Needless to say, the Baron Rothschild never showed up. For the time being, Hodel and her baby, Ben Zion, moved into Ruchel’s cottage. The newcomers shared the curtained-off corner with Bat Sheva, Moishe, and Hannei. Goliath went to work cutting planks in order to add on another room to the house. Tevye told Nachman that he hoped the arrangement would be temporary. He confessed that he had a secret plan to interest Shmuelik in his daughter, Hodel. Of course, as long as Hodel was still Perchik’s wife, remarrying was out of the question, but if her rotten husband didn’t show up in a hurry with a promise to repent in his ways, Tevye was determined to demand a divorce.
Nachman didn’t complain about the overcrowded cottage, nor about the hard work, nor about having had to give up his job as a teacher. Even when his soft scholar’s hand turned calloused with blisters, he didn’t regret his decision to leave Rishon Le Zion for the remote and windy Morasha hillside.
“Blisters of redemption,” he called them.
“My tzaddik of a son-in-law,” Tevye called him.
While Tevye’s faith was as deep as any man’s, he wasn’t ashamed to complain now and again about injustices he saw in the world, especially when they were directed against him. But Nachman would never dream of such an irreverence. He turned everything into a mitzvah in the supreme commanment to settle the Holy Land. Guarding the yishuv in the middle of the night was a mitzvah. Walking two hours for a bucket of water was a mitzvah. And the back-breaking work in the fields was a mitzvah too. Why should his overcrowded cottage disturb him? Often, he let his sister-in-law, Hodel, sleep in his very own bed! He preferred sleeping outside under the stars just like his great forefather, Jacob.
Even when Nachman had to give up his morning learning to labor in the fields alongside the Arabs when a settler was sick, he didn’t complain. How else were the Jewish People to be redeemed from exile in foreign places if not through the strenuous work of rebuilding their own land? The Almighty was ready to do His part, but they had to do theirs. The Jews had to prove that they wanted the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. A long time ago, their ancestors had abused the privilege of living in the land of milk and honey, and so, in punishment, God had taken it away and scattered them amongst the gentiles. Now that the Almighty was leading them back to the land of their forefathers, the Jews had to prove that they had learned their lesson.
As Shmuelik said, “What was better? Suffering in exile for
whatever crumbs a Jew could gather, or suffering for your own dearly loved soil?”
During his first year in the Holy Land, Tevye was more of a pragmatist. True, he had lived like a dog all of his life in Russia, but not every Jew lived off crumbs. The Baron Rothschild, for instance, with all of his billions, could hardly be said to be suffering.
“How do you know what headaches he has?” Shmuelik asked. “Haven’t our Sages taught us, ‘The more possessions, the more worries; the more money, the more thieves?’”
“That’s true,” Tevye admitted. “But all the same, I would be willing to change places with the Baron and worry about his railroads and yachts, while he sits here and tends to my cows.”
“Not me,” Shmuelik answered. “I would much rather have a wagon and mule in the Land of Israel than all of the railroads in France.”
The wonderful thing was that Shmuelik truly believed what he said. His optimism was a pillar of strength not only to Tevye, but to everyone in the settlement. If anyone had a personal problem, they would seek out Shmuelik’s advice, even though he was still a young man, If it were a matter of Jewish law, Nachman, the more serious scholar, was the person to ask. But if you needed someone to listen, then the good-natured Shmuelik was the address. And when people weren’t coming to him, he was going to them, always seeking to help others and to lend a neighborly hand.
His greatest joy was his garden. To Shmuelik, overturning the soil in his garden with a hoe was a religious act just like putting on tefillin. Every new blossom, every new flower, every first fruit was a cause of great celebration. Didn’t the Talmud say that when the mountains of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance, then the promised redemption was near? This was the long-awaited redemption itself, in his very own garden! The prophecy of his forefathers was unfolding before his eyes! His cucumbers and carrots were proof!
When Shmuelik worked in the garden, he sang. As if in reward for his love for the soil, every seed he planted seemed to grow with a magical touch. When his first melon sprouted and ripened, he took it around in his arms like a baby to show everyone his great pride and joy.
“Mazal tov,” Tevye said. “Is it a girl or a boy?”
The New Year holidays arrived and work temporarily came to a standstill. The Jews of Morasha set down their hoes and their plows to remember that all of their success depended, not on their own work and strength, but on the kindness and mercy of God. Certainly a man had to toil, but the bounty of his harvest depended on Heaven.
