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

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

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.

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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