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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty: Zichron Ya’acov


Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

With the birth of Hodel’s baby, the time had come for Tevye to journey onward. Family was a matter of tantamount importance, but a Jew had an even higher allegiance to God. Had not the Almighty warned that life in the Holy Land must be lived according to the commandments of the Torah? That meant observing the laws of the Sabbath and the holidays, eating kosher food, donning tallit and tefillin, guarding the treasures of marital purity, and observing all of the six-hundred and thirteen commandments – most of which were flagrantly ignored by the young pioneers on the kibbutz. True, they were good, idealistic souls, risking their lives, and giving up material comforts to build a refuge in Israel for the Jews all over the world. Their dedication to making the barren Land bloom was in itself an act of great religious faith, but, to Tevye’s way of thinking, faith in working the Land wasn’t enough. Ultimately, a Jew had to live by the Torah. It was enough of a tragedy that his daughter, Hodel, had been led astray by her husband – Tevye now had to think of Moishe and Hannie, who were bound to be influenced by the other children on the kibbutz. And it was wise, Tevye felt, to whisk Bat Sheva away before she fell victim once again to her passions and grow enamored with some other free-spirited hero.

After Ben Zion’s funeral, the heartbroken girl plunged into a gloomy silence. Tevye also felt troubled. The cold-blooded killing weighed on his mind like an omen. He wondered what would be with the Arabs. True, in his travels through the country, Arab villages were few and far between. Occasional caravans would pass along the road, and Bedouin shepherds would appear now and then in the landscape. But as picturesque as they were to Perchik, Tevye had learned that, like snakes in the roadside, their bites could prove fatal.

Driving his wagon along the trail through the mountains toward Zichron Yaacov, where Shmuelik and Hillel were living, Tevye found himself engaged in deep thought. He even imagined that the Baron Rothschild had invited him into his palatial office to discuss the dilemma of establishing a large Jewish population in the midst of hostile neighbors.

“Well, my respected Reb Tevye, how do you propose we deal with the Arab situation?” the Baron asked in his daydream.

Tevye stood by the large globe of the world in the center of the Baron’s wood-paneled study. Gently spinning the orb, his fingers slid over continents as he pondered his response. Tevye’s footprints, muddied from the barn, had left dark stains in the carpet, but the Baron hadn’t seemed to notice. Why should he? With a staff of round-the-clock servants, why should the dirt of an honest, hard-working milkman disturb him?

“I must confess that I am not a political analyst, but only a simple laborer,” Tevye responded.

“Even a simple laborer has opinions,” the Baron said. “And I respect the opinions of every man.”

“My opinions are the teachings of our Sages, and the pearls of wisdom which I have learned from the Torah.”

“And what does the Torah say on this matter?” the Baron inquired.

Before Tevye could answer, the famous philanthropist held out a mahogany humidor filled with fragrant cigars. Tevye took one and allowed the Baron to graciously light it.

“The Torah says that the Arabs are to dwell in the lands of the Arabs, and the Jews are to dwell in the Land of the Jews.”

“The Torah was written a long time ago. Perhaps political equations have changed.”

“The word of the Lord is forever,” Tevye answered. “The sons of Ishmael have been blessed with lands of their own. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews.”

“Your faith has strengthened me, Tevye,” the Baron said. “Your faith has strengthened me indeed.”

Of course, daydreams are daydreams, and life is life. True, Tevye generally had mud on his boots, but if Baron Edmond de Rothschild ever summoned him to a chat, his secretary forgot to deliver the message. In fact, the Baron was not to be found in Zichron Yaacov at all. He ruled over his Palestine colonies from his castles in France. “Av HaYishuv,” the settlers called him. “Father of the Settlement.” Others called him “HaNadiv,” meaning, “The Benefactor,” after his beneficent ways. Still others called him less pleasant names. His dignified portrait hung in the JCA office, above the heads of the officials who carried out his commands. Under the dark Homberg hat in the picture was a hawkish profile, patriarchal whiskers, a benevolent smile, and a fur-collared coat. Tevye, who fancied himself a fair judge of character, understood right away that the Baron was a unique individual, deserving great respect. As for the bald-headed Frederick Naborsky, Director of the Jewish Colony Association in Palestine, Tevye was less convinced of the sterling nature of his personality.