On Rosh HaShanah, Tevye was given the honor of blowing the shofar. If the Satan was lurking anywhere near their village, the warlike blasts of his ram’s horn surely drove him away. After the Yom Kippur fast, everyone set to work building succot. In many cases, the flimsy huts were almost as strong as the tiny cottages they lived in. The important thing was that this year they were building their holiday booths in Eretz Yisrael! No longer did they have to erect the temporary dwellings at the back of their houses, in the fear that the goyim would come tear them down. More incredible than that, the branches they used for the roofs of their succot were not merely branches pulled off any available tree, but rather the long, elegant branches of date palms from Jericho, which they had bought from the Arabs. And to make sure that the festival of the harvest would be filled with God’s blessing, Nachman made sure that they received a shipment of the finest four species available: shining yellow etrogim, splendid hadas stems, lulav palm branches, and long, green aravot leaves, all freshly harvested at Rishon Le Zion and approved by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook. Everyone, even the women, joyfully rushed to the wagon which brought them to Morasha. With excitement in their eyes, the men opened the crates as if there were treasure inside. Occasionally in Anatevka, the four species never arrived and the holiday passed joylessly, since without an etrog fruit and lulav, the Jews could not perform the festival’s cherished commandments. One year, Tevye had spent a fortune of money to buy an etrog in Yehupetz. It was the only etrog in Anatevka that Succot. Every day of the week-long holiday, except for the Sabbath, of course, all of the Jews in the village stood in a long line outside of his house waiting for a turn to hold the sweet-smelling fruit in their hands. But here, in Eretz Yisrael, there were etrogim for everyone. Gasps of pleasure surrounded the wagon as each bright pear-shaped etrog was held up for inspection. The lulavim were equally beautiful, all as long and straight as swords. Each hadas twig had the characteristic three-fold leaf of the myrtle, and the willow fronds glistened with a deep green color which showed no signs of wilting in the heat.
When the holiday passed, the settlers left their succah huts standing to serve as extra rooms. Then, as if in direct response to the supplications for rain, which the Jews began reciting at the end of the holiday, the first rains of winter began to fall. In Russia, rain had poured down in buckets all year long, summer, autumn, winter, and spring, but in Israel, rain only fell in the winter season. On cold, rainy nights, the children who had moved into the succot had to return to sleep inside of the houses. Crude stoves were fashioned for all of the cottages, and Goliath made sure that a huge stock of wood had been stored in the barn. But the fierce cold of the winter was a surprise to all of them, and their stoves proved no match against the winds which blew through all of the cracks of the hastily carpentered houses.
Unfortunately for the settlers, the winter was one of the harshest in years. While the Russian Jews were used to below freezing temperatures and months after months of snow, in Russia they had had warmer clothing and houses which kept out the cold. When the winds and rains began, the pioneers of Morasha were caught unprepared. Most of the succot fell down in the gusts which blew over the mountain. The straw-matted roof of Tevye’s cottage began to sag over the dining-room table and finally caved in. Because permanent building permits had not yet been granted for recent construction, many of the cottages in the colony had been erected with temporary, succah-like roofing. When other roofs began to cave in, an emergency meeting was held and the decision was taken to build roofs which would last.
Working frantically around the clock, the settlers managed to fortify their dwellings before the next rains swept over the Morasha mountainside. Though everyone had expected difficulties in building the new settlement, the hardships never ended. Wandering into the barn one Shabbat to make sure that the animals had been fed, Tevye found one of his cows lying lifelessly on its side with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. Years before, Tevye had seen the very same symptoms during an epidemic that had broken out in a neighboring Russian village.
Quickly, Tevye ran to call Nachman. If the sickness spread, it could wipe out all of their livestock. Tevye wanted to remove the infected animal from the barn and bury it immediately, but he remembered that certain Sabbath laws forbade moving objects from place to place, and digging was strictly forbidden. Word spread through the colony, and all of the men who were not taking a Sabbath snooze hurried to the barn to hear the rabbinic discussion. Nachman explained that the fence which the settlers had erected around the perimeter of the colony served as an eruv which united the private houses and public yards into one large private domain. This allowed them to move the cow from the barn without violating the law against carrying from one domain to the next. The trail in the dirt which would result from dragging the beast along the ground resembled plowing, which was also forbidden on the Sabbath, but since the marks in the dirt were only the unnecessary by-product of the action, and not their real goal, which was burying the cow, then this too would he permitted. The same principle applied to the digging.
“If we were to dig because we needed dirt,” Nachman said, using his thumb for emphasis, as if digging out an answer from the air, “this would be forbidden. But if our goal is the hole. then in an emergency, this could be sanctioned, even though digging resembles field work which certainly isn’t in the spirit of the rest which is commanded on Sabbath.”
“In that case, we can dig the hole, but we can’t use the dirt
from the hole to cover the cow afterward,” Hillel said.
Tevye was getting impatient. With all due respect to their Talmudic discussion, with every passing moment, the cattle blight might spread.
“Doesn’t it say that a Jew shouldn’t he overly righteous?” he
asked. “If an epidemic breaks out, we can lose all of our live stock.”
“There are certain leniencies which can be taken if a great loss is at stake,” Nachman answered. “But it seems to me that there is an additional problem here.”
Everyone waited to hear the solution to the puzzle as if it were a suspense-filled mystery.
“At the commencement of the Sabbath, the cow was living. Now it is dead. In effect, it is something entirely new – no longer a cow, but a carcass. Thus it has the status of muksah, something which can’t even be touched.
“Like an egg which is laid on the Shabbos,” Reb Guttmacher
“Precisely,” Naehman said. “Because the egg, or in our case,
the carcass, was not in existence at the start of the day, it remains forbidden all Shabbos long.”
“B’kitzor,” Tevye said. “To make a long story short, we’re pickled.”
“I’m afraid so,” Nachman said. “The carcass has to stay were it is.”
“I was wondering,” Shmuelik hesitantly began, not wanting to give the impression that he was contradicting his more-learned friend.
