.”
“Tevye’s right,” Sharagi agreed. “Do we want so many free-thinkers living in Olat HaShachar? They nearly outnumber us.”
“They will only be hired workers,” Shimon answered. “They won’t have a say in how we run the yishuv, nor a vote in our general assemblies.”
“Even if they don’t have a vote, their presence is sure to be a dangerous influence,” Tevye said. “I’ve raised seven daughters, and I know the pitfalls of exposing young minds to their godless ideas. Thank the good Lord, all of my daughters are married, but there are others who could be courting disaster.”
The others were momentarily silent. Elisha realized the reality of the problem. He still had three unmarried daughters and half a minyan of young, impressionable sons. Everyone turned toward Nachman.
“First we have to look at the new arrivals as our beloved Jewish brothers,” he said. “Their desire to join us in rebuilding our land is a wonderful thing. By being here, they will be exposed to the treasures of Judaism and the beauty of the Torah. As the great Sage, Hillel, taught us – we should be like the disciples of Aharon, loving our brethren and bringing them closer to Torah. At the same time, we have to be careful to put a guarding fence around our sacred beliefs, as Reb Tevye has rightly observed.”
Shimon decided the proper thing to do was to call a general meeting so that everyone could express their opinion. One thing was clear – the colony needed more workers. Reluctantly, they had hired Arabs to work in the fields during harvest time and planting. Besides the disappearance of animals and tools which always occurred when Arab workers were hired, there was always a feeling that security-wise, it was dangerous to have outside workers overly familiar with the day-to-day workings of the colony. So that now, when Jews showed up demanding the right to work, how could the settlers of Olat HaShachar turn them away?
When all of the men in the colony had finished voicing their views, Shimon proposed that the workers be given a six-month trial. A vote was taken and the proposal passed by an overwhelming margin. In fact, only Tevye and Eliahu dissented. A formal contract with Ruppin was signed, and the workers were given quarters in a half-empty barn, where they were invited to sleep on the ground. In the morning, they were given tea and chunks of black bread. Singing a medley of Russian tunes, the happy new immigrants set off to work.
When the Arab workers arrived, Shimon met them and told them that their labor was no longer needed. Clearly displeased, they hung around for several hours with scowls on their faces before stalking off into the dunes.
The new immigrants set to their tasks with a passion, wanting to prove that they could provide the colony with invaluable help. Their spirits never seemed to tire, spurred on by their dreams of rebuilding Zion, and by the Histadrut’s goal of conquering the work market for the Jews.
The first problem occurred on the Sabbath. While the settlers of Olat HaShachar were praying, a boy came into the synagogue and reported that the new immigrants were working with their tools in the fields! With their white prayer shawls billowing behind them in the wind, everyone ran out of the synagogue, as if a fire was raging in one of the barns.
“Stop! Stop!” everyone screamed as they ran to halt the unheard of desecration of the holy Sabbath.
The workers were startled at the sight. When they were told to immediately cast down their tools, a fiery argument broke out.
They had come to Olat HaShachar to work. They wanted to work on the Sabbath just like any other day of the week. They wanted to keep building the land, and they wanted to be paid for each day of their labor.
“Our work isn’t bothering anyone. What do you care?” one of the workers asked.
Shimon tried to explain the prohibition of working on the Sabbath, but talking about the Bible to the Zionists was like trying to convince a child to eat a food he doesn’t like. His entreaties fell on deaf ears. As long as the workers lacked respect for the laws of the Torah, to them one day was the same as the next.
Under the threat that the workers would leave Olat HaShachar to work in a non-religious kibbutz, it was decided after the Sabbath was over to pay them double for the work they did on Friday, so that they too would welcome the Sabbath’s rest.
“In effect,” Tevye said, “they are getting paid not to work on the Sabbath. I say we get rid of them now.”
Once again, his advice was ignored. Everyone could see the benefit which the extra manpower would bring to the colony. And with harvest-time coming, there was an overabundance of work to be done in the fields.
