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March 31, 2015 / 11 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.

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.

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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