“By all means,” Nachman encouraged.
“If there is the slightest danger that the disease may spread to the residents of the colony, then perhaps it is a matter of pekuach nefesh, which would permit us to violate the Sabbath in order to save lives.”
“That’s an excellent point,” Nachman answered. “But that requires a more expert opinion than mine. Tevye, is there a danger that people can be contaminated from the cattle disease?”
Everyone looked at the famed veterinarian.
“People don’t get hoof and mouth disease, but they can be struck by cholera. A lot of epidemics have been known to start in barns.”
“God forbid,” the undertaker added.
“In that case,” Nachman concluded, “It is a mitzvah to remove the carcass from the barn and to bury it immediately!”
Thus the animal’s carcass was buried, but the incident left Tevye with premonitions regarding the future. One night, a week later, as Tevye trekked through the rain on his midnight rounds, he stumbled over another dead cow.
The very next evening, a cold stinging wind howled over the naked hillside. The night was so black, Tevye could hardly see. To distinguish friend from foe, he had ordered that lanterns be carried by any Jew who left his house after dark. The security committee had adopted this safety precaution after Hillel had taken a wild shot at Reb Pincus. The storekeeper had wandered away from his house late one evening to take care of his private needs in the outhouse. Thinking the dark form might be a prowler, Hillel panicked and fired. Fortunately for Pincus, the accordion player was a terrible shot.
Suddenly, just as Tevye was thinking how vulnerable the yishuv was to the elements, to invisible epidemics, and enemy attack, a bolt of lightning lit up the sky. In the brilliant white flash, Tevye saw two figures running away from the barn, carrying what looked like two sheep in their arms. A third figure appeared, cried out, and collapsed by the door of the barn.
“I’ve been stabbed! I’ve been stabbed,” the minstrel’s familiar voice called out.
A crash of thunder echoed through the heavens. Darkness returned to the mountainside. Tevye fired a shot in the air to alert the yishuv, and ran after the thieves. With the next crackle of lightning, Tevye spotted the prowlers and fired. The lead Arab tripped and his partner tumbled to the ground over him. Bleating, the two sheep ran free. By the time Tevye reached the site, one of the Arabs had fled. The other was limping as he scampered away. Tevye took off like a stallion. Breathing heavily, he managed to catch up with the thief. Shoving the Arab hard on the back, he toppled him down to the ground. Tevye stood over him, aiming his rifle at his head until reinforcements arrived. The Jews dragged the trembling Arab off to the barn, where Hillel sat slumped in the doorway. His hand glowed a bright shade of red. His shoulder was bleeding. But in the light of their lanterns, his wound appeared worse than it was.
The Jews tied the thief up to a post in the barn. When he refused to tell them to what tribe he belonged, Elisha continued the investigation in a more persuasive manner. The important thing, he said, was not to leave marks. In Yemen, Moslems would beat up the Jews in a similar fashion. That way, the Jews couldn’t prove to the authorities that they had been beaten.
The thief, it turned out, was from Muktar Mohammed’s village. Tevye wanted to complain personally to his friend, Mustafa, but the other settlers said that Tevye had complained in the past, and the stealing had continued even though the Muktar had assured them that it would stop.
“Either your friend doesn’t know what his tribesmen are up to, or he really doesn’t care,” Elisha said. A vote was taken, and it was decided to report the incident to the Turkish authorities. Luckily, Hillel had only been wounded. But the next time, Elisha warned, a Jew might he killed.
None other than Jamal Pasha himself, the Turkish military
governor of Palestine, arrived in Morasha to investigate the case. Normally, criminal matters were the jurisdiction of the local haboks, but Pasha liked to rule over his fiefdom with an iron hand. He was famous for his hatred of the Jews, for his midnight round-ups of immigrants, for unfounded arrests and expulsions. Prisoners reported how Pasha himself had beaten them with whips.
He sat straight-backed in the saddle of his steed as the Jews stood beneath him, telling their story. He wore a military helmet, and his black eyes and black handlebar moustache gave him a menacing appearance. Tevye couldn’t help but recall the last time he had stared up at an officer mounted on a horse – when the Russian district police commissioner, Nemerov, had ordered the Jews out of Anatevka. Horsebacked soldiers flanked Jamal Pasha on all sides, their hands never far from their swords. The complaint which the settlers had filed against the Arabs presented an opportunity for Pasha to see what Baron Rothschild’s Jews were doing in Morasha. When Elisha finished recounting the incident and a long list of other thefts, the military governor nodded and spurred his horse into a gait. His soldiers followed in line as he toured the small colony, stopping now and again to stare at the houses. As the entourage made a sweep of the village, Tevye experienced a chilling deja-vu. The color of the uniforms was different, but it was a scene he remembered from Russia.
Pasha circled back to the Jews who were waiting by the barn. Tevye could see his wife and his daughters in the doorways of their houses, anxious to see what would happen. Pasha barked sharp commands to his soldiers. Then he ordered the Jews to untie the thief. They had no authority to imprison an Arab, he said, even if he had been caught stealing their sheep.
“He didn’t just steel a sheep. He stuck a knife in my arm,” Hillel protested.