“We are not interested in giving handouts to schnorrers and beggars,” he said at the beginning of their interview in the Company Director’s plush office when Tevye arrived in Zichron. “Our settlements are not havens for paupers. We are not settling up shtetls of the past, but showplaces of the future, where Jews are to live useful lives. With all due respect to tradition, the final word does not lie with the rabbi, but with the Company. The Baron decides what will be, and we, his executives, are entrusted to enforce his decrees. I presume this is clear?”

His small beady eyes peered over his eyeglasses at Tevye. Tevye nodded his head, just as Shmuelik and Hillel had coached him.

“At the moment, we are in the process of acquiring several new settlement sites. New seed groups will be venturing out to start new colonies when all of the legalities are completed. In the meantime, you and your family can find temporary housing in Zichron.”

Again Tevye nodded.

“You will be expected to sign an oath of allegiance to the Company, and to obey all of the conditions stipulated therein, as follows….”

Naborsky adjusted his spectacles on his nose and read from a document.

“I hereby agree to submit myself totally to the orders which the administration shall deem necessary in the name of Monsieur Le Baron in anything which concerns the cultivation of the land, and if any action be taken against me as penalty for any infraction, or for the benefit of the settlement, I have absolutely no right to oppose it….”

Tevye’s attention drifted away in the middle of the long recitation. He kept nodding his head, wondering what the difference was between the servitude of the Company, or, l’havdil, on the other extreme, the servitude demanded by the Czar. Still, the rulers of the Company were, for the most part, Jews, and the motherland they were to cultivate was Israel, not Russia. What could you do, Tevye thought? Just like an ox had a yoke, so did a poor Jew. Company, shmompany. The real yoke was the yoke of the Lord. Emperors, Caesars, Czars, and Barons came and went, but the Kingdom of God was forever. What did it matter what was written in the document which the Company Director was reading? A Jew’s first and only allegiance was to his Maker.

“Is this understood,” Naborsky asked.

Again Tevye nodded his head.

“Can you write?”

“Write what?” Tevye asked.

“Your name.”

“In Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew.”

“Either one will suffice,” the Company official said, holding out the document for Tevye to sign. He pointed to a line at the bottom of the page. Tevye took the quill pen and inscribed his full name in Hebrew – Tevye, the son of Reb Schneur Zalman.

The Zichron Yaacov settlement was the Jewish Colony Association’s model yishuv. Located along the Mediterranean coastline between the seaports of Acco and Jaffa, it enjoyed well-travelled land routes and mild weather throughout most of the year. Over two hundred families already lived there, in quaint little houses situated along manicured, tree-lined streets. Like in Anatevka, there were cobblers, tailors, blacksmiths, bakers, a milkman, a rabbi, and even a matchmaker, but unlike the shtetls and Jewish villages which Tevye had known, most of the Jews in Zichron Yaacov squeezed out their livelihood by farming the land. Workers with caps on their head labored in the fields, using an assortment of reapers and plows. The sweet smell of pressed grapes wafted over the settlement from the winery. The valley of Zichron Yaacov produced barrels and barrels of Rothschild wine which were exported all over the world. Acres and acres of vineyards spread out to the north and south as far as the eye could see. In a good vintage year, the revenue from wine sales filled the colony’s coffers, giving the Baron hope that his costly and ambitious Zionist enterprise might one day prove self-sustaining and even a financial success.

