web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘fiddler on the roof’

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Three: A New Kind of Jew

Monday, January 21st, 2013

All of Tevye’s life, it seemed like he was always saying good-bye. Back in the old country, what now seemed like lifetimes ago, his Hodel had left him for Perchik. Then Hava had run off with her gentile, and Shprintza had drowned. Then the heart and soul of his being, his devoted wife, Golda, had departed for a more eternal world. His beautiful Baylke had left for America. Then the family had been chased out of Anatevka to set off like gypsies without country or home. When Tzeitl had died, a candle in his soul had been extinguished, but the need to take care of her children had made him stand strong. True, he had the joy of being united with Ruchel, but Tevye wasn’t convinced that his troubles were over. So, with one eye on his daily chores, and one eye raised toward the sky, Tevye waited for the next blow to fall. And so it was, when the time came to leave Zichron Yaacov for the new settlement site, Tevye had to say good-bye once again – this time to Hava who was staying on as a nurse in the hospital’s malaria clinic. She had made up her mind. None of his arguments had an effect.

“May the Lord protect you and keep you,” he said, laying his hands on her head and blessing her with the prayer which Jewish fathers had blessed their children for thousands of years. He hugged her and gave her a kiss, then once again climbed up into his wagon, just as he had been doing all of his life.

Fifteen pioneer families plus children were journeying off to establish the new Morasha community. Ruchel and Nachman. Hillel, Shmuelik, and Goliath. A near minyan of nine Hasidic families from Lubavitch. A family of Yemenite Jews. Tevye. And Reb Guttmacher, the undertaker, who repeated his motto to whomever he met, “I’ve dug enough holes for the dead. Now I want to dig holes for the living.”

“To life!” Tevye agreed as their caravan left the Zichron road to venture east across the flatlands which led to the mountainous spine of the country. “L’Chaim!”

“L’Chaim!” the Hasidim exclaimed. Instantly a bottle of vodka was afloat in the air, passing from hand to hand until all of the pioneers had made a toast on the success of their enterprise. Not wanting to be left out, Elisha, the dark-skinned Yemenite, took a swig of the harsh-tasting brew. Choking, he spit the vodka out on the ground.

Tevye laughed. “We’ll make a Jew out of you yet,” he said.

The others joined in with his good-natured laughter. Hillel gave the small, exotic-looking Jew a whack on the back.

“You’ll get used to it, don’t worry,” he said.

“You can keep it,” the Yemenite responded. “I have something better.”

He reached out a hand and one of his grown sons handed him a bottle.

“What is it?” Hillel asked.

“Arak.”

“What’s Arak?” the Russian Jew asked.

The Yemenite passed him the homemade brandy, distilled from the fruit of the etrog and herbs. Hillel raised it to his nose and inhaled a deep scent of licorice.

“If it tastes as good as it smells, I’ll buy a few bottles,” he said.

Throwing his head back, he took a big gulp. Suddenly, it was his turn to choke. Beneath the liquor’s sweetness was the kick of a mule. Hillel bent over coughing. Now it was Elisha’s turn to slap Hillel on the back. Soon both bottles were being passed through the air. Urged on by the Hasids, everyone, including the Yemenite, began singing a lively Baruch Haba welcome to Mashiach.

Baruch Haba, Baruch Haba,

      Melech HaMashiach.

      Baruch Haba, Baruch Haba,

      Melech HaMashiach.

      Ay yay yay, Melech HaMashiach,

      Ay yay yay, Baruch Haba,

      Ay yay yay, Melech HaMashiach,

      Ay yay yay, Baruch Haba.”

When the long-gowned, long-sidelocked, prayer-shawl enswathed Yemenite had first arrived in Zichron Yaacov, the Russian Jews had found it difficult to believe that this golden-skinned apparition could be a Jew. The first time Tevye saw him, he mistook him for an Arab. But an Arab with tzitzit and peyes? The sight was a puzzle. When Elisha joined them in prayer, this seemed even stranger. Everyone knew that only a Jew could be included in an official prayer minyan of ten. Still more bewildering, the Yemenite spoke Hebrew more fluently than all of them. True, the melodious wailing which ushered from his lips was a Hebrew which Tevye had never heard, but it was the language of his forefathers nonetheless.

I’m Not Such a Bad Guy After All!