“He will be tried by the Turkish military court,” Pasha declared. “To prevent further robbery, I command you to hire Arabs to guard the colony at the same wages you pay to Jews.”
“Arab guards!’ Tevye exclaimed. “That’s absurd!”
“It’s standard policy,” Pasha answered.
“We ourselves don’t get paid wages for guard duty,” Guttmacher protested. “It’s part of our work obligation.”
“Then the Arab guards will be paid the accepted wage for guard duty according to the local habok’s decision.”
“Isn’t that like letting foxes guard chickens,” Hillel whispered to Tevye.
“Lastly,” the military governor continued. “These houses have permanent roofs. I am not aware that the Turkish Housing Authority has issued permits for housing on this site. All permanent roofs, excluding animal shelters, will have to come down. Immediately.”
A protest went up from the Jews. What did he mean? Certainly, there was a permit. The JCA had filed all of the papers, and the Baron’s personal assistants had made all of the required payments in Caesaria. Surely the military governor, his highness, had made a mistake.
“I am not aware of having seen any such documents,” Jamal Pasha responded. “If you do not dismantle the roofing, my soldiers will.”
“But it’s winter,” Tevye declared. “How will we live?”
“That, I am afraid, is your problem. The Turkish government did not invite you to Palestine. You came on your own. Presently, government policy is to turn shiploads of Jews away from the country before disembarkment. In all probability, if I were to check your personal papers, many of you would undoubtedly end up in jail.”
This last remark silenced the opposition. Tevye was not at all certain that his black-market permit was really official. And Elisha’s large family didn’t have permits at all. Everyone had heard of the sneak raids on Jewish settlements, when Turkish soldiers would evacuate Jews from their dwellings, line them up, and demand to be shown the official immigrant “tezkerah” card. Any Jew who didn’t have one was immediately arrested, and only a heavy bribe could save him from being deported. As usual, LeClerc, the Company manager, was away on “company business.” If anyone had a copy of the proper building permits, it would be him. Disgusted, Tevye spit. Hadn’t he warned his comrades not to complain about the theft to the Turkish authorities? Jew haters were Jew haters, no matter what color uniforms they wore.
“Give us a week to bring you the documents,” Nachman said. “Our colony manager is away on business. Surely he can produce them.”
“The law is the law,” the ruthless Turk answered.
With a flick of the white gloves he carried, he gave a sign to his soldiers. While several stayed on their horses to keep an eye on the Jews, a dozen dismounted and spread out through the village. They raided house after house, pushing out the women and children, throwing furniture out the front door, and knocking down the roofs from inside. Blood rushed to Tevye’s head. Guarded by the soldiers, he stood paralyzed with the rest of the settlers, watching the methodical destruction of their homes. Only the stable, barns, toolshed, and chicken coop were spared. Everything else, the synagogue and all of the houses, were stripped of their roofs.
After Pasha and his soldiers had ridden off with the thief, the Jews wandered in a daze around their village, wondering where they would find the stamina to withstand this new ordeal.
As usual, it was Shmuelik who cheered them.
“Why the long faces?” he asked. “At least our houses still have four walls. Didn’t our ancestors live in simple huts and booths when they were brought out of Egypt? God looked after them then, and He will look after us now.”
“It didn’t rain in the wilderness,” Reb Guttmacher noted.
“And the Clouds of Glory hovered over their heads to shelter them by day and by night,” Reb Lazer added.
“I suggest we postpone this Biblical discussion and begin rebuilding the roofs,” Tevye said. “If we can’t use lumber, than we’ll use branches instead. Shmuelik is right about one thing. Complaining won’t keep us dry.”
And so, the work began collecting branches, broken pieces of lumber, and anything else that could provide them with temporary shelter. Elisha’s son, Ariel, rode off to Zichron Yaacov to dispatch an emergency message to the JCA offices in Paris. It was obvious to Tevye and the rest of his friends that in addition to making life miserable for the Jews, Jamal Pasha was hoping to he paid off by the Baron. In the meantime, rain started to fall.
At first, the rain began as a trickle, but soon, ominous clouds appeared in the distance, making their way inland from the sea. Before they were able to repair their houses, the deluge began. Nachman immediately ran to rescue the Sefer Torah. Clutching the sacred scroll in his arms, he raced for the toolshed. The sky echoed with thunder. Not since the great Flood had rain poured down with such fury. While the men continued to work, the women and children ran for shelter in the stable and barns, the only stuctures that had viable roofs. Here, on the Morasha hillside, the story of Noah’s ark was being relived. People and beasts crowded together to weather out the storm. Women and young children sat down on the earth with the sheep and the goats; the older children squeezed into the coops housing the chickens; and the men collapsed in exhaustion onto the straw in the stalls of the barns. Just months after his wedding, Tevye was back with his cow.
All night long, rain thundered down on the roofs of the barns, which the Turks called “chans.” Who knew what test God had in store for them? Normally, Hillel would have tried to cheer everyone up with a song, but his accordion had been soaked in the first angry downpour and his arm still ached from his wound. One-handed, he held his harmonica to his lips and played a soulful tune. Even the ever-optimistic Nachman was too exhausted to speak. He had worked with all his might to save whatever he could in the house, dragging their furniture, bedding, and clothes into a shed, and now his muscles cried out for sleep. Soon, all that could be heard from the men’s barn was a chorus of snoring and coughing, and an occasional moo. Tevye remembered to leave the door open a crack to make sure the air didn’t stagnate. If the germs which had killed the two cows were still on the loose in the stables, Tevye didn’t dare think what would become of his family and friends.