If not for the two-story building located in a remote corner of the colony, far away from the houses and workshops, Zichron Yaacov could have passed for a dream come true. The isolated building was the infirmary, serving all of the Jewish settlements in the country. Tevye and his family were sent there for health examinations on the first day of their arrival. Outside was a large frangipani tree with shining red flowers. The ground floor looked like a modern city hospital, with sparkling clean tiles, curtained examining rooms, and shining equipment. But a sign by the stairs, forbidding unauthorized personnel from entering, gave Tevye an uneasy feeling. In answer to his question, a doctor told him that the wards were filled with patients stricken with malaria, typhus fever, cholera, yellow fever, and what he simply termed the plague. Quarantined quarters and limited drugs such as quinine and sulfur were the only remedies the doctors could offer the ill. In a gesture of goodwill, the Baron provided health care and drugs free of charge, to Jews, Turks, and Arabs alike, but the infirmary’s staff was ostensibly helpless in combating the scourge of diseases in the plague-ridden land. Tevye was stunned to learn that almost half of the Jewish settlers died from incurable ailments within their first few years in the country. Hillel morosely referred to the building as the “Chevra Kadesha,” the society in charge of burying the dead.

“Thank you, dear God,” Tevye said when the examination was over and he walked out of the building alive. Gratefully, he inhaled the wine-scented air. Rays of the sun warmed his face. His mother, may she rest in peace, had been right. Health, she always maintained, was the Almighty’s most precious gift to man. Without a healthy body, a person might just as well be dead. He could have all of the money in the world, but if he had even a little headache, what good were all of his rubles?

“May we never have reason to step foot in there again,” he said to his daughters, making sure they answered, “Amen.”

Hava had other thoughts. Moved by the suffering of the sick people crowding the wards, she decided that she would volunteer to help in whatever way that she could. Seeing a notice on the infirmary bulletin board which announced the start of a course to train authorized nurses, she immediately inquired how she could register. It was an opportunity to do something useful while she waited for Hevedke to finish his yeshiva studies. Her father adamantly opposed, but she stuck to her decision. How could she only worry about herself when so many people were suffering?

“Let someone else help them,” Tevye said.

“I know you really don’t mean that, Abba,” she answered. “After all, aren’t you the one who taught me that a person is responsible for every other person, and that a man has to love his neighbor just as much as he loves himself.”

Tevye mumbled.

“That’s all well and good,” he answered. “But the Torah was not talking about working in disease-infested hospitals.

“Someone has to do it,” she said.

“Why does it have to be my daughter?”

“It’s because I’m your daughter. Being kind to people is the first lesson you taught me.”

Tevye clasped his hands in entreaty before her.

“I am proud that my daughter has such a big heart, but please my dear, Hava, I have lost my sweet Shprintza in the prime of her youth, drowned by a heartless suitor and a heartless lake. Another one of my treasures took off to America, and who knows if your father’s tear-filled eyes will ever see her again? I have lost my wife, Golda, and your saintly sister, Tzeitl. Is a man made of stone? Is a heart made of granite? It is a wonderful thing to dream of saving the world, but think about your poor, miserable father.”

His plea did not move her.

“Think about the man that you love,” he urged, desperate to talk her out of her plan.

Hava looked at him quizzically. It was the first time her father had mentioned Hevedke’s existence since their parting in Jaffa.

“I think of him all of the time,” she said, “and I know that he would approve.”

Tevye knew he was beaten. With a sigh, he raised his eyes up to Heaven, as if to say, “You have vanquished me again.” At least, he thought, her crazy meshugas would only last a very short time, until they were assigned to one of the Baron’s new colonies. Hillel and Shmuelik had already arranged a place for Tevye with a group of Hasidim who had banded together to start a frum religious community. The moment the land purchase was completed, the bearded pioneers would set off with the Company’s blessings and aid. In the meantime, Tevye was given a Hebrew dictionary, written by a fellow named Eliezer ben Yehuda, and published by the Baron Edmond himself. On the Company Director’s orders, he was enrolled in a Hebrew ulpan class to once again wrestle with the intricacies of Hebrew grammar, just like a young boy must struggle with Rashi’s puzzling and unfamiliar script at the beginning of Talmud Torah.

