One late afternoon when Tevye returned to his tent after a back-breaking day in the winery, a letter was waiting from Baylke. Sure enough, she had been in touch with Golda’s distant cousin in Chicago, and he had forwarded Tevye’s letter to her in New York. She had been thrilled to hear from her family, and hoped that more letters were in the mail. She wrote that the news of their safe arrival in Palestine had quieted a nagging fear in her heart that perhaps, like so many others, they had been caught in the bloody persecutions in Russia. She was happy for them, but when she read about her big sister’s death, she had fallen into a week-long depression. The blades of grass from the Land of Israel which her father had stuffed into the envelope had brought tears to her eyes. She reported that neighbors came by their flat throughout the day to see the holy blades and to hold them in their hands. Though the letter had taken months to arrive, Baylke said that the grass had remained a deep shade of green. “A miracle!” a friend of hers had exclaimed in the sweater factory where she worked.
Baylke wrote that they were doing wonderfully. At first, they had shared a flat with another family, but now they had their own large apartment. Her husband, Pedhotzer, had found work in a bank, and it hadn’t taken long before the management had recognized his outstanding business savvy and talents. He was now a manager in the loan department, and as soon as he mastered English, Baylke was sure that he would be promoted to an even higher position. Of course, his goal was to start a business of his own, and his work at the bank was only temporary in order to learn the ins-and-outs of American enterprise.
America, she confirmed, was truly a land of gold and fortune. Though dollars didn’t grow on trees, with hard work a man could become a millionaire. They had met people who had arrived in New York with nothing, and who now owned Manhattan hotels, theaters, dress factories, and jewelry stores on Fifth Avenue. It wouldn’t be long, she wrote, until they had a luxurious apartment of their own, but in the meantime, they had an extra room in their Essex Street flat, and she wanted her family to come.
The city of New York, Baylke wrote, was like a dream. Its buildings reached up to heaven. Kings and queens walked the streets. Cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs never closed. Stores were filled with treasures from all over the world. Everyone could own his own automobile. And a Jew didn’t have to live in a ghetto. He could be an American, like everyone else.
“That’s the end of the Jews in America,” Tevye said wryly.
“It sounds wonderful to me,” Bat Sheva argued. “Why does a Jew always have to be different? If we were like everyone else, the gentiles would stop hating us.”
“The gentiles will stop hating us when men will walk on the moon,” her father responded.
“That’s ridiculous,” Bat Sheva answered. “Men will never walk on the moon.”
“Neither will the goyim stop hating us.”
“Then again,” Tevye thought out loud, the very next day, as he was shlepping barrels of wine on his back like a donkey, “where is it written that Tevye has to be a poor shlemiel all of his life. If I had a million dollars like all of the Jews in New York, I could study, give charity, and do a long list of good deeds. I could become a great man like the Baron himself! After all, if the Almighty wanted a man to work like a mule all his life, He would have graced him with another two legs.”
Tevye carried the barrel on his shoulder from the warehouse to a wagon outside. With a groan, he let the great weight slide off his neck and roll onto the planks of the wagon. Walking back to the warehouse, he could barely stand straight. Why bother? He would only have to stoop over again to lift another barrel onto his back. But if he were in New York, there he could be a wealthy importer of wines, or the owner of a fancy restaurant, or the manager of one of his son-in-law’s hotels. True, Pedhotzer was a swine of a person, but for the sake of the family, Tevye could pretend to get along. He would move in with his daughter until he could get started on his own. With a little luck and hard work, it wouldn’t be long before Tevye could afford a mansion like everyone else.
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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