In the middle of the night, their slumber was ended. Reb Guttmacher’s twelve-year-old daughter came searching for her father. At first, because of the rain, the undertaker didn’t notice the tears streaming down her face. Then she fell into his arms crying.
“What is it,” he asked.
“Ema,” she said, unable to finish the sentence.
“What about Ema?” he asked.
The girl couldn’t answer. She stammered and finally spewed out the words.
“Ema is dead.”
Guttmacher felt a sledgehammer fall on the back of his head. His wife had gone to sleep with a fever, then suddenly her breathing had stopped. The undertaker wailed. Embracing his daughter, he rocked back and forth, as if he were praying. The girl’s tears rolled over his cheeks. Stoically, he stood up and braced himself for the job ahead. True, he was no stranger to death. He had been trained to bury people. He had been surrounded by death all of his married life. But to bury the woman he loved, that was a fate too harsh to bear. It was true that his wife had been a frail woman, exhausted by the long journey to Israel, and weakened by an asthma which had tortured her all through the summer, but the undertaker had never dreamed she would leave him without even a word of good-bye. Shocked, he let his daughter lead him from the barn. The other settlers followed in a silent and gloomy procession. Some of them grabbed shovels and trudged off in the rain to the deserted hillside which the undertaker had set aside for a cemetery upon his arrival in Morasha. Guttmacher went to the barn where the women were sheltered. The body had to be prepared for burial according to Jewish law, and he and Nachman were the only men on the yishuv who had learned how to do it.
The women made way as they entered. There was a look of fear in their eyes. Mothers tried to rock their weeping children to sleep. Goliath lifted the lifeless body and carried it outside. Guttmacher directed him toward the tool shed and instructed him to set his wife down on the worktable out back. He wanted the purifying rain to wash her.
A short time later, he lifted a sheet up over her face. A group of men lifted the plank which she lay on. In the pouring rainfall, the procession set off along the hillside toward the gasoline-lit lanterns which marked the open gravesite. All of the adults in the settlement turned out for the funeral. Water streamed down the hillside. Footing was treacherous. The men carrying the corpse often slipped beneath their burden. When they tired, other volunteers took ahold of the plank. Slowly, the procession made its way to the grave. A strong wind caused the flame off the lanterns to flicker, sending fingers of light into the freshly dug pit. With a sob, the undertaker climbed down into the grave, just as he had done for so many strangers. Then he reached out his hands to receive his wife’s body. Gently, he lowered her into the grave, making sure that she rested comfortably in her final abode. His children stood around the graveside, weeping. Loads of damp, heavy earth were tossed over the body. Guttmacher’s daughters cried out with each chilling scrape of the shovels. Finally, Nachman intoned the traditional memorial prayer, and Reb Guttmacher recited Kaddish. For a long while, the family stood around the grave, indifferent to the weather, as if it weren’t pouring at all. Following the light of their lanterns, the other settlers silently made their way back down the hill to the barns. The relentless rain continued to fall.
When morning came, Shmuelik didn’t have the strength to rise and pray with the minyan. His face was pale and his eyes had lost all of their color.
“Don’t tell Nachman,” he said.
Tevye hurried to bring him some water but the young scholar had already sunk back into a feverish sleep. Not knowing what else to do, Tevye covered Shmuelik’s shivering body with his blanket.
“Everything will turn out for the best,” Tevye said to assure him.
Kneeling beside him, Tevye placed his hand on Shmuelik’s head and said a quiet blessing. Rain continued to batter the roof. With a sigh, Tevye put on his tallit prayer shawl and tefillin and hurried to join the minyan which had already started in a corner of the barn. If day in and day out, a Jew’s prayer could become dulled with routine, today’s supplications echoed through the rafters. Pigeons fluttered nervously over their roosts, frightened by the cries and heartfelt lamentations.
The praying halted when the barn door swung open. Tevye’s Bat Sheva rushed in from the rain. Her wet hair was flattened down to the sides of her head. Even before she spoke, everyone could tell from the fright in her eyes that she was the harbinger of something distressing. This time it was Guttmacher’s daughter. She was delirious with fever. Everyone stared at the undertaker as if he had the mark of Cain inscribed on his forehead. Wearing his phylacteries and prayer shawl, he hurried to the barn where the women had slept with the sheep. His daughter gazed at him blankly, without recognizing him in the least. She called for her mother and asked for her doll.
“When will we get to Eretz Yisrael”? she inquired.
Elisha said that the fever looked like cholera. If it was being spread by the animals, then all of the women who had slept in the barn might be infected. Until they could find out for sure, he said it was safer for the women to return to their houses, even if it meant getting drenched in the rain. In Yemen, he had seen whole villages wiped out by the plague.
A depression fell over the colony. There was no local doctor to turn to, and no medicines to combat the disease. Other settlers began complaining of a weakness in their limbs. Some had sharp pains in their stomachs. Settlers started moving back to their open-roofed houses, seeking shelter in corners which they were able to close off from the rain. Blankets were draped over tables and children were huddled below. At least the air was breathable in the houses, not like the foul-smelling air in the barns. Still there were those who stayed with the animals rather than exposing themselves to the rain and the cold.