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I know most of you think I’m just another pretty face. Others think that I’m just another hack blogger. And still others believe I’m like a bothersome fly that won’t go away. But the truth is that by the grace of God, I’m one of the most important novelists that the Jewish People have today. I’m not speaking about the bestselling darlings of the goyim, like Philip Roth, and those other mockers of Judaism and peddlers of assimilation. Sure, they know how to put a sentence together, but from a Torah point of view, their stuff is traif. Cut off from Torah, they write about sin and despair. In contrast, my novels are filled with an unabashed love for Torah, for tshuva, for the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for Eretz Yisrael. Plus, they’re all very well-written, inspiring, and packed with humor as well.

Like my novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which the Jewish Press has been serializing. A sequel to “Fiddler on the Roof,” the inspiring, fun-filled saga takes Tevye the Milkman from his plundered village of Anatekva to the Holy Land, where he becomes a pioneer settler. One of the reasons I wrote the novel was because I realized that both Jewish students and their parents didn’t really know anything about this fantastic period of our history, a period filled with heroism and adventure.

So I took the world renowned character of Tevye and placed him and his daughters smack in the center of the early pioneer rebuilding of Israel, surrounded by colorful characters like the Baron Rothchild, Rabbi Kook, and David Ben Gurion. The novel won the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. It’s wonderful reading for the entire family, especially for teenagers. And you can read it for free, right here, at the Jewish Press.

To give you a taste, here’s an excerpt from this week’s chapter, which brings Tevye to Yafo to meet with Rabbi Kook, to ask his advice about a gift of money that was sent by the Baron to help him raise his orphaned grandchildren. Afterward, Tevye pays a visit to the nearby yeshiva where Hevedke, the gentile poet who wants to marry Hava, is studying toward his conversion:

From Chapter 22:

Arriving in Jaffa, they traveled straight to the house of Rabbi Kook. Once again, the Rabbi’s kindly wife led them into his study. Once again, Tevye was amazed by the aura of holiness which seemed to surround his saintly figure and suffuse the whole room. Rabbi Kook’s eyes shone with both a mystical light, and a kind, compassionate smile. He listened as Nachman explained the dilemma. Tevye waited anxiously for his answer.

“While it is true that the money is legally yours,” the Rabbi decreed, “to be clear of any possible doubt, it is, as you suggest, a prudent idea to write the Baron himself and hear what he has to say.”

Tevye frowned, but he didn’t dare refute the Rabbi’s advice. There was nothing to do except pray that the Baron would stand by his benevolent gesture.

“As to your decision to leave Rishon LeZion, you should not harbor any doubts,” the Rabbi said to Nachman as if sensing the uncertainty in his heart. “Thank God, Rishon LeZion is an established community, and another teacher of Torah can surely be found. But what you and your family are doing, venturing forth to build a new settlement, this is an act of supreme importance. The person who most sacrifices himself for the rebuilding of our Land will receive the most bountiful blessing in Heaven.”

Nachman blushed and lowered his head. Then, Rabbi Kook turned a profoundly serious glance at Tevye. Instinctively, the milkman looked around to see if the Rabbi were gazing at someone more important behind him. But there was no one else in the study. The words of the Rabbi were addressed directly to him.

“Until all of our scattered brethren come to settle in our uniquely Holy Land, each of us has to demand all that he can of himself. We must always remember, that the Land of Israel is only acquired through trial and suffering. However, the Almighty does not test a man with more difficulties than he can bear. On the contrary, He gives us the strength and the courage to persevere. If we encounter problems, tragedies, and setbacks, it does not mean that the path we have chosen is wrong, but rather that the Almighty, in His great love, is providing us with a test to strengthen our faith. When we cling to Him with love and with joy, even in difficult times, like our Forefathers did in the past, we rise up in His service to the holiest levels which a person can reach. And this closeness to God is a greater gift and blessing than all of the comfort and wealth in the world.”

Tevye nodded. His palms moistened with sweat. Was he made out of glass that the Rabbi could see all of his inner doubts and fears? He remembered Golda’s words, “Be strong, my husband, be strong.” All he could think about was getting out of the room before the scholar’s searing gaze transformed him into a pile of ashes. Then, a kind smile flashed over the Rabbi’s face, putting the milkman at ease.