After a meeting with the Zichron foreman, Lishansky, Tevye was given a new occupation. The locals called it “sabalut,” but to Tevye it was plain and simple “shlepping.” Twice a week, wagon loads of seeds, grains, dried fruit, and other staples arrived from Jaffa. The produce was stored in warehouses in Zichron Yaacov, apportioned, and shipped out to JCA settlements throughout the northern half of the country. It was Tevye’s job to stand by a wagon, bent over like a hunchback, and catch a hundred-pound sack on his back. Then, like a beast of burden, he would carry the load to the warehouse and drop it onto the stacks. After his first day of work, he could barely straighten his spine. He complained to the foreman, begging him to transfer him to the barn and the cows, but the settlement already had two experienced milkmen. Lishansky, who seemed like a fair man to Tevye, promised to find him an occupation which demanded less lifting. When Shmuelik arrived that evening to take Tevye to Hebrew class, he found him lying flat on his back, moaning about his miserable lot.

“You know what the Midrash teaches about Moses?” Shmuelik began.

“I have a feeling you are going to tell me,” Tevye said.

“When  God refused to let Moses enter the Land of Israel because of a single sin, Moses got down on his knees and begged the Almighty to turn him into an ant if need be – just to enter the Holy Land. He didn’t demand to be king, or a leader of the people. So great is the privilege of being in the Land of Israel, Moses pleaded to cross the border even as a bug.”

“In other words, I should thank God for turning me into a bug who has to shlepp one-hundred-pound sacks on his back from morning till night.”

“Moses would have been thrilled.”

“We learn from this that Tevye is not Moses.”

“Moses was not Moses either at first. When the Almighty first appeared to him at the burning bush, Moses begged Him to send someone else. It was only by arising to the challenge was his greatness revealed. Come on. Get up. We will be late for our class in Hebrew.”

Leaning on Shmuelik like a staff, Tevye walked bent over to school, as if he were still lugging a sack of seed on his back. Within a matter of days, he learned how to shift the weight of the sacks to his legs, and the exercise actually helped strengthen his brittle milkman’s bones. When Lishansky showed up with an offer to put Tevye to work behind a plow, Tevye had second thoughts. But when he learned that the plow had wheels and a seat, he took up the offer. Once again, Tevye was back to what seemed to be his lot in life, staring at the rump of a horse.

Shmuelik worked in the vineyards. Hillel was a packer of grapes, and Goliath became a maker of barrels. Bat Sheva worked on a sewing machine in a room filled with talkative women. Like a flower which closes its petals at night, she remained in mourning for Ben Zion. She was quiet, moody, and bitter, as if life had betrayed her. Tevye invited Shmuelik to their quarters, ostensibly to teach Moishe the Torah. He secretly hoped that an interest would develop between the scholar and his sullen daughter. While Shmuelik was ready to pursue such a match, Bat Sheva refused to grant him a smile.

For the first time since their arrival in the Promised Land, Tevye and his family sensed that they were establishing roots. Once again, Tevye prayed every day in a minyan. Every night before his class in Hebrew, he sat with Moishe and Hannie, told them a bedtime story, sang them a song, and made sure they recited Shema Yisrael. He insisted that the children speak to him in Hebrew, and that his daughters address him as Abba, not Tata. The first opportunity he had, he wrote a letter to Ruchel, describing their wanderings and Tzeitl’s tragic death, including Tzeitl’s last wish that the children grow up with her sister and Nachman. In closing, he promised to bring them to Rishon LeZion the very first vacation he had.

To Tevye’s surprise, he received a reply from Ruchel a mere two weeks later. She wrote that they were very happy, and that Nachman was pleased with his work at the school. The news of Tzeitl’s death had upset them deeply, and Ruchel prayed that God  would give them the strength to carry on as if Tzeitl were still with them. As for Moishe and Hannie, Nachman had spoken to the colony manager, Dupont, to receive his permission, and he had refused. Adoption was against Company rules. Their friend, Aharon, had also tried to persuade him, but the heartless manager wouldn’t be swayed. Ruchel herself had made his ears ring with an outburst of scorn, but his only response was that several other teachers had applied to him for jobs, and that if the children were so important to them, then she and Nachman could leave. Ruchel said she was seriously considering his suggestion. She had discussed her feelings with Nachman, and he was prepared to stand by whatever decision she made. Were there positions for teachers in Zichron Yaacov, she asked? She also inquired about the new Hasidic colony which her father had mentioned. When did he think the settlement would begin, and could he secure them a place on the list? While they were happy in Rishon Le Zion, they had left the Czar behind in Russia, and they were not going to let any Company clerk dictate the terms of their life. Lastly, there was a chance that Ruchel was pregnant.