By noon, Shmuelik had taken a turn for the worse. He opened his eyes and looked up at Tevye with a sad smile. “Where is Nachman?” he asked.
“Here I am,” Nachman answered. “Right here by your side.”
Shmuelik moved his head toward his friend’s familiar voice and managed a smile. He reached out his hand. Nachrnan took it and gave it a squeeze.
“What’s happening with me?” Shmuelik asked.
“You are going to be fine,” Nachman said. “You are just a little down from the weather and tired, that’s all.”
Tevye turned away with the pretext of fetching some water, but in truth, it was hard for him to see the life seeping out of this beautiful young man whom he had come to love like a son. Nachman also could barely hold back his tears. He loved his friend like a brother. They had grown up together, played together, and learned the Hebrew alef-bet together in heder. Later, when they were older, they had studied in yeshiva together every day. Shmuelik was a part of Nachman, almost as much as his wife.
Tevye handed Nachman a glass of water. Raising Shmuelik’s head, Nachman tilted the liquid toward the pale trembling lips and told his friend to sip. Then he gently rubbed water over Shmuelik’s hot sweating forehead.
“I saw your father in a dream,” Shmuelik said. “I was waiting at the gateway to Heaven, holding out his hand, but my time hadn’t come. I had to come back here to tell you not to I worry. ‘Don’t let the troubles in this world dismay you,’ your father said. ‘The real world is waiting. And the reward here is great.’”
Shmuelik gasped and his eyelids closed. Whispering the prayer, “Shema Yisrael. . . Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” he seemed to drift peacefully into a coma. Tevye and Nachman slumped over as if a great weight had been placed on their backs. What would they do without Shmuelik? Who would bolster their spirits? Who would remind them that God was always with them, in their joys, and in their sorrows as well?
Tevye stood up and staggered out of the barn. Looking up at the cloudy black sky, he raised his hands to Heaven, as if to ask why. All he received in response was a slap of wind and rain. Across the way, the door of his house opened, and his wife, Carmel, appeared. Trudging through the mud, he entered the crowded cottage. Using broken planks and branches, Goliath had succeeded in roofing most of the house. In a corner, water dripped from the ceiling like a forest cascade, but it was better than being outside in the downpour. Goliath had even succeeded in lighting the stove. The house was by no means warm, but by gathering around the fire, the chill was considerably lessened. Before Tevye spoke, the women in the house sensed that the Angel of Death had claimed someone else. Exhausted, Tevye collapsed into a chair and glanced at his wife and his daughters.
“Who is it now?” Ruchel asked.
“Shmuelik,” Tevye said.
Lifting her shawl over her head, Ruchel ran out of the door into the rain. She found her husband quietly sobbing over his best friend’s body.
“Oh, Nachman, my love,” she said, laying her hand on his • shoulder.
“Go back to the house,” Nachman told Ruchel. “I have to help here with the burial.”
Ruchel nodded. Eyes filled with tears, she walked back out of the barn. Shmuelik had been more than a friend. He had been a part of the family. Every Sabbath, he had joined them for meals. Every evening, he had sat at their table with her husband, learning Torah by candlelight late into the night. And how happy he had been at their wedding! How he had danced!
Once again a funeral procession made its way through the rain to the Morasha cemetery. Nachman delivered a eulogy for his friend. All of the time, gusts of rain battered the hillside.
After the burial, it was decided that a wagon would take the sick to the infirmary in Zichron Yaacov for treatment. Besides Guttmacher’s delirious daughter, two of the blacksmith’s children were lifted onto the wagon. Tevye was chosen to drive, and Goliath volunteered to go with him. With a foreboding feeling, Tevye said good-bye to his wife and his daughters. Carmel followed him out to the wagon.
“I will be back by evening tomorrow,” he told her. “If the good Lord wills.”
“May God be with you,” she said.
Goliath sat in the back of the wagon with the children, holding a blanket over their heads like a tent. The blacksmith’s wife rode with them. Tevye flicked the reins of the wagon, but the horse didn’t budge. With a snort, it turned its head toward Tevye as if to ask if he truly intended to set off into the brunt of the storm.
“This isn’t the time for arguments,” Tevye told him, flicking the reins once again.
Still the horse wouldn’t budge. Tevye climbed down from the wagon and walked over to the beast.
“You are right,” Tevye told him. “Only a madman would set off on a journey in a hurricane like this, but people are sick.”
The horse only snorted.
“You are right,” Tevye said. “People are people, and horses are horses, so what business is it of yours? Well, it so happens that horses have been known to drop dead from the plague, so if we don’t get some help, you may never have to pull a wagon again. And if that isn’t reason enough, there’s this.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out some sugar. The horse lapped it up gratefully. Once again, Tevye climbed into the wagon and gave the reins an authoritative flick. This time, the creature started off. Back in Anatevka, driving his wagon through rainstorms and blizzards, Tevye had come to understand the difference between a man and an animal. A man would do meshuganah things because he was crazy, or in pursuit of some higher ideal, but a animal had a more basic down-to-earth sense and had to be bribed.