“Your family is depending on you to be strong, Reb Tevye, and to show them that our allegiance to God and our holy traditions will forever be a beacon to light up whatever temporary darknesses that life sets in our path.”

Tevye turned the conversation to Hevedke. Rabbi Kook reported that he was learning day and night in a small yeshiva nearby, and his progress was truly astounding. Hearing this, Tevye was not overjoyed. In his heart of hearts, he harbored the hope that rigorous discipline of Talmudic studies would prove too much for the Russian poet’s mettle. Rabbi Kook said that the secret to life lay in a man’s will, and that Hevedke was driven by a passionate desire to overcome the barriers which lay in the path of every soul who sets forth to climb up the ladder of holiness.

“A passionate desire for my daughter,” Tevye thought, still unconvinced of Hevedke’s sincerity in becoming a Jew.

While Nachman lingered to converse with the Rabbi, one of the Rabbi’s disciples escorted Tevye from the house to the yeshiva where Hevedke was learning. Standing in the doorway of the Beit Midrash study hall, it wasn’t hard to pick out the blond Russian from the other dark-haired students. Sitting with his back facing Tevye, Hevedke’s head and broad shoulders towered over the lot. Bobbing back and forth like a Jew daveningin prayer, he listened in fervent concentration as the scholar across from him explained a polemic of Talmudic law. Hevedke’s study partner made a movement with his hand and his thumb, as if he were scooping up some insight from the pages of the large volume ofGemara which lay on the table between them. He glanced up at Tevye just long enough to cause Hevedke to turn and look up at the visitor. Seeing Hava’s father, the young Russian leaped up with a bright happy grin.

“Tevye!” he boomed.

All of the students looked up. The clamor of their learning turned to a hush. Hevedke rushed over to Tevye, grasped him in a bear hug, and lifted him off of his feet. “Tevye,” he said. “Reb Tevye!”

When Hevedke returned him back to the floor, Tevye stared into a strange, unfamiliar face. Hevedke’s smooth, angular jaw was now bearded. A yarmulka covered his head. But the very great difference lay in his eyes. Tevye couldn’t explain it, but they were not the same eyes he remembered. A beautiful light shone within them, as if a candle had been lit from inside. The face of Hevedke, the Russian, had vanished. Confronting Tevye was the face of a Jew. It’s a great book! Here’s the link to Chapter One for readers who want to start at the beginning. For free!

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Two: A Visit to the Yeshiva

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

 Not only was Tevye’s family going to be together, they were going to be rich! The Baron’s gift of 5000 francs would make them the new aristocrats of Palestine. But Tevye’s daydreaming didn’t last long. When he heard that Nachman was planning on returning the money, Tevye nearly fell out of the wagon.      “I won’t allow it!” he said, dizzy from the shock.

“The Baron gave the money to us on the premise that we would raise up the children in Rishon,” Nachman explained. “In the Talmud, it is called a Mekach Ta’ut, meaning that the money was given on the basis of false information.”

“Don’t quote the Talmud to me,” Tevye stormed. “The money was given for the children, and as their guardian, I am in charge of their interests.”

Ruchel looked at her husband. “The Baron didn’t stipulate in his letter that we couldn’t move to another yishuv,” she said.

“It was obvious that the adoption was to take place in Rishon, and not somewhere else,” the young rabbi insisted.

“Why don’t we write him and ask him before we give up the money?” Ruchel suggested.

“Why tell him at all?” Tevye said. “I am not a scholar in Talmud, but the money is in your pocket. If the Baron has a claim, then he is the one who has to prove it.”

“I want to be fair to the Baron,” Nachman answered.

“With all of his billions, a man like the Baron doesn’t even remember that he wrote out a check. To him, 5000 francs is a tip. But think what the money will mean to the children.”

Nachman fell silent. It was true that the money was a blessing to the orphans, but honesty was a foundation of Torah. Especially in matters of money, where greed and temptation could make a crooked line seem straight, a man had to be cautious.

” God performs a miracle, and you want to tell Him no thank you,” Tevye said. “Don’t be such a big righteous tzaddik.”

“All right,” Nachman said. “We will hold onto the money for now. But in Jaffa, we will go and ask Rabbi Kook. Whatever he advises, we’ll do.”

