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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Five: Tevye Cures the Muktar’s Daughter

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     On the arranged date, the Jews set out to survey the land which their Arab neighbors wanted to sell. The Muktar Abdulla graciously sent them a guide who showed them the way through the mountains to his village. Traveling on horseback, the journey up and down the hillsides and valleys took them two hours, but a bird could have spanned the same distance in minutes. While LeClerc was adamantly against the meeting, calling it an excuse to take off from work, the Morasha settlers went all the same, having reached the conclusion that the Morasha colony desperately needed to find a new site. The topography of their present location was simply not suited for farming. If the parcel which the Arabs were selling had more potential than Morasha, than the settlers would advise the Baron to buy it. They hoped that by appealing to the Baron directly, they could circumvent his parsimonious clerk.      In the meantime, the Morasha pioneers had made another important decision. After days of debate, the community forum had voted to hire Arab laborers to work with them in the fields. Nachman and Shmuelik were against the plan for ideological reasons. It was important, they claimed, to build a Jewish work force, and to rely solely on Jewish labor. Tevye was more pragmatic. The settlers were shorthanded, the work was never ending, and they needed to make as much progress as they could before the winter began. Also, if there were Arabs to work in the fields, the Jews would be free to erect more houses. In the end, Tevye’s supporters won out. The Arab village was modest in size, consisting of a few dozen mud dwellings, surrounding a centralized mosque. Children walked barefoot and scavenged through mounds of garbage. Many were skeleton thin, and yellow pus dripped from their eyes. Dogs lounged lifelessly in the shade, their tongues hanging out of their mouths, their ribs clearly visible in their emaciated chests. Chickens ran around everywhere. Dangling from a pole was the head of a camel. Flies swarmed around the blood which was still dripping from the cut where the neck had been severed from the animal’s body. “Camel is an Arab delicacy,” Elisha told Tevye.

“They eat it?” Tevye asked, his eyes wide in surprise.

“Not only do they eat it – they’ll expect you to eat it too.”

The Muktar rushed forward and greeted them warmly, falling on his knees and bowing. His hand moved ceremoniously from his heart to his lips in gestures of loyalty and devotion. For what seemed a full minute, the Jews faced the Arabs and bowed in exchanges of mutual honor. How different this tribe was from the Arabs who had murdered Ben Zion, Tevye thought. Still bowing, the chief inviting the Jews into his house, where a feast was laid out before them. Noticing their worried glances, the Muktar assured them that in preparing the food, he had been careful to respect the dietary laws of the Jews. All of the salads, vegetables, and fruits could be eaten, and the main course was to be a Mediterranean couscous with raisins and nuts. The Muktars daughters poured tea from gleaming brass pots, and a water pipe filled with aromatic herbs was passed around for all to imbibe. Nachman refrained from eating the Arab pita, but Tevye and Elisha washed their hands and made a HaMotzei blessing on the bread, not wanting to offend their host who insisted they eat. Watching the Yemenite break off pieces of pita and scoop up the heavily oiled techina and humous, Tevye followed suit, as if he had been eating oriental salads for years. To his surprise, he found himself taking seconds of the pasty, exotic spreads. Nonetheless, as more colorful dishes and salads were spread out before them, Tevye kept an eye out for the other half of the camel which they had seen hanging outside.

The Muktar poured the Jews glasses of a tasty date liqueur which Elisha called Yaish.

L’Chaim,” the chief toasted, allowing himself a small sip.

L’Chaim,” the Jews responded.

After the satiating meal, the Muktar Abdul Abdulla showed the Jews his land deed and led them on a tour of the parcel of land which he wanted to sell, a short ride away from the village. The site was situated upon a plateau, with breathtaking views to all sides. Underground wells were plentiful, and, in the past, much of the land had been cultivated, obviating the need to carve fields out of the rocky soil. Hillsides had been planted with olive trees, and terraced for vineyards.

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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