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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty: Zichron Ya’acov


Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

“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.

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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