Tevye grumbled. He didn’t like putting the decision in someone else’s hands, but what could he do? The money had been sent to Nachman and Ruchel, not to him. The main thing was getting the money out of the Company safe. With the money in hand, at least for the time being, his family would be rich. And maybe Rabbi Kook would have compassion on the plight of the children.

The whole argument turned out to be pointless. When the colony Director, Dupont, heard that Nachman and Ruchel were leaving Rishon, he refused to open the safe and give them the funds. Either they stayed in Rishon with the children, and the money would be theirs, or the money would be sent back to France.

Tevye felt like picking up the little Dupont and strangling him until he opened the safe. But he remembered that his assistants had guns.

“If that’s the case, I suggest the children stay here until we hear from the Baron himself,” Tevye said. “We can telegram him for an immediate answer.”

But Nachman’s mind was already made up. The happiness of the children was the most important thing, and they wanted to be with their grandfather. Money was secondary. With or without the Baron’s assistance, God would provide for their needs. So, trusting in the Holy One Blessed Be He, Nachman made the decision to set off without the money in hand.

All the way to Jaffa, Tevye brooded over the loss of the gift. It was a glaring injustice, he said. Dupont should be hanged! Who was he to decide for the Baron? Tevye was even prepared to journey to Paris to appeal to the Benefactor himself.

Nachman reminded Tevye that it was decreed on Rosh HaShana everything that would befall a man in the coming year. If the money was truly destined On High for the children, it would get to them, no matter how much Dupont protested. Tevye knew that, but still, a man was commanded to do whatever he could down on earth before relying on assistance from Heaven.

Orthodox Matchmaking Needs Huge Fixing

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

If there is one area of orthodox Jewish life that is truly messed up and needs fixing it’s matchmaking. In our communities we eschew the recreational dating scene of the secular world. As a counselor in that world and someone who once served as matchmaker-in-chief for JDate, I agree that it is too flawed. External qualities like beauty and money play an outsized role. People don’t date to commit but to have fun, except that there is nothing ultimately pleasurable about relationships that are expected, from the outset, not to last. Who needs a broken heart? Life has enough uncontrollable pain not to have add the self-inflicted variety.

So what is our solution? Is the alternative that we offer in orthodoxy of young men and women never meeting at all and connecting only through matchmakers a viable alternative?

Well, it once was when the orthodox community was, say, a tenth of the size it is today. But let’s be proud of our growth. From the time I got marriage nearly 25 years ago, thank God, to today the orthodox community has absolutely exploded in growth. We’re having a lot of kids, which is wonderful but it has strained the shidduch-matchmaking system to the limit. Some would say it has broken it almost completely. How the heck are a few, mostly volunteer matchmakers supposed to cope with this vast demand? Are young orthodox men and women really supposed to sit around, preparing their resumes, as if their on a job interview, and badgering shadchanim to prioritize them amid so many others clamoring for the same attention? Is it a workable system? Is there any dignity in it?

I am the proud father of nine children thank God and I just became a grandfather. My first three children are daughters, all raised with my standards of dating to marry and dating within the shidduch system. This is particularly important to me given my considerable exposure to the romantic and sexual challenges, not to mention the sky-high divorce rate,  that is prevalent in mainstream culture and which I address.  However, I’m not the kind of guy who believes in delegating life’s most important responsibilities to others. But here I am, as an orthodox father, forced to relegate my daughters’ dating life to matchmakers who are very well-intentioned and who care but who cannot possibly know my daughters well or prioritize them, given the vast demands on their time and energies from so many other parents.

In the Chabad system it’s especially challenging because of the absolutely vast increase in the size of the community, thank God, how spread out it is internationally, and because most of the shadchanim, trying to be pure of heart, offer their services in a volunteer capacity rather than professionally. But that also means there is no real accountability.

So, I am being fair to my daughters when I tell them, based on my personal values, that they should only date within the shidduch system? Should they be reduced, like so many other young Chabad men and women, to friends and matchmaker’s introductions? Should their involvement in their own dating life really be so passive?

I have to admit that my own experiences within the shidduch system has caused me to question it considerably, though my own children would probably disagree and say the system functions well enough. They would say that being ‘frum’ means certain things and they embrace the shidduch system, whatever its shortcomings. But Yeshiva University, where my daughter is an undergraduate, does events that brings young men and women together. It is not seen as scandalous or secular. Indeed, I applaud it. Chabad and the more ‘black hat’ communities would not countenance such interactions. And there is a part of me that not only understands that and agrees with it but even, for years, advocated it.