The thought of being united with his Ruchel boosted Tevye’s spirits. It seemed like his fortune might be taking a turn for the better. Who could tell? The Almighty worked in mysterious fashions. One day, He could snap a man’s back like a twig, and the next day raise him up to sit at a table with kings. With a little mazel, things would work out for the best. Bat Sheva would marry Shmuelik. Hava would forget about Hevedke. Perchik would recognize his misguided path and become a penitent baal tshuva. Ruchel and Nachman would join them in building a new settlement. The Mashiach would come, and Golda, Tzeitl, Shprintza, Motel, and even Ben Zion would all arise from the dead.

Two weeks later, Tevye received a second letter from Ruchel. She had lost her pregnancy. The very same night in a dream, Tzeitl had appeared to her saying that Moishe and Hannie were waiting. Nachman had told her to go back to sleep. But an hour later, Tzeitl had returned with the very same message. “A dream which is repeated is true,” Nachman said. The next morning, they had written a letter to the Baron Rothschild himself. If the Jewish Colony Association was truly Jewish, how could it turn its back on the mitzvah of caring for orphans? They would wait for the Baron’s answer, Ruchel said, and if it were negative, then Tevye should plan to come to pick them up in his wagon.

Since he was writing a letter to Ruchel, Tevye decided to send a letter to his daughter, Baylke, in America. He did not know where she was, but his wife, Golda, may her memory be for a blessing, had a cousin in Chicago. Tevye had saved his address between the pages of his battered and yellowing Psalm book.

“Who knows?” Golda had said in her pragmatic manner. “Maybe you will need his address one day. We were never the closest of cousins, but family is family.”

When Baylke set off for New York with her good-for-nothing husband, Tevye had given her the Chicago address and told her to write to their cousin to let him know where she was living. Not that his beautiful, headstrong daughter ever took his advice, but in a strange land like America, she might long for some family to remind her of home. Reb Heshie Mendel was his name, cousin of the same Menachem Mendel who had swindled Tevye out of the only savings he had ever managed to amass in his life. Tevye sent him a note, asking him to please forward the letter to Baylke if he knew where she was. Before sealing the envelope, he stuck a few blades of grass inside with the prayer that the blessing and holiness of Eretz Yisrael would bring good fortune into her life.

The new Hasidic colony was to be named Morasha, which meant inheritance in Hebrew. Two things in the Bible were called Morasha – the Torah, and the Land of Israel. These two foundations went hand in hand, as it said, “Therefore you shall keep all of the commandments which I command you this day, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the Land which I give you as a Morasha, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Apparently, bureaucratic problems in Constantinople were holding up the purchase of the land which the JCA had offered to buy from the Turkish government. While many kibbutzim had been started in deserted regions by buying tracts of land from Arabs whose claims of ownership were based on the principle of squatters’ rights, the Baron was meticulous in acquiring legal permission through all of the authorized channels. In the meantime, the small group of fifteen Chabad Hasidim met every week to draw up plans for the colony. They had been sent to Eretz Yisrael by their Rebbe to join in the great mitzvah of settling the Land.

One morning, Tevye joined the band of bearded Jews on a reconnoitering mission to the site, a half-day journey southeast of Zichron Yaacov. The land which the Company had chosen lay along the ridge of a mountain which rose over the coastal plain. When they reached the area, broad, rolling vistas stretched out before them, making their dreams of establishing a new colony a reality. Tevye fell to his knees and scooped up a handful of earth. Hillel opened a bottle of wine. Everyone drank a happy L’Chaim. Only Goliath sensed that something was missing. Among the novice settlers, he was the only Jew who had earned his livelihood outdoors in the wilds. Tevye was a milkman. Hillel, a musician. Shmuelik, a scholar. Reb Lazer, a tailor. Munsho, a blacksmith. Reb Shilo, a carpenter. Pincus, a storekeeper. Reb Shraga, a scribe. Yankele was a butcher and a mohel. And Chaim Lev, the Galitzianer from Poland, who had joined the group of Hasids, was a handyman and fixer. Only the big lumberjack knew how to read the layout of the land, and the first thing he noticed, or rather didn’t notice, was water. Standing on a knoll overlooking the imaginary orchards before them, he noticed that there wasn’t a brook in sight.