It turned out that Dr. Ruppin had only come with the workers to negotiate their contract. After he left, a tall, quick-witted youth proclaimed himself manager of the group. It was his job, he said, to secure better conditions for his comrades and to guard them from being exploited. Instead of living with the cows in the barn, he demanded a barracks just for the workers. And the barracks had to have beds.
“The better we sleep, the better we work,” Zeev, the young, union leader, announced.
Though Tevye naturally liked people, and though he tried his best to judge others in a positive light, the self-assured youth made him wary. He reminded Tevye of Ben Zion and Perchik. All of them were filled with avalanches of good intention; all of them abounded with idealism and spirit; all of them could make a man dizzy with slogans and speeches, but where did all of their glib talk and charisma lead? To a breakdown of tradition. Not only that, Tevye warned his friend Elisha to keep an eye on his unmarried daughters.
Just as Tevye had prophesied, it wasn’t easy to restrict the workers and their foreign ideas to the barn. After their first few weeks in the colony, the newcomers began to mingle with the families on the yishuv. Only naturally, the new immigrants were invited to join in Sabbath meals. Nachman said it would bring the workers closer to a yearning for Judaism. For the most part, they had grown up in Russia in families who had strayed from the fold. They had never had an opportunity to discover the Sabbath’s great inner beauty. True to Nachman’s hopes, a few of the workers developed a sincere interest in learning more about Torah. But, just as Tevye had predicted, the interaction went in both directions.
Munsho, the blacksmith, was the first to feel the experiment’s painful sting. One day, his teenage daughter was missing. A search of the fields and the barracks revealed that one of the workers was missing as well. It turned out they had gone to the beach “for a walk.” Munsho kept the girl in the house for two weeks as a lesson and gave the worker a no-nonsense punch in the nose. Then Sharagi, the scribe, found his son smoking cigarettes which he had bought from one of the workers. And in the house of Shilo, the carpenter, a volume of plays by a writer named Henrick Ibsen was found under the eldest girl’s pillow.
When Guttmacher’s boy, Dovid, walked into Tevye’s house holding the writings of Spinoza in his arms, Tevye exploded. Just a few months before, he had accompanied the lad up to the Torah to recite his bar mitzvah portion and to become a full-fledged adult, responsible to observe all of the teachings of Moses. Proudly, like a father, Tevye had guided the orphaned child to love the Torah and its commandments. This was the least he could do for his good friend, the undertaker, may his final rest be in peace. As long as Guttmacher’s brother failed to answer the letters which Tevye sent, Tevye was still the boy’s guardian, and he was damned if he would allow heretical poison to enter the young lad’s head. Grabbing Dovid by the collar, Tevye dragged him into the fields to point out the culprit who had given him the poisonous writings. Angrily, Tevye tossed the book in the dirt.
“If you ever lend a book to one of the children again,” Tevye warned him, “I’ll make you eat it, page after page.”
But the greatest danger fell on the house of Elisha. Being one of the wagon drivers who hauled the settlement produce to the market, he was frequently away from his house. In the innocence of his heart, he had invited the union leader, Zeev, to join his family in a Sabbath meal. The youth behaved with respect and decorum, asking about the different customs and ritual blessings, as if he were truly interested in learning about his roots. With an embarrassed smile, he confessed that he had received no Jewish education in his home, nor at the gentile school he had attended in Russia. His questions were insightful and seemingly sincere, with none of the cynical glibness which could be heard in the workers’ barracks. The evening meal had been so pleasant for everyone, Elisha invited Zeev back again. A natural friendship seemed to sprout between the guest and Elisha’s son, Yigal. During their leisure hours, the two strapping youths could be found invariably together, racing their horses over the sand dunes, or running like stallions along the great white stretch of beach which extended almost uninterrupted all along the country’s Mediterranean coastline.
