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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Three: Off to the Promised Land

Tevye in the Promised Land

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Tevye saw him when they reached the outskirts of the village. At first he wasn’t sure, but when he saw Hava keep turning her head, his suspicions proved true. It was Hevedke Galagan, the Russian who had stolen his daughter, the gentile she was supposed to have left – he was following the procession of Jews as they made their way down the bumpy dirt road.

“What’s this?” he said, tugging on the reins of his horse. The wagon stopped. Tevye turned a fierce eye on his daughter.

“What?” Hava asked.

“Don’t what me,” Tevye roared. He started to stand up in the wagon. His hand rose threateningly up in the air.

“I swear, Tata,” she said. “I’ve left him, I have. I told him I can’t be his wife. But he wants to come with us. He’s ashamed of his people. I told him no, it can’t be, but he wants to be a Jew.”

“A Jew!” Tevye roared. “A Jew! Is our life such a picnic that he wants to be a Jew!?” Tevye stared up to Heaven. “I ask you, good Lord. Isn’t exile enough of a punishment? Or is Tevye to suffer this disgrace as well?”

“It doesn’t have to be a disgrace,” Tzeitl said.

“Silence!” Tevye shouted. “The answer is no!” He sat down in his seat and whipped the reins of the horse.

The procession moved on through the dust. Wagons rattled under their loads. Golda’s coffin bounced over the rocks in the road. Glancing over his shoulder, Tevye could still see the tall Hevedke, following at the end of the long march of Jews. His fleece of blond hair shone in the sun under his brown student’s cap.

“No, I don’t want to know what is written,” Tevye brooded to himself, fighting to keep control of his thoughts. No, no, no. Hevedke could walk. He could crawl. He could die from hunger and thirst before Tevye would let him into his wagon.

Tevye, the guardian of tradition, refused to look at his daughter. He refuse to speak. For miles, they road in silence. Yet as they turned every bend, he could still see the lone figure of Hevedke Galagan walking determinedly after the Jews.

Suddenly, the procession came to a halt. Tevye’s horse snorted. “What’s the matter?” Moishe asked. “Why have we stopped?”

“Are we there already?” Hannie questioned.

“I’ll go and see what the problem is,” Tevye said, getting down from the wagon. He trudged off toward the head of the line. The caravan had stopped at a crossroads. One road led north to a stretch of Russian wasteland where pogroms had not yet erupted. Another road led to Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and America beyond. And the third path led to Odessa and Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.

Naturally, a lively debate was in progress. Everyone had an opinion on which direction to take. All of a sudden, Jews who had never ventured beyond the boundaries of Anatevka became experts in international travel. Yitzik, the woodcutter, advised journeying on to Broditchov, a distant part of Russia, where at least people spoke the same language. Leb, the ritual slaughterer, argued that Jews speak the same language wherever they live. Tzvi Hirsh, the tanner, had an uncle in America who wrote that all the Jews had houses as big as hotels and rode in fancy carriages just like the gentiles. But Shammai, the scribe, warned that ocean travel after the winter rains was a dangerous affair.

“Is that so?” Tzvi Hirsh retorted. “And since when did you become a Columbus? How many times has our village scribe sailed around the world?”

“Here’s Tevye,” Shammai said. “You can ask him.”

Everyone turned to the milkman. Tevye looked up at the sign at the crossroad and gazed down each path, as if he could see the future at the end of the road.

“What do you say, Tevye? Which way should we go?”

Before the milkman could answer, Elijah, the town herald said, “The Midrash teaches that every road leads to Jerusalem.”

“Well, the Midrash must have been wrong,” the tanner responded. “Only one of these roads leads to Jerusalem.”

“The meaning is that wherever a Jew wanders, sooner or later he is going to get beaten over the head until he ends up back in Jerusalem,” Elijah explained.

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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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