“Where is the water?” he asked.

Everyone turned toward Mr. LeClerc, the dapperly dressed, redheaded Company official assigned to oversee the founding of Morasha.

“That’s the one drawback,” he said. “There is an underground spring on the property, but it is a short distance away.”

“How far?” Tevye asked.

“Not far at all,” LeClerc said, not giving a definite answer.

“Let’s go see it,” Shmuelik suggested.

“We should be heading back,” LeClerc advised, “in order to get back to Zichron Yaacov before nightfall.”

“Where exactly is this spring?” Yankele, the butcher asked, taking a threatening step forward.

Like many butchers and mohels, he had been born with a heavy influence of Mars in his zodiac. His mazel was a portent of murder and blood. Fortunately, taking the Talmud’s advice, Yankele had channeled his powerful passions into becoming a butcher and mohel. But he still had a menacing appearance. The JCA clerk stepped instinctively backwards. Munsho, the blacksmith, whose arms were like clubs, walked forward and stood beside the slaughterer. LeClerc turned toward his horse, only to run into Goliath. The three strapping settlers surrounded the Frenchman like towering cedars.

“Show us the spring!” the butcher demanded.

“It’s four kilometers from here,” LeClerc answered.

“Four kilometers!” Yankele repeated. “That is more than an hour’s walk!”

“You can build your houses near the spring,” LeClerc responded, becoming red in the face.

“What will that gain?” Goliath asked. “Then our fields will be an hour away.”

“This is the land that is available for purchase.”

“How are we supposed to irrigate our crops?” the blacksmith asked. “With our spit?”

Normally, the quip would have brought a round of chuckles, but the settlers were in no joking mood.

“There is a plan to build a canal which will connect the spring with the fields,” the nervous Company official explained.

“The Mashiach will come first,” Pincus, the storekeeper, said.

“What about the Arabs?” Tevye asked. “Are there Bedouin tribes in the area?”

“The closest Arab village is a few hours away. They have absolutely no claim to the land. That is one of the reasons why the Company has chosen this site.”

“Land without water is like a forest without trees,” Goliath, the lumberjack, said.

“And like a pen with no ink,” the scribe added.

“And a chair with no legs,” the fixer said.

“Or a cow with no udder,” Tevye chimed in.

“When it is your money, you can buy whatever piece of property you like,” the pakid-clerk of the Baron answered. “In the meantime, since the Company is the only one undertaking the financial obligation, we decide where new settlements will be built.”

“Anything to save a franc, is that it?” Reb Shilo said.

“Believe me,” LeClerc replied, “if the Baron’s main concern was money, he could find a lot more profitable enterprises than squandering his millions in this godforsaken land.”

“A godforsaken land? Chas v’shalom,” Tevye said angrily. “How can you say such a thing?”

Until then, Tevye had imagined that LeClerc was a Jew, but now he realized that a neatly-trimmed beard and a derby hat did not make a person a rabbi. Instinctively, he glanced up to Heaven. How long were gentiles to rule over his life?

“No one promised you that building a new settlement would be easy,” LeClerc declared.

That was true, Tevye thought. Even their forefather, Isaac, had encountered problems with the Philistines over water and wells. In the same way that the Patriarchs had trusted in God, the builders of Morasha would have to put their faith in God too.

