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.
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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