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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty-Two: A Letter From America

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

The sweet reverie was interrupted by a whack on his back as another shlepper of barrels crashed into him.

‘‘Look where you are going!” Tevye called out.

‘‘Who told you to fall asleep on the job?’’ the other worker retorted.

That’s what a man got for day-dreaming. A whack on the back. His mansion would just have to wait. Right now, there was more important work to be done in Palestine. After all, Tevye wasn’t a fool. He could read between the lines of his daughter’s letter. If things were so good in America, why did she have to work in a factory? And even if Padhatzur were to make himself millions and buy a palace for his wife, the last person in the world his highness would want to find on his doorstep was Tevye, with his barnyard stink and dung on his shoes. Baylke’s pompous husband had humiliated Tevye enough for one lifetime, thank you very much. Tevye was staying right where he was in the Holy Land. With all of its trials, at least it was the land of the Jews. America would just have to get along with one less Yid. Tevye was needed far more in the Promised Land.

Tevye trudged on with his barrel. What had Rabbi Kook said? That every man had to do the work of one thousand? Every day, Jewish settlers were abandoning the country in despair, heading back to Russia and Europe, as if they had forgotten why they had left. Chaim Lev, who had lost two of his daughters in the plague, fled from Zichron Yaacov without being able to look Tevye in the eye. What could the goodhearted fellow do? His wife wanted to return to the old country, pogroms and all, to save her remaining children. Nothing which the repairman could say could convince her. And others, like Pincus, the storekeeper, set off for the “Promised Land” of America. If Tevye, and others like him, didn’t stay to build a Jewish homeland in Palestine, where would the Jews of the world find shelter from the never-ending fury of Esau and his bloodthirsty offspring?

It wasn’t long before another letter for Tevye arrived, this time from his daughter, Hodel. Before sneaking off from Zichron Yaacov, she handed the envelope to her sister, Hava, to deliver to their father. Hodel hadn’t had the courage to face him. She wrote that she loved being with the family, but Perchik was still her husband, and the father of her child. If he were too stubborn to come and fetch her, then she would follow after him, just like it said in the Bible, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over you.” Hodel said that she was giving Perchik one last chance. Their child was still a baby, unable to tell the difference between the Sabbath and any other day of the week, so for the while, his education in Torah could wait. The important thing for Hodel was to try and save her marriage. She asked for her father’s forgiveness, and promised to write. So once again, just like she had in the past, Hodel journeyed off after her free-thinking husband.

It was Nachman who told Tevye about a place called “Olat HaShachar.” On a visit to Jaffa, he had heard from a new immigrant that a group of religious Jews from Russia were starting a new yishuv along the coast, a few hours south of Zichron Yaacov. They belonged to the religious Zionist movement, “Lovers of Zion,” which had been founded many years before by the famous Rabbi Shmuel Mohaliver. With the help of the Keren Keyemet organization, these “Chovevei Tzion,” as they called themselves, had purchased a large tract of land for thirty-thousand francs, and they were looking for more Jews to join them. The land, Nachman reported, was an ideal stretch of rich, black soil, just waiting to he cultivated.

The news came as a ray of hope for the disgruntled Morasha settlers. After their refusal to return to the ill-fated colony, their request for a new tract of land was ignored. They were given the most menial jobs at Zichron and made to live in tents. The Company was certain that a cooling-off period would put an end to their rebellion, but the punitive treatment only further embittered the Morasha settlers against the dictatorial landlords. To their way of thinking, the Company’s policies were an obstacle to settling the land, not an aid. The settlers wanted freedom from foreign rulers, but Tevye and his friends found themselves being ruled by tyrannical officials and a portrait on the wall of the Baron who gave orders to the settlers from France. Lacking their own resources and funds, the would-be farmers had no choice. They either signed an oath of allegiance to the Baron or starved. But hearing about the new, religious colony, the Morasha settlers decided that they no longer had to be slaves to the Company. To hell with “The Benefactor” they thought, not realizing that the money which the “Lovers of Zion” were using to buy and develop the new Olat HaShachar location had come in large measure from the ever-gracious donation of the very same Nediv, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

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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