What Elisha didn’t notice was the attraction which had developed between the union leader and Moriah, the Yemenite’s daughter. At first, it consisted of surreptitious glances, more bold on his part than hers, but Zeev could tell from her blushes that she liked him. From the first time he saw her, he was drawn to her dark, exotic beauty. Without any doubt, she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life. Even before they ever spoke with one another, he felt an attraction for her which gave him no rest. Eating dinner with her family, he asked questions and nodded politely because he wanted to be invited for other Sabbath meals. He enjoyed Yigal’s company, but in the back of his mind, there was always another reason for their friendship – the hope that Yigal would be his conduit to the girl. He knew that if he asked Elisha’s permission to meet with his daughter, his invitations would end. Their worlds were simply too different. And if he approached the timid girl directly, he felt she would be frightened away. So without any evil intention, he became the best of friends with her brother.
One day when Elisha had driven the wagon off to Jaffa, Zeev suggested to Yigal that they take Moriah along on a picnic. Yigal wasn’t surprised in the least. He sensed that his friend harbored secret feelings for his sister. Why not, he thought? What harm could come of it? It would be good for his sister to get out of the house.
They walked through the undulating sand dunes toward the beach. As usual, Zeev did most of the talking. He had become Yigal’s tutor, teaching him about literature, world history, and modern political thought. For Yigal, his friendship with Zeev opened exciting new worlds. Growing up in a tiny village in backward Yemen, he had received no formal education at all. He could recite the whole Torah by heart, but he had never learned how to read, and he had absolutely no knowledge about secular subjects. So he was happy that he had found a friend like Zeev who could lead him out of his intellectual darkness. Moriah also found it fascinating to listen to Zeev’s descriptions of novels and plays. When they arrived at the beach, Moriah sat in the shade of a palm tree, her head turned modestly away as the two youths stripped to their undergarments and sprinted into the water. Moriah was startled at her brother’s behavior. Going for a swim was perfectly natural, but undressing in her presence with another man, that was unheard of. She felt like heading home on her own, but she feared that she would get lost, or encounter Bedouins on the way. She didn’t want to spoil their fun. They wrestled in the water, and threw one another under the waves, without ever seeming to tire. When they finished, they raced along the beached, then circled back, and began wrestling again in the sand. Modestly, Moriah kept her gaze focused in another direction, but she had glimpsed enough of Zeev’s arms and legs to be filled with conflicting emotions.
Finally, the friends slipped on their trousers, and they all sat down for a picnic. Though Zeev didn’t speak with her directly, she felt that all of his speeches were meant for her ears. Occasionally, he would throw an endearing smile her way, and a few times he asked her opinion, but she was too tongue-tied to answer and could only say that she didn’t know.
By evening time, when they returned to the colony, Zeev was madly in love. As far as he was concerned, the girl didn’t have to talk. She didn’t have to be intelligent and witty. She was beautiful the way she was. She had an innocence and naturalness he felt he had to possess for his own. There were girls from Russia whom had joined their journey to Palestine, but Moriah outshone them all. She was the dream of Zion itself, magical, golden, and Biblically pure. With the same passion he had to conquer the land, he longed to conquer the girl.
The opportunity presented itself in a roundabout way. Two months after the workers arrived in Olat HaShachar, Dr. Ruppin, the union’s founder, returned to inspect operations. After talking to his workers and hearing their complaints, he took Zeev aside. A new group was heading off to join the work force in Midbara, a non-religious kibbutz on the edge of the Negev, not far from the port city of Gaza. Ruppin wanted Zeev to go along as group leader.
“Leave Olat HaShachar?” he asked.
“That’s right,” Ruppin said.
“But I’m happy here.”
“That’s good. A worker should be happy. But you can just as easily be happy somewhere else.”
“But our work is only just beginning.”
“I’ll appoint someone to replace you. Things seem to be well organized here. Moral is high amongst the workers, and the settlers are satisfied with worker productivity. You’ve done a commendable job. That’s why we need you down south.”
“Can I have an hour to think about it?” Zeev asked.
“I suppose an hour won’t hurt. But, remember, you are a soldier of the union. What matters is the general good. If we want to build a worker state in this country, we have to be willing to make personal sacrifices.”
