“Just like your mother used to make,” he said. “May her memory be for a blessing.”
“She taught me,” Ruchel reminded him.
“A good thing for me,” Nachman said. “You should know, Reb Tevye, that your daughter has opened a business. In honor of the Sabbath, she bakes the most delicious pastries and cakes, and sells them to our neighbors.”
“As they say, like mother like daughter,” Tevye replied. “Wasn’t I known all over Russia as the milkman with the very finest cheese pastries?”
Their conversation extended late into the night. Tevye told them about their time in Shoshana, and their situation in Zichron Yaacov, and the happy young couple described their new life. Sliding an envelope out from beneath the tablecloth, Ruchel proudly showed her father the letter which the Baron had sent. The money he had sent for the children, she said, was safely locked away in the colony vault.
After an appetizing forshbite of pastries and a sip of some wine, Ruchel set plates of fresh, homegrown vegetables before them. Tevye’s eyelids began to feel heavy. After the meal, he lied down on a mat beside the children and fell into a deep, dream-filled sleep. Sometimes a person remembers his dreams, and other times he doesn’t, but the dreams he recalls often have meaning, if he separates the chaff from the wheat. In the middle of the night, Tevye found himself swimming in the ocean with whales. Suddenly, one of the mammals opened its jaws and swallowed up him up with his wagon. Terrified, he landed with a thud in the creature’s foul-smelling belly. Around him were piles of skeletons. To Tevye’s surprise, he recognized their faces – Lazar Wolf, the butcher; Ephraim, the matchmaker; Jeremiah, the fishmonger; and his other friends from Anatevka. Everyone was there except Golda.
Tevye awoke in a sweat. The children slept peacefully. The door to the bedroom was closed. In the darkness, his hand scraped along the floor until he found the yarmulkah which had slipped off of his head.
“May the dream be for a blessing,” he said.
Quietly, he slipped out of the house. Goliath was snoring under the wagon.
“May your dreams be more pleasant than mine,” he whispered as he set off down the path toward the cemetery. How could he leave Rishon in the morning without first paying a visit to Golda? Passing a small garden in the yard of a house, he stopped and gazed at the flowers. How could he go to the grave of his wife without something in hand? Quickly, he looked left and right to see if someone were watching. As he reached out to break off a rose, his hand paused like a bee hovering over a petal before stealing its pollen. True, they weren’t wildly growing flowers, but was it a sin to pick flowers for the mitzvah of honoring the dead? Isn’t that what flowers were for? Tevye would actually be doing the owner of the garden a favor by doing a good deed with his roses. Still, to ease a guilty conscience, after snapping off a twig, he stuck a Turkish mark over a thorny branch to pay for the petty larceny.
“Okay?” he asked, looking up at the sky when he had concluded the transaction. Stem and flower in hand, he set off for the grave. It was an hour before sunrise, and the first rays of light were beginning to appear in the sky. He remembered the way to the cemetery along the path of tall eucalyptus trees. Gently, he set the modest bouquet on the simple slab of stone which marked the earthly abode of his wife.
“You won’t mind me sitting down beside you, my sweet Golda,” he said. “If I stand I will feel like I have to deliver a sermon, when the reason I have come is to be close to my dear wife.”
Leaning his cheek against the tombstone, Tevye remembered the voyage to Israel and the extraordinary ordeal it had been to shlepp her coffin along. He recalled, with a shudder, how he had almost lost her, and how God, in his compassion, had commanded the waves of the ocean to return her to him. Then, with a sob, he remembered their sweet Tzeitl. It wasn’t like Tevye to cry, but in a cemetery, he didn’t have to worry that someone would notice.
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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