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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Plague

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

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.

Tevye spit.

“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.

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." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. 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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