When a leading Chabad Rabbi with unquestionable credentials suggested a few years back in a column that Chabad begin limited interactions between the young men and women, in a controlled environment, to have them meet for the purposes of marriage, I attacked the suggestion as being a slippery slope. I who counsel so many secular singles and know how screwed up the singles scene is in secular singles-events and party communities.

But having said that, I now have a much more open mind. I do not believe it’s fair to my daughters, and my sons when they come of age, that the limited interaction they will have with a potential spouse will come from people who really don’t have a lot of time to commit to the endeavor. Less so do I believe that such an important stage in life become so fundamentally disempowering that one cannot take any kind of personal initiative but is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Indeed, a few years back I was prevailed upon, by young Chabad men and women writing to me, to host a small Shabbos gathering in Englewood where I would offer talks on Judaism and dating and where young Chabad men and women, thoroughly committed to the shidduch system, could have the opportunity to meet. I did it as an experiment. It worked well. It was very educational and, though I don’t know what couples resulted, I know it gave people hope.

And this is but one idea about how to fix a broken system. I welcome all other positive suggestions.

In the final analysis, the Jewish people are still here, after thousands of years of persecution, because our young people have married and produced strong families. This crisis, therefore, is an existential crisis that must be courageously addressed.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 15: Guardian of Israel

Friday, September 28th, 2012

As a sign of his grief over Tzeitl, Tevye tore his shirt and sat on a low stool in Hodel’s house in the traditional custom of mourners. He maintained a stalwart expression to disguise the hole he felt in his heart. His strength came from Golda. She appeared to him in a dream and told him not to worry.

“Don’t be so sad, my husband. Our Tzeitl is fine. She is back with her Motel, and she visits me all the time.”

When Bat Sheva blamed God for being unfair, Tevye reprimanded her for her bitterness. Who was man to complain, he asked her?  God was in Heaven, and they were on earth. A mortal had to accept the Almighty’s decrees in humility and believe that all of His doings were just.

The traditional period of shiva allowed a mourner to express his grief in the comforting presence of family and friends. All during the week, the pioneers of the kibbutz arrived at Hodel’s house to share their condolences with the family. Though none of the members of the kibbutz were religious, the men agreed to make up a prayer minyan so that Tevye could say the mourner’s Kaddish. Since they did not have prayerbooks for everyone, Shmuelik wrote out handwritten copies of the prayers. He also convinced the community that they should all have mezuzahs on their houses. It was decided that Ben Zion’s friend, Peter, would accompany Shmuelik to Tiberias, where he would buy kosher parchment. The quarantine in the city had ended, and Shmuelik was happy to find a thriving religious community in the ancient lakeside enclave. Throughout the rest of the week, the young scholar sat hunched over a table, quill in hand, carefully forming the letters of the Shema Yisrael prayer on the small clafs of parchment which he rolled up into the wooden mezuzah cases that Goliath whittled while watching the children. Though the kibbutzniks had made a religion of denying religion, they all willingly nailed the mezuzahs to their doorways as an expression of their Jewishness, in the same way that they all circumcised and bar-mitzvahed their sons.

Bolstered by his faith that man’s brief existence in this world was but a doorway to an eternal World to Come, and that Tzeitl was truly happy in Heaven, Tevye was able to enjoy the long and often heated discussions which filled Hodel’s house throughout the week. After all, as much as a Jew liked a good sour pickle, he savored a juicy debate. Most often, Perchik or Ben Zion represented the Zionist platform, while Tevye defended the sacred path of the Torah. The striking, white-bearded Gordon also had plenty to say. The philosopher and writer was the oldest member of the kibbutz, and the younger people, including Perchik and Ben Zion, showed him a great deal of respect. In a play on the life of Moses, Gordon would have been chosen to play the lead role. His high, balding forehead glowed red from his work in the sun, his eyes shone with intelligence, and his long, untrimmed beard gave him a prophet’s charisma. But, without a yarmulkah to cover his head, he looked more like a Jewish Tolstoy than the lawgiver of the Jews.