Until the awaited date arrived when the Hasidim could set out to plant their first seeds on the Morasha site, Tevye plowed acres of furrows in the fields of Zichron Yaacov. In the evenings, he forced his weary brain to learn conversational Hebrew. During the six months which passed waiting for the land purchase to clear, Hava received a certificate of nursing. Tevye shuddered every time she set off to the infirmary, and he studied the color of her cheeks every time she came home. She spoke with great satisfaction about patients who recovered, and though she never mentioned the dead, Mendelson, the tombstone maker, was kept constantly busy. And there were weeks on end when Reb Guttmacher, the undertaker, was called out from his quarters each day to prepare a body for burial.

“I was worried about leaving Russia,” he confided to Tevye. “At least with all of the pogroms and tzuris, I had a good livelihood there. But, to my great dismay, there is more business here.”

When an outbreak of typhoid fever swept through the country, claiming victims in every yishuv, Reb Guttmacher raised his hands up to Heaven and said, “Dii. It’s enough.”

One day, he seized a hold of Tevye’s sleeve and pulled him aside.

“Tevye,” he said. “I am tired of digging holes for the dead. In the time I have left in this world, with whatever strength I still have, I want to dig holes for the living. Take me with you to this new settlement you are starting. Put me to work in the fields. Give me a shovel and let me plant trees. If it’s a canal you need, I can do the work of three men. Please, I need to feel a part of the future, not only the past.”

Thus the undertaker joined the group of Hasidic pioneers.

For weeks on end, wagon loads of sick people arrived at the infirmary. Hava often had to work day and night. When the plague reached its zenith, the hospital staff was quarantined in tents and separated from the rest of the colony. Tevye dreaded seeing Reb Guttmacher the undertaker, fearing that one day he would be the harbinger of bad news, God forbid, regarding his daughter, Hava. Other nurses perished, but in God’s mercy, Hava was spared.

In the midst of the epidemic, a letter arrived from Ruchel. The Baron had written them a sincere apology. He was outraged by the callous disregard for the welfare of the children which the Director of Rishon LeZion had displayed. The Baron personally asked their forgiveness on behalf of the Company. Dupont was instructed to rescind his refusal, and the orphans were to be welcomed as full-fledged members of the Rishon community. A personal check of 5,000 francs was included in the letter to cover whatever expenses the family might have in raising the children. To Ruchel and Nachman, it was a fortune of money.

True to the Baron’s promise, Dupont came to the house and apologized for having misunderstood the Company policy. The children, he said, were free to join the colony. So now, Ruchel wrote, there was nothing to prevent Tevye from bringing Moishe and Hannie to Rishon.

When the next wagon train of wine barrels was sent off to Jaffa for export, Tevye set his wagon in the rear of the caravan. He packed the children’s few belongings and hoisted them up into the seat beside him. Goliath rode with them to fulfill his graveside promise to Tzeitl. With tears in their eyes, Bat Sheva and Hava hugged Moishe and Hannie good-bye. Hava walked alongside the wagon, not letting go.

“You promise me you will go to see Hevedke?” she asked her father imploringly.

Tevye only grumbled.

“Promise me,” she begged.

“If I can,” he said, refusing to make a commitment.

“Please, Abba, please.”

Tevye stared down at her eyes, the same eyes as her mother. They reached out and tugged at his heart.

“We shall see,” he said.

Bat Sheva cried. The departure of the children was particularly heartbreaking for Tevye’s youngest daughter. For months, Bat Sheva had been like a mother to them, feeding them, dressing them, washing their clothes, teaching them to read, and telling them bedtime stories. Though she could never replace their mother, she gave them all of the love she could give. The volcano of emotions which she had harbored for Ben Zion found an outlet in her care of the children. A new feeling of mature responsibility had begun to guide her actions. But now that Moishe and Hannie were leaving, she felt a hole in her heart once again. A feeling of blame seized her. After all, if she had been married, the children could have stayed in her care. Was that the meaning of Hillel’s look when he turned to stare at her as the wagon rolled away down the road? Is that what Shmuelik was thinking when he passed her by without glancing up from his book, as she walked sullenly back to the house? They were both good, honest men. Why was she afraid of them both? Why had she run after a man who hadn’t loved her, and run away from others who did? In the suddenly quiet, empty house, she felt lost and alone.

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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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-twenty-zichron-yaacov/2012/11/16/

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