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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Eight: Waiting for the Baron

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

The industrious pace continued all the next day. While there

were pressing chores to be done in the fields, everything was set aside in order to turn the tiny settlement into a showplace. Women excitedly prepared the morrow’s royal luncheon, and children rehearsed Zionist songs so that the “Morasha Choir” could entertain the visitors. In the afternoon, when LeClerc gath­ered all of the settlers together to stage a practice welcoming ceremony, an argument broke out between Tevye and Pincus, regarding which one of the two men would deliver the welcoming speech. Both held up handwritten pages which they had already penned. Munsho, the blacksmith, had to step between them to prevent them from coming to blows. Finally, LeClerc announced that he, and he alone, would speak on behalf of the settlers.

“That’s ridiculous,” Pincus protested. “You aren’t even a Jew! What right do you have to decide things for us?”

LeClerc’s face took on the bright red color of his hair. “You are all ungrateful scoundrels,” the Frenchman retorted. “If I hadn’t arranged for the Baron’s visit, he never would have deigned to step foot in this miserable wretch of a hole. If I hadn’t made a big fuss in Zichron, none of these supplies would have come. You have me, and me alone, to thank for everything you have. If I don’t receive the respect I deserve, I will call the visit off now. Is that understood?”

The settlers grumbled. Slowly, while LeClerc waited, they regrouped in their welcoming formation and stood quietly in line. What choice did they have? Though LeClerc himself personally hadn’t given them anything, the Company had, and he was their go-between. So, for the time being, until they could survive on their own, they had to obey his commands. Nonetheless, that evening a group of the men got together to write out a long list of complaints which they intended to hand to the Baron, including the demand that LeClerc be immediately replaced.

Tevye slipped his speech into his pocket, where he could easily find it the next day, whether he received LeClerc’s permission or not. He was so certain that he would personally meet the legendary Baron, he stood before his wife’s mirror and carefully trimmed his beard. The goateed philanthropist was known for his immaculate appearance, and Tevye wanted him to feel like he was conversing with an equally distinguished man.

In the morning, everyone hurried excitedly about making final preparations. A welcoming party of riders was organized and sent out to meet the Baron’s contingent and escort them to the yishuv. Hillel rode along on the wagon with his accordion to give the Zionist leaders the musical fanfare they deserved. Shmuelik took the Torah scroll out of the ark and carried it to the impressive new gateway of the colony, where he stood holding it in anticipation of the Baron’s arrival, as if he were waiting to greet a king. Girls with flower wreaths in their hair stood on the road all through the hot sunny morning, holding baskets filled with flowers which they intended to throw on the visitors, until Guttmacher’s wife had the sense to gather them into the shade. Younger children soon became restless with standing on line and returned to their usual games.

Tevye and Nachman walked to the mountaintop lookout to catch the first glimpse of the Baron and the statesman whom God had chosen to plead the Jewish people’s plight before the world’s dukes, prime ministers, presidents, emperors, archbishops, and kings. For hours, they stared to the east, waiting for the entourage to appear in the valley below. The sun rose higher in the sky until it was a blinding orb over their heads. LeClerc wasn’t sure of the time of arrival, so the settlers had guessed around noon. But when the arc of the sun reached its zenith and began to plunge toward the sea, Nachman said that they had obviously judged incorrectly. As the Mishna said, “The sons of kings awaken three hours into the day.” That meant that the aristocrats would not arrive before three. And who could predict the time of his coming for sure? They were, after all, on a scouting tour of the land, and perhaps they had planned other stops on the way.

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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