Zeev nodded at Ruppin’s speech, believing every word. In different circumstances, he would have said the same thing himself. As a rule, personal matters shouldn’t interfere with the needs of the collective. But how could he leave Moriah?
Quickly, he rushed to meet Yigal, who was working on the construction of a silo. Pulling him aside, he told him that the union had appointed him to be the leader of a new group setting off for a kibbutz in the south. He wanted Yigal to join him. He said that they shared the same goals, and that they were brothers at heart. More than that, Zeev confessed that he was in love with Moriah, and that he wanted to make her his wife as soon as he could. He knew that their father wouldn’t let her marry an unreligious man like himself, so he had kept his love secret. Now, before he left for the Negev, Zeev wanted Yigal to tell his sister how much he loved her. If she had the courage to follow him to Midbara, they would be married there. But he warned him – if their father learned of their plans, he would surely interfere. So if Moriah wanted Zeev for a husband, she would have to sneak away on her own.
Dutiful friend that he was, Yigal told his sister everything Zeev had said. Blushing, the innocent girl was too stunned to react. Mingled with the excitement she felt was a fear of her father. A fear of what he would say. A fear of what he would do. A fear of hurting her parents. A fear of the passions swirling within her. And a fear to strike out on her own.
Yigal told her that he was going to Midbara with Zeev. He would be there if she came. She wouldn’t be alone without family, he assured her.
“You don’t have to decide right away.”
“Why?” she asked. “Why are you going?”
Yigal reflected before he answered the question.
“I want to be on my own,” he responded. “I want to be free. I want to decide for myself how I want to live my life, without having the past decide for me.”
His words struck a chord in her heart.
“In Yemen, all of the Jews were religious,” he said. “I never knew there was any other way to be. But here, in Eretz Yisrael, there are Jews who don’t follow the Torah. Zeev says that there are millions of them all over the world. Maybe their way is right. Look at our family. We never even learned how to read a book or write. Just because father says that Joshua blew a shofar and the walls of Jericho fell down, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. I have to find out for myself.”
If Moriah had been uncertain, her brother’s eloquence cast out the doubt from her heart. Her eyes were shining.
“Tell him I’ll join him,” she said.
“I’ll come back for you in thirty days. We’ll meet at dawn at the southern entrance to the colony. If I am not there, I will come the same time the next day. Take along whatever you need, but don’t tell anyone. We’ll send word to father after you’ve left.”
Yigal said good-bye to his sister and hurried off to look for his father. He found him outside the packing house, lifting sacks of produce into his wagon. Yigal helped throw a few heavy sacks of potatoes onto the load, then turned to break the news to his father.
“I have something to tell you, Abba.”
Elisha looked at him with a kind, loving smile.
I have decided to leave the yishuv.”
His father’s expression didn’t change. He stared at his son with a smile, absorbing the words.
“A new group of workers is going off to join a kibbutz in the south, and I want to go with them. I want some time to be on my own.”
His father nodded. “Are you going alone?”
“No. I’ll be going with Zeev.”
“With Zeev,” his father repeated. His wise eyes narrowed in understanding. “What kind of kibbutz is it?”
“A worker’s kibbutz.”
“What kind of workers?”
“Good, hard-working Jews.”
“Do these good, hard-working Jews keep the Torah?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
His father wiped the sweat off of his gleaming, golden brow. The lines in his forehead stuck out like the furrows of a field.
“And if I refuse to give my permission?”
“I am going to go anyway,” Yigal answered. “I’m old enough to decide my future on my own.”
It was the first time in Yigal’s life that he had challenged the ways of his father, and he could feel his knees tremble.
“Is this your idea, or your friend’s?”
His father’s eyes seemed to peer into his soul. For a moment, Yigal couldn’t find words to answer.
“Are you sure they are our kind of people?” Elisha asked.
“Look at you,” the youth said. “We are the only Yemenites on this settlement. You get along with the settlers from Russia, why shouldn’t I?”
“Yes, that’s true. But this settlement is religious. All of our neighbors are God-fearing Jews. That’s the main thing. Our family has been religious for four-thousand years. Will you be the first link to break in the chain because of some modern ideas?”
