Yanking off his boots, the butcher threw them to the ground and strode away from the swamp.
“Hey, where are you going?!” the undertaker called out. The butcher didn’t turn back. Tevye set down the bucket he held in his hands. Everyone watched as Yankele strode off. For a few moments, they all asked themselves the same question – why not walk off with him? In truth, that was the sensible thing to do. If life was only lived for the moment, for the happiness and fruits of today, then Yankele, the butcher, was right. But if life was something greater, something with a future, and a past, than there was a reason to stay and continue to work – so that the swamp today would turn into a field tomorrow. Fields of apples, and oranges, and corn for their children. So that the struggles and sacrifices of their parents and grandparents, and their great grandparents before them, wouldn’t have been in vain.
“Yalla,” Ariel called, using a popular local expression. “There’s work to be done!”
“Ariel’s right,” Tevye assented. “We have a country to build.”
He gazed at Reb Guttmacher, his friend. With Yankele’s desertion, the undertaker became number three. It was his turn to descend into the swamp. Already, he had lost his wife and a daughter. His eyes filled with hesitation.
“What’s wrong with building America?” he asked.
Tevye didn’t have an easy answer for the man who had already given so much.
“Let the Americans build America,” Ariel told him.
He scooped up a bucket of swamp water and handed it to Bat Sheva. Bat Sheva turned toward the bank and held out the bucket, but there was no one to take it. Tevye and Guttmachcr stared at one another, waiting for the other to make a move first. When Tevye took a step forward, Guttmacher held out his hand.
‘‘It’s my turn,’’ he said.
Solemnly, he bent down to the ground and picked up the high rubber boots which Yankele had thrown away in the sand.