“You are going to be kind to us today, aren’t you, my beloved?” he whispered, addressing the earth as if it could hear. “Your children have come home, so you can put your thistles and thorns away, and open your arms to embrace us. Believe me, we have suffered enough in our exile. May bygones be bygones, and let’s start again anew just like a bride and a groom.”
“Talking to yourself?” Reb Guttmacher asked, passing by with the shovel that never left his hand.
“I was just saying good morning to our sweet Morasha soil.”
“Take the advice of someone who has worked outdoors all his life, if you are going to work in the fields, you should wear a hat with a brim. The sun can make a man crazy.”
Tevye stood up and brushed the dirt off his pants. “Sometimes I think we are all a little crazy.”
“Yes, I know. As Dr. Weizmann is supposed to have said, `You don’t have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps.'”
“You have to admit, it is better to be a poor farmer in one’s own land than a rich businessman in someone else’s.”
“Do you really believe that?” the undertaker asked.
Tevye smiled. “I’m trying to,” he said.
At Tevye’s age, working in the hot sun all the day was no simple matter, but he was determined to carry his share of the burden. The undertaker assisted him, teaching him some of the tricks of the trade, how to best hold a spade and upturn the hard soil without straining his back, but the hours took their toll. Until an outer layer of callous grew over his soft milkman’s hands, his palms would blister and bleed. Sometimes, the pain was so great, the shovel would slip from his grip, but immediately, he would lift up the tool and set back to work. The younger settlers like Ariel and Yigal encouraged the older settlers along, singing songs and shoveling in time to their music. And in the evening, to bolster their spirits, Nachman extolled the great virtues of being in the Holy Land, where every shovelful of earth brought them closer to God.
“You are right,” Tevye agreed. “We certainly are getting closer to God, because this back-breaking toil is killing us.”
Every morning, the farmers rose before dawn to make the long trek to the fields. Work on the canal was temporarily postponed so that the shovelers could join in the task of clearing a road for their wagons. Lunch consisted of sour bread, sardines, and cucumbers bought from the Arabs who lived in the neighboring hills. For a generous fee, the Arabs gave them permission to draw water from a well on their property. Water was retrieved by dropping a bucket and rope into a hole ten meters deep. Usually, it took several efforts before they succeeded in filling the bucket, and by then the water was murky with mud. With the unsightly black water, they boiled a tea of sorts which was hardly refreshing. It wasn’t unusual for a worker to pass the night with a fever and a vomiting attack of green bile. But the next morning, everyone was back to work, driven by the call of their mission. When the colony’s roots were established, a team of agricultural specialists sent by the Company to instruct the new settlers in planting techniques and fertilization arrived in Morasha. The JCA also provided each settler with a team of two horses, a harness, a cart, a plow, seed for 150 dunams, one cow, a chicken coop, five chickens, animal fodder, a food allowance for one year, and fifty francs for sundries. Mattocks, picks, shovels, sickles, and scythes were not on the company list, so the pioneers had to share the few tools they had until an emergency requisition order arrived after a long, four-month wait. While many needed items were missing from each shipment, the relief wagons were always met with a great celebration, as if the Mashiach himself had come. LeClerc frowned on their demands, as if the expenses came out of his pocket. Finally, desperately needed equipment arrived. There were eight new mattocks, four shovels, two scythes, a saw, an axe, a hammer and nails, three buckets, four pairs of suspenders, four floppy sun hats, one rifle, four blankets, some writing paper, and a dog. Important as the supplies were to the settlers, it was the feeling that they weren’t alone – that other Jews stood behind them, including the Baron and all of his wealth. That, along with their faith in God, gave them the strength to keep going.
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. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Jewish Press
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