Yigal trembled. This was precisely the yoke he wanted to throw off his back. He wanted to feel free, to experience life for himself, without always having to haul a wagon load of history behind him.
“Don’t worry, Abba. I know what I am doing.”
Elisha nodded, but he didn’t seem convinced. His son waited for a hug good-bye, but instead, his father turned away and picked up a sack of potatoes.
Later that night, Tevye poured his friend a comforting glass of vodka. He kept a bottle in the house for occasions like these, even though he himself no longer imbibed.
“Do I have to drink alone in my sorrow?” the Yemenite asked.
“A vow is a vow,” Tevye answered with a shrug.
Elisha recited a blessing and drank. His face twisted into a snarl as the harsh Ashkenazic beverage flowed down his throat.
“You shouldn’t be disheartened,” Tevye said. “With God’s help, it will turn out for the best. Didn’t my daughter, Hodel, run off with a free thinker? And today she is married to Hillel. And things with my Hava started out even worse. But today, her Hevedke is a Talmudic scholar. Your son will find his way home, don’t you worry.”
“Tell me what I did wrong?” Elisha wondered.
Carmel couldn’t bear seeing her father’s chagrin. She put a shawl on her shoulders and quietly slipped out of the house to see how her mother was reacting to Yigal’s departure.
“It’s the new generation,” Tevye said. “What can you do? When they get to be teenagers, they start going crazy.”
“My son’s head is filled with questions and doubts.”
“My girls were the same.”
“Why don’t they come to us for the answers?”
“Eventually, they do. When they find out that life is different than the romances in all of their head-spinning books.”
“You warned me,” Elisha said.
“A man has to learn for himself. When you invited the devil into your house, you thought you were doing a good deed.”
“You’re my friend. I should have listened to you.”
“We are a stubborn people. That’s why God loves us. Who else in the world would have remained faithful to Him after all we’ve been through?”
Elisha shook his head back and forth.
“How can it be that for thousands of years in Yemen, we lived faithful to all of our traditions, and here in our Biblical homeland, my son is lured away by a Jew who never learned a sentence of Torah?”
Tevye nodded, sharing his friend’s deep perplexity. Absently, his hand grasped the vodka bottle. The question demanded a drink. He tilted the bottle to pour a glass for himself, but remembering his vow, he set it back down on the table.
“He’ll return,” Tevye assured him.
Elisha managed a smile. But when his daughter, Moriah, disappeared one month later, his heart felt like it had been wrenched from his chest. She hadn’t even wished him good-bye. She hadn’t said a word to him, nor to her mother, nor to any of her brothers or sisters. The only thing she had left behind was a letter from Zeev, which Elisha gave to his friend Tevye to read.
“I apologize that I could not meet with you in person,” the letter began, “to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage, but I felt that you would not give us your blessing, and that you would try to interfere, so we decided to be married on our own. We love one another and are doing what will make us the happiest. I respect you, your family, and your daughter with the utmost regard, and I assure you that I shall do everything in my power to be a good husband, to provide for Moriah, and to put her happiness above that of my own. We will be living in a kibbutz called Midbara, five kilometers northeast of Gaza. While the kibbutz is not religious, Moriah is welcome to keep whatever customs she likes. We hope that you will visit us soon. Yigal sends you his greetings and his love, and he asks me to assure you that he is happy with his work, with his new friends on the kibbutz, and with the workers’ union. May our dreams for our own Jewish statehood be quickly realized, and may the winds of war sweeping through Europe bring an end to the rule of the Turks in our land.”
The letter came as a shock to Elisha. He collapsed down in a chair in Tevye’s house. His daughter, Carmel, hurried to warm up some soothing herb tea.
“At least she wasn’t kidnapped,” Tevye said, trying to cheer his friend’s spirits.
“Wasn’t she?” he asked.
“I mean by an Arab or Turk, God forbid.”
“Yes,” Elisha answered softly. “I suppose there is some consolation in that.”
“Gaza is not so far away. The journey, I think, can be made in two days.”
