Because of her treatment, or in spite of it, Tzeitl seemed to improve. She sat up in bed, color returned to her cheeks, and her fever subsided. But Tevye still worried about the rattling cough deep in her chest. The doctor said he could offer no more assistance. Fresh air and the approaching summer sun were the best things for her now. He didn’t know if a voyage to the Land of Israel would harm her. In fact, the ocean breeze might do her good. And Palestine’s mild, Mediterranean climate was certainly a healthier environment than Russia’s drastically changing seasons, he said.
When ten days passed and no word arrived from Odessa, they decided to continue their journey, as it says, “You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn away and take up your journey.” Tevye chided himself with having trusted Ben Zion with a large chunk of his savings. Fortunately, Hillel and Shmuelik had agreed to journey on with the Zionists to make sure that the money didn’t get lost. Tzeitl was still too weak to walk on her own, so her sisters helped her into the wagon. Nachman sat alongside Tevye, and the giant, Alexander Goliath, walked behind on the road, as if to make sure that the children didn’t fall out on the way.
“What about Hevedke?” asked Hava.
“What about him?” Tevye said.
“Aren’t we going to wait for him to come back from the market?”
“Why should we? It is a blessing to be rid of him.”
“How can you say that after all he did for Tzeitl?” Ruchela asked.
“He isn’t a part of this enterprise,” Tevye said. “My horse has done a great deal for me too, but I am going to part from him in Odessa. As Solomon says, There is a time to find, and a time to lose.”
“I think he has proven himself,” Tzeitl said. “I think you should give him a chance.”
Tevye was happy to see his daughter’s spirit returning, but his answer was no.
“Tell him, Nachman,” Ruchela said. “Tell my stubborn old Father that a gentile can convert.”
Nachman didn’t want to enter the family quarrel. “Halachically,” he said, “Jewish law makes it possible, but it isn’t a simple matter. Besides a brit milah, and immersion in a ritual mikvah, a long period of learning is required.”
“How long?” Hava asked.
“At least a year,” the young rabbi said. “And during that time, the prospective convert certainly isn’t allowed to be in the company of a Jewish woman with whom he has been intimate in the past.”
Hava blushed and fell silent.
“There!” Tevye said. “The rabbi has decided. You heard it from his mouth yourselves.”
“I’ll wait a year,” Hava said. “I’ll wait ten years.”
“Agreed,” Tevye answered. “After ten years, I will reconsider my decision. In the meantime, it’s final, and I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“I don’t blame Hava for loving Hevedke,” Bat Sheva said. “Jewish men are awful.”
They were the first words she had spoken for days. When word hadn’t arrived from Ben Zion, she had fallen into a lovesick depression. He had seduced her, betrayed her, and made her feel like a fool. All of his promises had been nothing but lies. He had wounded her heart, tarnished her purity, and worse than all, damaged her feminine pride. Though she had only succumbed to two kisses, she felt compromised beyond all repair.
The days turned beautiful, as if God had answered Tevye’s prayers for good weather. The sun melted all of the snow on the ground, and the Russian landscape seemed to sparkle with the promise of renewal which comes with the spring. Tzeitl’s spirits were characteristically cheerful. She seemed to feel better each day, but her cough clung to her like a shroud. Each time Tevye heard it, he felt a dagger pierce through his heart. Then, when they were only a half day’s journey from Odessa, a different kind of danger appeared on their path. Two highwaymen on horseback galloped out of the woods in front of the wagon and ordered them to halt. They both brandished rifles and their faces were covered with masks.
“Hand over your money and no one needs to get hurt,” one of them said.Tzvi Fishman