“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.