“Have you been there?” Elisha asked.
“No. But I’ve heard the workers talk about it.”
“What’s down there?”
“Desert. Date trees. A few Bedouin tribes. A small city of Turkish soldiers, Arabs, and Jews, and a port that doesn’t seem to be used. There’s an old synagogue there, some say from the time that King David conquered the region. I think the railroad which goes from Jaffa to Cairo stops there.”
“Why didn’t she tell me?” Elisha asked with a mixture of wonder and hurt.
No one could offer an answer. Instead, Carmel set a cup of hot nanna mint tea before him.
“I am beginning to be sorry that I ever stepped foot in this land,” the Yemenite said.
“Oh, Abba, don’t say that,” Carmel protested.
“Everyone has his tests,” Tevye added. “You once said so yourself.”
Elisha looked up at his friend. He remembered the death of Tevye’s daughter, Bat Sheva. He remembered walking with Tevye to the synagogue and telling him that he had to be strong. He remembered repeating the very same words to eldest son, Ariel, who had married Bat Sheva just a short time before. Yes, he decided. He too had to be strong. He still had eight children at home to look after, thank God. And, in the merit of their forefathers, Yigal and Moriah might still find their way back to the fold.
“What did he write about war?” Elisha asked to take his mind off the subject.
“He said there were winds of war sweeping Europe.”
“What does that mean?” the Yemenite asked.
Tevye gazed back down at the letter. “I’m not really sure. Maybe the conflict is spreading. Let’s hope that the Germans attack Russia and wipe out the Czar and his soldiers, may they be cursed to a thousand lifetimes in hell.”
“What did he say about Palestine?”
“He seems to think that Turkish rule over Palestine may be overthrown too.”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t say.”
Elisha said he would try to find out on his next trip to Jaffa. Once again, Tevye had comforted him in his gloom. But Elisha’s personal hardship was only a warning that was destined to spread. The very next Sabbath, the peaceful Friday night meal of the settlers was interrupted by loud raucous music. Everyone rushed out of their houses. Music on Shabbos? It was absolutely forbidden. Nonetheless, the merry strains of an accordion and fiddle shattered the serenity of the sacred Sabbath night.
That wasn’t all. Tevye stopped short in his tracks as he ran toward the worker’s barracks. Not only was there music. There was dancing. But not the kind of dancing familiar to the Jews of Olat HaShachar. This dancing was with men and women together! To the beat of the music, they whirled around and around, holding hands and singing, as if they were purposefully mocking the sanctity of the day. Out of nowhere, three musicians and a wagon load of women had arrived to boost worker moral. The settlers of Olat HaShachar stood in speechless wonder. It was impossible to tell who yelled out first, Tevye, Shimon, Munsho, or Shilo. Simultaneously, they charged forward, raising threatening hands. The young girls screamed. The dancing immediately halted. The powerful blacksmith grabbed the accordion and hurled it through the air. It landed with a protesting, out-of-tune clang. Shimon snatched the fiddle and snapped it in half. Only the clarinet player managed to escape with his instrument intact.
Enraged workers started pushing the settlers away. Arguments erupted. Soon everyone was shoving somebody else. In the free-for-all, the holiness of the Sabbath was forgotten.
The girls who had come from a nearby kibbutz fled to their wagon to keep away from the fight. Here and there a punch was exchanged, but most of the brawl was just pushing. The workers were furious. What right did the settlers have to interfere in their party? It was their day of vacation – they could do what they wanted. They didn’t bother the settlers; why should the settlers bother them? There was no law in the country against music and dancing. If the settlers wanted to be religious, that was their business, but they couldn’t tell the workers how to live.
The settlers argued that they were in charge of the colony. If the workers didn’t want to respect the laws of the Torah, they could gather their belongings and leave. What they did in the barracks was their business, but a public infringement of Shabbos screamed out to Heaven. And mixed dancing! That was the gateway to unthinkable sins!
“I demand that they leave our settlement now,” Sharagi angrily shouted. “What will protect us in this land if not our observance of the Torah?”
