“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.”
“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.