“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.
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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