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March 29, 2015 / 9 Nisan, 5775
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty-Nine: Winds of War

The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

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.

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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