The cherished tools were carried into the shed they had built and stored away in a corner like a treasure. The long, rectangular structure was their first wooden dwelling, thanks to the skilled handiwork of Shilo, Chaim Lev, and Goliath. According to Turkish law, only animal stables, called “chans” were allowed wooden roofs. All other Jewish dwellings had to be left roofless, or covered with canvas, straw mats, branches, or removable slats. Petitions could be submitted for permanent roofing, but applications often lingered for months on the desks of Turkish officials in Caesarea until a large enough bribe could be paid. Like Noah in his ark, the settlers slept with their animals in the chan, and all of their community meetings were held in the presence of their horses and cows.
Their first attempt to build houses was interrupted when Turkish officials arrived and ordered the roofs-in-progress demolished. LeClerc had not secured the necessary permits, and without a permit, the settlers couldn’t build roofs. However, if a structure had already been constructed, and if its roof was already in place, then the Turkish inspectors needed a court order to raze the building – and if a case got to court, the judge could be bribed with the traditional baksheesh. Because of the building infraction, their applications for permanent permits were rejected.
Needless to say, LeClerc’s ineptitude, or lack of concern, didn’t win him the respect of the settlers. Like the Turks, he was seen as an enemy who couldn’t be trusted. When he deigned to spend a night in the settlement, he slept in his spacious tent, while the Jews slept in the barn. For two weeks, work in the fields was suspended. Goliath and Hillel took off with a wagon and returned from Zichron Yaacov laden with reinforcements and lumber. Tevye positioned four guards in the corners of the colony to give early warning in the event the inspectors returned. Working around the clock, the Jews put up two barns and eight one-room cottages. The next time the Turkish officials visited, the roofs were all finished and sitting in place. The date for a court hearing was set. In the meantime, LeClerc applied to the Turkish Magistrate for the necessary permits. With the Baron’s intercession, the appropriate papers were signed. Fittingly, the permits and a letter from the Baron arrived on Tisha B’Av, the day the ancient Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed. Wasn’t it written that the sadness of the Jews would turn into joy, that their tears would turn into singing and laughter, and that the day of destruction would turn into a day of rebirth? With hard work and patience, it was all coming true.
And that wasn’t all. The letter from the Baron was personally addressed to Nachman. The “Benefactor” congratulated him on becoming a founder of a new Rothschild colony in Israel, and he wrote that the 5000 franc gift for the children was being transferred to Zichron Yaacov for the family’s convenience! The Baron appreciated Nachman’s honesty and concern, and wanted to assure him that the money was meant for the children, no matter where they lived, so long as they stayed in the Land of Israel.
When houses had been erected, the Morasha pioneers sent for their families. Once the women and children arrived, lives became more normal. Like the light which had filled the tents of the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, from one Sabbath to the next, a woman in the house brought a man a special blessing. But it was a blessing that Tevye was not privileged to share. Because of the shortage of houses, married couples were given first preference. Naturally, LeClerc, was given a cottage, even though his wife lived in Paris, and he himself spent more time in Zichron Yaacov and Jaffa than in the new colony of Morasha. Nachum and Ruchel insisted that Tevye share their tiny cottage with them, but Tevye refused. He didn’t want to intrude on the newlyweds. Little Moishe and Hannie slept in their one room as it was, so Tevye remained in the barn with the rest of the bachelors and cows.
“Oy vay,” he thought. That’s the way it goes. You work all of your life, you raise seven daughters, you live with a woman twenty-five years, and then you are left out in the barn to sleep with the beasts. Every man had his mazel. If the barn was to be Tevye’s, so be it. His Golda had been an angel. So who was he to complain? Twenty-five years with an angel was reward enough for one lifetime. Not that it had always been easy to live with an angel, but even in her angriest moments, Golda never made her husband sleep in the barn.
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 solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
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