As Tevye’s good friend, Sholom Aleichem, would say, “To make matters short,” Tevye drove slowly because of the treacherous footing. Floodwater splashed down the mountain. The trail had turned into mud. After several hours, they reached the stream which ran down from the highlands to the low coastal plain. Because of the deluge, its banks were overflowing. Overnight, the gentle stream had turned into a raging, whitecapped river. Without a bridge, there was no way they could cross with a wagon load of children. If a wheel were to shatter or get stuck in the mud, the children could drown. Standing on the bank of the torrent, Tevye and Goliath worked out a plan. First they carried their passengers across the rushing rapids. Then Goliath ripped off the upper planks of the wagon’s rail. Stretching them across the narrowest neck of the stream, he formed a makeshift bridge. The giant walked back into the water and guided the nervous horse into the current. Tevye aligned the wheels of the wagon with the planks of the bridge. Miraculously, the wagon rolled over the boards without tumbling into the water.
Night had already fallen by the time they arrived in Zichron Yaacov. Here too, the streets of the moshav had all turned to mud. Thankfully, the children were still alive when they reached the infirmary, but it was clear to everyone that their fate was in God’s hands alone. Hava was one of the nurses on duty. Tevye described the situation in the mountains, and told her that he wanted to return to Morasha immediately with a doctor and medicine. After making sure that the children received beds in the quarantine section of the hospital, and that a doctor had arrived, Hava brought her father and Goliath hot drinks. Then she set off to find a doctor who was willing to travel with them that evening. Without a moment’s hesitation, the director of the hospital himself, Dr. Schwartz, volunteered. He ordered that the wagon be loaded with medicine. Hava, he said, would join them.
Since both Tevye and Goliath were chilled and exhausted, it was decided to spend the night in Zichron and to set off at dawn. Elisha’s son, Ariel, met up with them also. The Company director had received a telegraph from the main Paris office stating that a mistake had been made – all of Morasha’s building permits were in order. Copies were being sent out immediately to Jamal Pasha. The JCA directors apologized for the inconvenience, and demanded that LeClerc be in touch with the office in Paris immediately.
“Is that what I am supposed to tell Guttmacher and Shmuelik? That there has been some mistake? That the Company apologizes for the inconvenience? Let a plague fall on the Company instead!”
“Abba” Hava said. “It isn’t the fault of the Company. Without their help, we wouldn’t be able to build anything at all.”
“Then let the Baron and all of his directors come here themselves and sleep with us in the barns.”
A blanket of clouds made the morning almost as dark as the night. Lightning lit up their way as they traversed the coastal plains towards the mountains of the Shomron. When they reached the raging stream, they had no choice but to abandon the wagon. The makeshift bridge had vanished, swept away by the floods. Unhitching the horse, they waded through the turbulent water, holding the bags of medicine high in the air to keep them from getting wet. Hava rode on the horse with her father, and the doctor doubled up with Ariel. Goliath as usual volunteered to set out behind them on foot.
Journeying all morning long in the rain, they reached the Morasha encampment in the mid-afternoon, several hours ahead of Goliath. Since their departure, one of Chaim Lev’s children had died, and all of the boy’s brothers and sisters were sick.
The doctor confirmed that the invisible enemy was cholera. He advised the settlers to abandon the colony, at least until the winter was over. He said that the medicine which he had brought might be of some help, but once a person had become infected, there was no guaranteed cure.
Before evening, the rains and strong winds abated. The storm clouds passed away to the south. For the first time in days, the sun appeared in the sky before it set in the west, blazing with an angry red glow. Darkness returned to the mountain. The settlers held an emergency meeting to vote on the doctor’s decree. Everyone was given an opportunity to speak. Hillel maintained that since they had already talked about moving the yishuv to a better location, there was no sense in staying, especially when lives were being threatened every day. Reb Shraga was afraid that if they moved because of the plague, news would spread throughout Russia, and potential new immigrants would be discouraged from coming on aliyah.
“They will claim that the Land of Israel devours its inhabitants, just as the Spies claimed in the wilderness, when they gave their false report,” he maintained.
Others asserted that saving life was the most supreme value, and that it was better to evacuate the settlement than fall prey to the epidemic. Nachman agreed. Halachically, according to Torah law, that was the proper course to take. Tevye waited to hear all sides of the argument before expressing his opinion.
“If we move from here because of disease,” Guttmacher said, “we will have to move from the next place because of Arab marauders, and from the next place because of the Turks, and from the next place because of the mosquitoes, until we will be back on a boat to Russia, and then where will we go?’
“It is better to die here and be a symbol of bravery, than to set an example of cowardice,” Munsho, the rugged blacksmith exclaimed.
“Abandoning an area because of sickness is an action of wisdom and prudence, not cowardice,” the doctor injected.
“Doesn’t it say in the Torah that the commandments were given to live by them, not to die by them?” Hillel added.
Surprisingly, Goliath spoke up.
“I grew up with Shmuelik,’’ he said. “He was like a brother to me. If he were alive, I think he would have decided to stay. But he would have said that everyone should be free to do what he wishes.”
“Goliath is right,” Reb Lazer said. “This is not something to decide by a vote. Everyone should be free to follow his conscience.”