“Our strength will protect us, and our weapons, and our spirit!” one of the workers retorted.
Suddenly, a group of settlers charged at the wagon. The workers rushed to rescue the terrified girls. More pushing and shoving erupted. One worker gave Tevye a push, while another crouched down behind him on all fours. Tevye toppled backwards and landed on the tail of his spine. The fall left him moaning. In the noisy melee, the driver of the wagon made a hasty getaway. Women from the colony shouted out curses, as if they were chasing the devil away. Gradually, the quarrel subsided, and the settlers returned to the cold Sabbath food on their tables.
By the end of the Sabbath, Tevye’s traitorous vertebra had slipped back into place and he felt well enough to attend the emergency general meeting. After a heated debate, it was decided that the hired workers would have to agree to conditions if they wanted to be employed by the colony. First and foremost, no violation of the Sabbath would be tolerated. Secondly, the rules of the holidays and the kosher laws would have to be observed. Thirdly, workers were forbidden to hand out propaganda or literature in any form whatsoever. And there would be no public gatherings without the consent of the settlement board. Any worker who refused to sign his assent to the rules would not be employed. Only Shimon and Nachman objected to the strictness of the edict. Shimon warned that it would destroy the spirit of their work force, and Nachman warned that the compulsory laws could cause a dangerous division among the two camps. Just as God was One, the Jews should be one, not divided into hostile parties and factions.
When the ultimatum was delivered, the workers reacted with anger. Was Palestine a free country, or were they back in Czarist Russia? Adamantly, they all refused to sign. In the name of the Workers’ Union of Zion, they refused to give in to managerial demands.
“We’ll break the bosses of Olat HaShachar,” they sang, “And then we will break the bosses of the Baron.”
In defiance, they tied the red flag of the union on the roof of the barracks. When the settlers went off to work in the morning, the workers barricaded themselves in their fort. Battle lines were drawn, and neither side would budge. In response to the strike, the settler’s stopped supplying the workers with food. The winds of war which were spreading all over the world had reached Olat HaShachar too.
All through the week, the workers continued their strike. They emerged from the barracks only to fetch pails of fresh water and to take care of their needs. The evening before the Sabbath, a relief wagon arrived from the union, smuggling in food. Ruppin demanded that the settlers retract their demands, but the settlement committee refused. Another week passed in protest. Elisha and Tevye demanded that the workers be thrown out of the colony, but Shimon refused. They were in the Land of Israel, not Russia. How could Jews in the Jewish homeland throw other Jews out of their homes?
“You call these rebels Jews?!” the usually soft-spoken Sharagi shouted. “They’re heretics, not Jews!”
It was Nachman who quieted his outburst.
“They may not believe everything we do,” he said, “but they are Jews all the same. And it is our duty to love them. Not through condemnation will we win them over to Torah, but by patiently bringing them near.”
As always with the Jews, the settlers of Olat HaShachar woke up too late to the disaster which was brewing in their midst. Even the self-controlled Ariel was drawn into the blaze of fraternal strife. Discovering one of the workers drawing water from the well, he proceeded to give him a thrashing. Perhaps he was venting his father’s frustrations over the fate of Moriah and Yigal. Perhaps when he was hitting the worker, he was really hitting Zeev. Whatever the reason, the senseless hatred between brothers, which had destroyed the foundations of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, was about to bring a curse down on Olat HaShachar too.
Tevye was out in the fields when he saw it. At first, he couldn’t believe his eyes. When he looked up from his harvesting, it seemed like a cloud. A great black cloud spanning the horizon as far as the eye could see. A strange and ominous cloud filled with movement and life. Tevye wiped the sweat from his eyes, and with a shake of his head, he stared once again at the vision.
“No, it can’t be,” he said to himself as the frightening darkness surged forward.
Like a punishment out of Heaven, the cloud spread over the colony, turning daytime to night.
“No, no, it can’t be,” Tevye whispered.
But it was.
Not a cloud. But locusts! Swarms and swarms and swarms of locusts!
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. 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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