Surprisingly, the kibbutz women were as outspoken in their opinions as the men. In Tevye’s eyes, this breach of modesty was shocking. Ever since the time of Abraham and Sarah, the place of a Jewish woman was in the inner sanctums of the home. In the home itself, a woman could express her opinions from morning to night, but in public, when strange men were present, speaking out like a man was strictly taboo. The young, long-braided girl, Sonia, whom Ben Zion had danced with, was particularly loose with her tongue. Her free-thinking outbursts caused Shmuelik to redden with embarrassment and seek pretenses to withdraw from the room. The girl’s chutzpah particularly annoyed Bat Sheva. Tevye’s daughter would argue with her fiercely, even when she agreed with the things that Sonia was saying. Ben Zion greatly enjoyed their jousts, knowing they were meant to win his attention. Recalling Tevye’s warning in the snow-covered forest on the road to Odessa, the Zionist kept a respectable distance away from the milkman’s daughter, but now and again, he cast her passionate glances which made her believe he still cared.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 14: The Dybbuk

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Strangely, the person who seemed most affected by Tzeitl’s death was Goliath. Upon hearing the news, he surrounded himself with an impenetrable wall. He even found it hard to play with the children. Shmuelik said the body had to remain wrapped in a sheet on the floor of Hodel’s house until the Sabbath was over. During the Sabbath, mourning was forbidden, and Tevye did his best to remain strong. But come Motzei Shabbos, when the day ended, the children’s sobs at the funeral made everyone feel the very great weight of the loss. Little Moishe and Hannie clung to their grandfather as if he were father and mother in one. For their sake, Tevye kept his face locked in an optimistic expression. When the Mashiach came, he told them, their mother would return. With God’s help, they wouldn’t have long to wait. If they prayed hard enough, the Mashiach could come any day. All things considered, he reasoned, the situation of the dead was a lot better than that of the living. That is, if there were cows which had to be milked, and wagons which broke down in the World to Come, Tevye had never heard about it.

Tevye’s hope-filled posture paid off. After a few days, with the resilience of children, Moishe and Hannie ventured away from Tevye’s shadow to play outside with the youngsters of the kibbutz. Tevye and his daughters sat out the seven-day mourning period in Hodel and Perchik’s tiny, mud hut of a home. Goliath joined them as if he were a part of the family. He kept to a corner, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, but owing to his size, he filled up a substantial part of the room. He was gladdened when the children mustered enough courage to venture outside on their own. It gave him an excuse to sit outside the house, where he could keep an eye on their activities. That way, he could keep out of the way, yet still be a part of the mourning.

Because her family had to eat in her home while they were sitting shiva, Hodel had to be more stringent in the kitchen. While she never mixed milk products and meat, she had become less mindful of some of the other kosher laws. Since she and Perchik normally ate in the dining hall with the other members of the kibbutz, she had to make use of the communal kitchen in preparing the meals for her family. Shmuelik boiled the utensils which needed to be purified, and he kashered the pans in a blazing fire. Perchik called the procedure a primitive voodoo, but he controlled his disapproval as long as Tevye was in the house. However, he warned that when the week of mourning concluded, the foolishness would stop.

“It may seem like foolishness to you,” Hodel answered. “But to me it is important.”

“Has your father been brainwashing you again?”

“Don’t you dare to speak out against my father,” she said in a temper.

Perchik stared at his gentle wife in surprise. She stood glaring at him in defiance, as if she were seeking a fight. Since Tzeitl’s death, something in Hodel had changed. As strange as it sounded, she felt that Tzeitl’s spirit had entered her body. Everyone knew that stories of dybbuks were true. Souls of the dead could enter a person on earth until they found rest. In Anatevka, the Rabbi had exorcised more than a few. After all, Hodel reasoned, God had not brought Tzeitl all of the way to Israel to die in her arms for no reason at all. It was enough that Tzeitl wanted her children to grow up with Ruchel and the young rabbi, Nachman, to make Hodel realize the shortcomings of her present lifestyle. She had experienced a sense of rejection in her sister’s last wish, a condemnation of the path she had chosen, but in her heart, she knew that her sister’s decision was sound. After all, what sort of Jewish tradition could Hodel pass on to the children if the basics of Torah observance, like kashrus, Shabbos, and prayer were not to be found in her house? Soon, she realized, she would be a mother herself, and she wanted to bequeath to the next generation the things which had been important to her. Not only the aroma of freshly baked challahs, but the reverence for religion which had filled her house in Anatevka with a blessing from one Sabbath to the next. After all, it was the faithfulness to tradition which made a people last. Who said that modern ideas were necessarily better than the beliefs of the past?

