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

Tevye.500

“Thirty-five!”

“Thirty!”

“Thirty-five!”

“Thirty!”

“Thirty-five!”

“Thirty!”

Finally, after the Jews made a pretense of riding off once again, the Muktar gave in and agreed to lower the price.

On the way back to the village, as the Arabs led the way, Tevye congratulated Elisha on having bargained twenty francs per dunam off of the sale.

“If he agreed to thirty,” the Yemenite answered, “you can be sure that it’s worth fifteen.”

“So why did you agree to pay thirty?”

“Who agreed? I said it was dependent on the Baron. The next time we talk, I’ll say that the Baron refuses to pay more than ten. That way we’ll settle on twenty.”

“What makes you so sure?” Tevye asked. “Maybe in the meantime, the Arabs will sell the land to some other buyer.”

“Do you really think people are waiting on line? In this country, who else but a Jew would buy farmland on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere?”

“Then why even pay twenty?” Tevye wanted to know.

“Because the Muktar can’t sell the land for what it really is worth and then go back to being the chief of his people. We have to pay him a little extra to guard his pride.”

When they returned to the Arab village, the Muktar had a parting request. Several of his goats were sick, and perhaps one of the settlers could offer a cure, for as everyone knew, the Jews knew the secrets of the universe. Instinctively, the settlers looked at Tevye. If anyone knew about goats, it was bound to be a milkman.

“I’m not an animal doctor,” he said.

The chief wouldn’t take no for an answer. The disease was spreading, and it threatened to infect all of the animals of the tribe. He led them to the outskirts of the village, where the Arabs grazed their herds. The sick goats lay listlessly on the ground. Tevye bent down to examine one of the inert creatures. He opened its mouths to look at its gums and its tongue, then raised up an eyelid to check the white of its eye. Finally, Tevye lifted its stiff, lowered tail for a glimpse of its bottom. The diarrhea Tevye saw in the area confirmed his suspicions. He stood up and brushed his hands on his pants.

“It is probably worms,” he said. “Try chopping up garlic into very small pieces, mix it with something sweet like red wine and apples, and feed it to the goats for three days. If it’s worms, the garlic should kill them, and if not, then Allah will help.”

The Arab raised his hands to the sky.

“Certainly Allah will help,” he agreed. “He will help through his messengers, the Jews, who he has brought back to the Holy Land.”

Bowing graciously, the Muktar wished them “Salaam. Before they departed, he promised to send them the laborers they needed to work in their fields. Making sure their water pouches were full, and that their saddle bags were bursting with fruit, he sent them on their way with the guide who had brought them to the village.

Immediately upon their return to Morasha, Nachman wrote another letter to the Baron, describing in detail the property they had found.

Several days later, a dozen Arab workers showed up just as Abdul Abdulla had promised. They brought with them a special gift for Tevye, an exquisitely embroidered caftan fit for a king. The present was a token of thanks for having cured the disease of the goats. The garlic had worked. Tevye had saved the village. News of the incident spread to the neighboring Arab tribes, and Arabs began to show up in Morasha with sick animals in tow. Each time the milkman protested, but the Arabs would wave their hands no, insisting that only “the Muktar Tevye” could cure them.

At first, the Arab workers, or “Fellahim,” as they were locally known, proved a godsend to the struggling new colony. They worked like mules, performing the most difficult tasks without any complaints. Heat didn’t seem to faze them, and like camels, they could go without water from morning till night. Often their knowledge of the land and their farming experience saved the Jews from planting in areas which were hostile to delicate crops. When LeClerc insisted that the settlers follow the instructions of the Paris agronomists, the settlers revolted and listened to the Arabs instead. While the Jews had to pay the hired laborers out of their personal yearly allowance, the investment allowed the development of the colony to proceed at a much swifter pace. Work on the canal continued, and the Jews constructed more dwellings to prepare for the approaching winter. It was as if a great weight had been removed from their shoulders. The extra manpower boosted the morale of the colony in such a remarkable way that for the first time, settlers began talking about the future of Morasha. Plans for a mikvah were drawn, and a shed was erected near the well to house the ritual bath, so that the women of the settlement wouldn’t have to make the long journey to Zichron Yaacov in order to abide by the Torah laws which governed marital relations.

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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