“I second the motion,” Tevye said.
“Agreed,” a chorus of voices called out.
In the morning, the doctor left with a wagon load of toddlers. Chaim Lev and his wife lifted their sick children into their wagon, along with all their belongings, and set off with the doctor. Hillel limped out from the barn, carrying his accordion and a suitcase. With an embarrassed expression, he set them on the fixer’s wagon and climbed on board. His accordion let out a flat note as if it were sighing. Tevye was truly sorry to see his friend leave. Without any hard feelings, he stepped forward to shake Hillel’s hand.
“May the Lord be with you,” he said.
“May the Lord be with you as well,” Hillel answered.
“We will all miss your music.”
Hillel smiled, remembering their many nights together when Tevye was still a bachelor.
“If I were healthy to begin with, maybe I’d stay. But what good is a lame accordion player on a mountain farm anyway?”
Tevye grabbed Hillel’s side locks and kissed him on the face.
“L’hitraot,” Tevye said, waving goodbye to his comrade. “May the Lord bring us together again soon.”
The wagons of Pincus and Lazer joined in the caravan. Friends waved to each other as if saying final good-byes. The settlers of Morasha watched the wagons head down the trail until they were out of sight. Every man’s face seemed to share the same dark concern, the same worry and doubt, as if they were being foolish for staying.
Tevye’s turn in the sick wagon seemed right around the bend.
Exhausted from the back and forth journey to Zichron, and from a shortage of sleep, he went to bed with a headache. Two hours later, he awoke in a sweat. A heaviness weighed down his limbs. His teeth chattered. Extra blankets didn’t help warm him. Thinking his end was at hand, he called for his wife. She knelt down beside him and wiped his face with a towel. His daughters gathered about. Hava, the nurse, knelt beside him. “What an angel,” he thought. He wanted to tell them all how much he loved them, but his head spun in circles, making him too dizzy to speak. Once again, sleep overcame him. A fever broke out on his forehead. While his family crowded around as if keeping guard, Tevye struggled with nightmares. He yelled deliriously out at an enemy. His children stood trembling, certain that their father was wrestling with death.
“Abba, be strong,” Hava called out.
“Saba, don’t die,” Moishe pleaded.
Then, with a gasp, Tevye woke up. His eyes opened wide. Summoning all of his strength, he raised himself onto his elbows.
“Bury me beside your mother,” he said in a dry, rasping voice.
Then he sank back on his pillow, whispered a final “Shema Yisrael,” and closed his eyes, prepared to meet his Maker. But his head continued to hammer, his thoughts continued to think, and his daughters’ weeping wouldn’t give him rest. After a long, dramatic moment, he reopened one eye. His loved ones hovered above him, holding their breaths. Tevye sighed. Escaping from this world wasn’t to be his good fortune. Apparently, the Almighty had more tests in store for him before granted him respite from his trials on earth.
Hava took her father’s hand and felt for his pulse. ‘Thank God,” she said. “His heart is as strong as a lion’s.”
Tevye looked at his wife.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You probably just caught a chill.”
Comforted by her words and her smile, Tevye fell back to sleep. Carmel stayed awake all night to watch him. Occasionally, she would change the wet cloth on his forehead to keep his fever down. When he opened his eyes in the morning, her face was the first thing he saw.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“The sun is just rising,” she said.
“I have to go pray.”
“Do you feel strong enough?” she asked.
“That’s what gives me strength,” Tevye answered.
Hearing his words, Tevye realized his response was the kind of thing that Shmuelik would say. Now that the youth was gone, Tevye would require a double dose of faith to make up for the loss.
Still somewhat dizzy, he sat up from the mat on the floor. He had taken it upon himself to say the mourner’s Kaddish for Shmuelik, and he could only recite the prayer if he prayed in a minyan with nine other men. Thank God, his fever had passed like the rain. Feeling as if he had been given a renewed gift of life, he headed for the roofless beit haknesset, carrying his tefillin and tallit under his arm. Things which he had taken for granted just yesterday seemed like a miracle now. What a blessing it was to be able to walk, to be able to breath, and to be able to see!
With a heart filled with gladness, he sang out the morning prayers. The Torah scroll was brought back to the synagogue from the toolshed, where it had been housed during the rains. Within a short time, there was almost a minyan. Yankele, Munsho, Shilo, Reb Sharagi, Elisha, Ariel, Yigal, Nachman, and Tevye. Only Goliath was missing. Nachman had tried to wake him, but the big lumberjack said he felt sick.
Tevye guessed that it was just a passing fever, a one day bout with the Satan, like the chills he had suffered the previous night. After all, what damage could germs do to such a mountain of a man? When he finished his prayers, he went to the barn to visit the sick Alexander, the name Tevye used in the blessing of heath for the ill. As he entered the door, his knees turned to soup. Goliath lay sprawled on the ground in the center of the barn. His prayer shawl lay near him. Chickens hopped over his body. Cows bellowed and mooed. With a shout, Tevye shooed away the fowl and knelt down beside the faithful giant. He raised the lifeless head and stared into the now vacant eyes.
“My God, my God,” Tevye whispered, recalling a verse from the Torah. “How the mighty of Israel have fallen.”
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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