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 13: Tzeitl’s Last Wish

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

“What are we going to eat?” Shmuelik asked Tevye as they changed into their Sabbath clothing.

Tevye did not understand the question. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Before Shmuelik could answer, Hillel spoke up in a bard’s satirical manner. “He means that though you may be overjoyed to be reunited with your daughter, the Lord has commanded the Jewish people to observe certain dietary laws like eating properly slaughtered meat. And while we have only been here a short time, I have not seen the likes of a God-fearing butcher.”

“So we won’t eat meat tonight,” Tevye responded. “There is no sin in that.”

“Not eat meat on Shabbos?” Hillel asked. “Even when my mother, God bless her, didn’t have a kopeck to buy a new pair of shoes for me or my brother, we still had meat on Shabbos.”

“That’s the way it goes,” Tevye answered. “The Almighty is in charge of the menu. Whatever He gives us is more than we deserve.”

“The meat is not the only problem,” Shmuelik observed. This is the Holy Land. There are laws of priestly dues and tithes. Before we can eat vegetables and fruits which Jews have grown in the Land, the proper portions must be set aside as commanded in the Torah.”

Tevye sighed. Whoever said it was easy to be a good Jew? Your thoughts had to be holy. Your deeds had to be holy. Your food had to be holy. Your day of rest had to be holy. Even your Land had special religious laws of its own which no one ever thought about in Russia.

“This is one of the reasons why Moses begged the Almighty to let him enter Eretz Yisrael” Shmuelik informed them. “So he could fulfill the mitzvos which we can only perform in the Holy Land.”

“If it was important to Moses, our teacher, than it certainly is important to us,” Tevye agreed. “But how does one take these tithes?”

Because sundown was almost upon them, and a detailed explanation would take much too long, Shmuelik volunteered to hurry to the kitchen to prepare the food as required. Dressed in his Sabbath finery, he ran off across the kibbutz grounds in search of the dining hall. Kibbutzniks pointed the way, their eyes wide with wonder as they stared at the ultra-Orthodox Jew in his white stockings and knickers. Embarrassed, he tapped on the kitchen doorway, noticing that it lacked a mezuzah. The young women inside stopped their work to gape at the bearded, black-coated apparition with a fur shtreimel hat on his head.

“We are visiting Hodel,” Shmuelik explained. “That is, her father and sisters have arrived, and there are certain matters of kashrut which need to be performed.”

The girls stared at him brazenly, directly into his eyes, the way men look at each other. Shmuelik had never encountered females like this. Embarrassed, he looked away.

“Do whatever you have to,” one said. “You are a guest.”

Quickly, Shmuelik entered the kitchen and set aside small portions of the vegetables which the women had prepared. When he finished separating the trumah and maaser tithes as the Torah prescribed, he began washing leaves of lettuce in a bucket of water.

“We already rinsed them,” one of the young women said.

“Hold a leaf up to the light,” he answered.

The girl inspected one of leaves which had already been washed. The green stalks were speckled with insects.

“Yeech,” the girl said in disgust.

“A Jew isn’t supposed to eat crawling creatures,” Shmuelik explained.

He asked for some vinegar. Soaking the leaves in the bitter liquid was the best way to make them bug free. “After soaking the leaves in the vinegar, they have to be washed again so that the taste isn’t spoiled,” he taught.

“Oh, nonsense,” said a girl with long braided hair. “Bugs are so small, what harm can they do?”

Once again, with the Sabbath only minutes away, Shmuelik didn’t have time to answer the question. “Did you bake any loaves of bread?” he asked.

“Certainly we did,” the girl named Sonia answered. “What do you take us for?”

Shmuelik broke off some pieces from the bread which the women had baked and said a blessing over the special challah portion. As it turned out, kosher meat wasn’t a problem at all. The evening’s main course was fish. Meat was a luxury which the kibbutz could not afford even on the Sabbath.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-13-tzeitls-last-wish/2012/09/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: