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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Promised Land’

A Turkish-Muslim Perspective on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

When people of reason and conscience look back on the subject of Shoah (otherwise known as the Holocaust) today, it is common to hear questions like: “How could a nation of philosophers, composers of classical music, technology, poets, in this seat of the Enlightenment itself, suddenly give place to savagery not seen since the Dark Ages? How could such dreadful, inhumane impulses seize every apparatus of a nation and cause it to commit such atrocities?”

In looking at the subject of the Holocaust violence, we can see the obvious influence of pseudo-scientific thought as well as a reversion to a darker philosophy in human history. Arguably, the roots of anti-Semitism in Europe run quite deep, and found their most lethal expression in the Shoah itself; when some six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were done to death on the edge of mass graves in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia or had their lives systematically snuffed out at factories of mass murder such as Sobibor, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Chelmo and Belzec, names that shall forever be remembered as grim testaments to hatred. While it is not the intention of this article to go too in-depth on the roots of European anti-Semitism, it must be touched upon in order to illustrate how prejudice led to disdain, then to hatred, and finally to genocide.

Anti-Semitism in Europe has a long and tragic history. For many centuries, this dislike of the Jewish people of the Diaspora was confined to the religious and social sphere; indeed, it’s all too easy to recall such events as when the pogroms of the First Crusade in 1096, the expulsion from England by Royal Decree in 1290, the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the assorted pogroms in Russia and Ukraine; the list is long and horrific. This awful situation persisted as recently as 1959, when a reference to “perfidious Jews” was finally dropped from the Good Friday Liturgy of the Catholic Church (it must be said here that the Roman Catholic Church has made enormous strides in its relations with the Jewish people, most notably beginning with Vatican II and the later efforts of Pope John Paul II; and let us not forget the many Catholics – and others – who risked, and in some cases, lost their lives to save innocent Jews from Nazi terror).

Until the 19th century, European anti-Semitism was largely confined to the religious sphere (and to a lesser extent, the socio-economic sphere as well). Then, by the middle of the Nineteenth Century, it began to change in tone and style. Anti-Semitism became no longer a matter of theological difference, but rather a matter of biological differences. This was the introduction of so-called “scientific racism” through the introduction and application of Darwinian evolutionary theory, which had gained widespread acceptance by the end of the Nineteenth Century. And with this, the argument among European anti-Semites changed from, “Let us convert the Jews” to “Let us rid ourselves of this infectious and invasive species” (May God forbid). Simply put, an openly exterminationist sentiment had arisen, based on pseudo-scientific reasoning. The Jewish people had gone from being “the Other” to being “the Subhuman,” “a bacillus,” “a virus.” Surely they are beyond this defamation.

Darwinism, and its false implication that human beings are mere animals, classified as “superior,” “inferior” or “non-human” is the basis for the pseudo-science of racism. When Hitler said, “Take away the Nordic Germans and nothing remains but the dance of apes,” he was referring to the falsehood of Darwinist ideas. (Carl Cohen, Communism, Fascism and Democracy, Random House, New York, 1972, p. 408-409) While certainly, there are differences between people, to suggest that a group of people is inherently superior to another, and therefore has a right or moral imperative to subjugate the other, is a grossly mistaken idea.

As a result of such pseudo-scientific fallacies and and neo-romanticist fantasies, six million Jews, innocent men, women and children over a vast swath of the European continent were dehumanized, corralled into ghettoes and exterminated by the conquering Nazis. According to their racial delusion, in which the Nazi herrenvolk would rule over a vast empire of slaves, with the conquered peoples being the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and with the Jewish people (not to mention anyone else who failed to measure up to the Nazis exacting Darwinian standards) having been eliminated from the face of the earth itself. The Nazis’ crude interpretations of Darwinism and their outlandish views of history such as Ariosophy, are all too familiar to anyone with even a rudimentary education, and there is no need to comprehensively explain their overall ideology. There are indeed people alive inIsrael today, and many other countries, who survived this darkest period of human history, who can easily attest to the horrors they witnessed and experienced. Therefore, we must also address a point which has emerged from the shadows; the notion of denying that the Shoah took place, or as it is better known, Holocaust Denial.

Holocaust denial is a peculiar subset of pseudo-history which teaches that anyone who lays claim to the mantle of “historian” can deny, out-of-hand, that the Shoah took place. Aside from the reams of documentary evidence, or the photographs taken by members of the Nazi extermination squads as they wrought their vile handiwork, we have the words of the perpetrators themselves, including the testimony on the stand, under oath, of no one less than Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, not to mention the testimony of Adolf Eichmann, the pencil-pushing architect of the Final Solution, as well as the infamous “Pozen Speech” (which was recorded by the way) of Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi RSHA (Reichssicherhauptamt – or Reich Central Security, the umbrella security organization of the SS, SD and the Gestapo) and directly responsible for the Shoah itself. That any sane individual, not to mention a historian, can dismiss this overwhelming verifiable evidence which clearly testifies as to what transpired, often in the most blood-chilling and sickening detail, beggars belief. To maintain that the Shoah is either a wholly fictive event, or that it was “grossly exaggerated” is the pinnacle of intellectual dishonesty, and indeed we as Muslims must roundly condemn such foolishness with any other reasonable mind.

As Muslims, we bear a special obligation to confront the anti-Semitism that has infected the Muslim world. We must not traffic in discredited ideas and unbecoming stereotypes or proclaim, as truth, notorious forgeries such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (it has been well known for almost a century now that this tract was a forgery by the Czarist Secret Police in order to justify pogroms in Russia). We must not subscribe to pseudo-scientific notions such as racism, nor allow ourselves to succumb to pseudo-historic nonsense such as Holocaust Denial. When it comes to anti-Semitism, we must confront it. We must educate against it. And most of all, we must repudiate it utterly.

Racist ideology is completely contradictory to Islam and according to Islam, human superiority has nothing to do with race or any criteria that human beings are judged by in this world. God reveals this truth in the Qur’an:

Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in God’s sight is that one of you who best performs his duty. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Qur’an, 49:13)

With this in mind, we can also look to the recent past and remember how Turkish diplomats worked to save Jews from persecution and extermination during the Second World War. Although it is neither as emphasized or as well-known as the stories of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, it is a fact that Turkish diplomats provided official documents such as citizenship cards and passports to thousands of Jews. Just to give one example, the Turkish ambassador Behiç Erkin -in order to save the Jews- gave the Nazis documents certifying that their property, houses and businesses, belonged to Turks. In this way, many lives were saved. Yet another example is that of the Turks who organized boats to carry Jews to safety inTurkey. My intention in mentioning this is that Muslim Turks’ attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and God willing, it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.

For hundreds of years, Jews have known suffering, pain, and have never been at ease. Since the Diaspora, they have been expelled from most every place they ever went for centuries. And now there are some who say they want the Jews to leave Israelalso. The question arises, “Where are they supposed to go?” The Jews, the people of Israel, have the right to live in the Holy Land, in peace and security; indeed, it is so commanded by God Himself in the Qur’an: “And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land.’” (Surah Al-Isra, 104) Therefore, no one who professes submission to God and heeds the Word of God can oppose their existence in theHoly Land. And as Turks, as Muslims as much as we want the welfare of humanity, we want Jews to live in peace as well. We will always make our best efforts to ensure this goal.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-One: Reunion

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

The journey from Zichron Yaacov to Jaffa took almost three days. For Tevye, it was a chance to see another part of the Land of Israel, the sandy, swamp-infested coastline bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the landscape was barren, with only an occasional settlement along the way. The colonies of Hadera, Kfar Saba, and Petach Tikvah were like oases where the Jews could find a prayer minyan and stock up on supplies. Otherwise, the land lay in abandonment and ruin. Toward the end of the third day, the movement of ships out to sea told them that they were nearing the busy port city of Jaffa. In the distance, they could see the hill overlooking the harbor and the tower of the citadel which had been built during the Crusades. At the outskirts of the city, a new village consisting of rows of wooden houses and tents was being constructed on the beach. Someone said it was called Tel Aviv.

“Are they Jews?” Tevye asked.

“Free thinkers,” one of the winery workers said in a deprecatory tone.

“Free-thinking Jews,” Lishansky, the Zichron work foreman added, out of respect for all pioneers.

“You can’t be free thinking and still be a Jew,” the religious wine worker said.

“You can’t be a Jew without being free thinking,” Lishansky corrected, enjoying a little intellectual debate to pass the monotony of the journey.

“A Jew is obligated to do what God instructs him to do,” Tevye argued.

“That may be true,” Lishansky agreed. “But that in itself is the greatest freedom.”

The clang and pounding of hammering punctuated their talmudic discussion. Stone buildings and wooden frames were being erected along a dirt roadway, which was to become Tel Aviv’s main thoroughfare, Disengof Street. Within a short time, they reached the clustered dwellings of Jaffa, passed Rabbi Kook’s neighborhood, and continued on to the Rothschild wine warehouse. Tired from the journey, Tevye decided to spend the night sleeping between the rows of barrels. For a wine connoisseur like Tevye, he couldn’t have found a better hotel. The mosquitoes were merciless, but after purchasing a wholesale bottle of a vintage red brew, he managed to drift off to sleep. In the morning, Tevye and Goliath said so long to their comrades and kept heading south with the children. As they left the port city, a few settlers from Rishon hopped on the back of the wagon with bundles of food and supplies.

“Thank the Almighty,” Tevye said, “for sending us angels to help guide us on our way.”

“We are only simple Jews,” one of them answered.

“Can there be such a thing?” Tevye asked, in a philosophical mood. “Aren’t we all sons of the King?”

Moishe climbed into the front seat of the wagon and leaned sleepily against his grandfather. The mosquitoes in the warehouse had kept the boy awake all through the night. Not wanting to be left alone in the rear of the wagon with the strangers, Hannie followed after her brother and rested against Goliath’s secure, sturdy frame. Soon they had left the bustling port city behind.

Arriving in Rishon LeZion after sunset, they found Ruchel and Nachman at home in their small wooden cottage. How ecstatic the young couple was to see them! Since their wedding, it was the first time that family had come for a visit. While Ruchel hurried to set freshly baked cakes on the table, Tevye and Goliath carried the sleeping children to a corner where a spare bed was waiting.

“I have ordered another bed from the carpentry shop,” Nachman said, beaming with the happiness of a man who had found his niche in life. He even looked a little rounder around the belly, in praise of Ruchel’s cooking.

“Sit, Abba, sit,” he said to Tevye, motioning him to a chair. “You must be tired from the long journey. Please, by all means, take some cake. Ess, ess. Eat. Honor our house with a blessing over the food that God has so graciously given us.”

The guests sat down at the small table to eat. The sweet, creamy pastry was just what Tevye longed for after the long dusty trail. A picture of the past flashed in his eyes as he remembered his wife, Golda, and the delicious cakes she always had waiting when he trudged home from work.

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

Friday, November 16th, 2012

With the birth of Hodel’s baby, the time had come for Tevye to journey onward. Family was a matter of tantamount importance, but a Jew had an even higher allegiance to God. Had not the Almighty warned that life in the Holy Land must be lived according to the commandments of the Torah? That meant observing the laws of the Sabbath and the holidays, eating kosher food, donning tallit and tefillin, guarding the treasures of marital purity, and observing all of the six-hundred and thirteen commandments – most of which were flagrantly ignored by the young pioneers on the kibbutz. True, they were good, idealistic souls, risking their lives, and giving up material comforts to build a refuge in Israel for the Jews all over the world. Their dedication to making the barren Land bloom was in itself an act of great religious faith, but, to Tevye’s way of thinking, faith in working the Land wasn’t enough. Ultimately, a Jew had to live by the Torah. It was enough of a tragedy that his daughter, Hodel, had been led astray by her husband – Tevye now had to think of Moishe and Hannie, who were bound to be influenced by the other children on the kibbutz. And it was wise, Tevye felt, to whisk Bat Sheva away before she fell victim once again to her passions and grow enamored with some other free-spirited hero.

After Ben Zion’s funeral, the heartbroken girl plunged into a gloomy silence. Tevye also felt troubled. The cold-blooded killing weighed on his mind like an omen. He wondered what would be with the Arabs. True, in his travels through the country, Arab villages were few and far between. Occasional caravans would pass along the road, and Bedouin shepherds would appear now and then in the landscape. But as picturesque as they were to Perchik, Tevye had learned that, like snakes in the roadside, their bites could prove fatal.

Driving his wagon along the trail through the mountains toward Zichron Yaacov, where Shmuelik and Hillel were living, Tevye found himself engaged in deep thought. He even imagined that the Baron Rothschild had invited him into his palatial office to discuss the dilemma of establishing a large Jewish population in the midst of hostile neighbors.

“Well, my respected Reb Tevye, how do you propose we deal with the Arab situation?” the Baron asked in his daydream.

Tevye stood by the large globe of the world in the center of the Baron’s wood-paneled study. Gently spinning the orb, his fingers slid over continents as he pondered his response. Tevye’s footprints, muddied from the barn, had left dark stains in the carpet, but the Baron hadn’t seemed to notice. Why should he? With a staff of round-the-clock servants, why should the dirt of an honest, hard-working milkman disturb him?

“I must confess that I am not a political analyst, but only a simple laborer,” Tevye responded.

“Even a simple laborer has opinions,” the Baron said. “And I respect the opinions of every man.”

“My opinions are the teachings of our Sages, and the pearls of wisdom which I have learned from the Torah.”

“And what does the Torah say on this matter?” the Baron inquired.

Before Tevye could answer, the famous philanthropist held out a mahogany humidor filled with fragrant cigars. Tevye took one and allowed the Baron to graciously light it.

“The Torah says that the Arabs are to dwell in the lands of the Arabs, and the Jews are to dwell in the Land of the Jews.”

“The Torah was written a long time ago. Perhaps political equations have changed.”

“The word of the Lord is forever,” Tevye answered. “The sons of Ishmael have been blessed with lands of their own. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews.”

“Your faith has strengthened me, Tevye,” the Baron said. “Your faith has strengthened me indeed.”

Of course, daydreams are daydreams, and life is life. True, Tevye generally had mud on his boots, but if Baron Edmond de Rothschild ever summoned him to a chat, his secretary forgot to deliver the message. In fact, the Baron was not to be found in Zichron Yaacov at all. He ruled over his Palestine colonies from his castles in France. “Av HaYishuv,” the settlers called him. “Father of the Settlement.” Others called him “HaNadiv,” meaning, “The Benefactor,” after his beneficent ways. Still others called him less pleasant names. His dignified portrait hung in the JCA office, above the heads of the officials who carried out his commands. Under the dark Homberg hat in the picture was a hawkish profile, patriarchal whiskers, a benevolent smile, and a fur-collared coat. Tevye, who fancied himself a fair judge of character, understood right away that the Baron was a unique individual, deserving great respect. As for the bald-headed Frederick Naborsky, Director of the Jewish Colony Association in Palestine, Tevye was less convinced of the sterling nature of his personality.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nineteen: A Trail of Tomatoes

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

The indefatigable woodchopper, Goliath, provided the posts and slats for the fence which the settlers began erecting around the kibbutz. Ben Zion adamantly opposed the idea, claiming a fence would turn the settlement into a ghetto and curtail any further expansion.

“If the fence is intended to keep our enemies out, I have a better way,” Ben Zion declared, holding up his rifle. “And if the fence is intended to keep us inside its borders, we left the ghettos of Europe and Russia behind us. Fences are for frightened people. If we want to build a proud and brave nation, we have to start acting like one.”

While even the philosopher, Gordon, said that Ben Zion was right, Perchik insisted on honoring the agreement, arguing that they could purchase additional land when their economic situation improved. To keep Shoshana’s end of the bargain, he arranged for a loan from the older, more established Degania kibbutz on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Several days later, the goodwill money was paid to the Arabs.

As it turned out, peace was achieved on another front as well. Miraculously, Tevye did not have to go to war with Bat Sheva. She apologized on her own. She confessed that she loved Ben Zion, but she was not going to run after him like a chicken without a head. Until he was ready to marry her, she did not want to see him again.

“Hodel is right,” she said. “Ben Zion is so in love with himself, he doesn’t have room in his heart for anyone else.”

So that’s what caused the turnaround, Tevye thought. Thank the good Lord. Bat Sheva had been speaking with her sister. That was a smart thing to do. As King Solomon said, “Wisdom comes from increased advice.” The girl had some intelligence and sechel after all. What a pity that Hodel herself had not confided in someone before running off with her own egotistical shpritzer.

“He will never have any respect for me if I don’t first have respect for myself,” Bat Sheva said.

Tevye was pleased to hear his little girl speak with such common sense. If he had uttered the very same words, Bat Sheva would have protested and bolted angrily from the house. In retrospect, Tevye realized that he should have been more patient with his other daughters. With a little more tolerance and trust on his part, they might have been less rebellious.

It seemed that any day now Hodel would have to give birth. Her belly was so swollen, when she walked, she waddled back and forth like a duck. If she sat down in a chair, she needed help getting up. With a feeling of great expectation, Tevye drove his wagon out to the fields for another morning’s work. Who could tell? Perhaps his Hodel would give birth to a boy. A year ago in Anatevka, who would have dreamed of celebrating a brit milah in the very Land where the covenant of circumcision between God and the Jewish people had been forged?

The day’s chore was to harvest the tomatoes which had been planted in a rocky field at an edge of the settlement. Because there was no private ownership on the kibbutz, Tevye’s wagon had been appropriated to serve the needs of the community. He had reluctantly agreed, with the stipulation that he be the only driver. And he made it clear to the appropriations committee that if he were to leave the kibbutz, the wagon would depart with him.

As usual, the kibbutzniks riding in his wagon sang happy songs about Zion and about the glory of working the Land. Spirits were especially high in expectation of the harvest ahead. What greater joy for a farmer than gathering the fruits of his labor? Imagine everyone’s shock upon reaching the field of tomatoes and finding every vine bare! The tomatoes had already been picked! Not a vegetable remained on a stalk. The shattered fence and fresh wagon tracks leading north toward the Arab camp were clues any blind man could read. During the night, while the Jews of Shoshana were sleeping, the Arabs had come and harvested the entire crop.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Eighteen: Peace in the Middle East

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The emergency bell clanged throughout the valley of the Shoshana kibbutz. Workers who were building the first stone edifice on the settlement put down their chisels and masonry tools. Field hands set aside their scythes and their sickles and started back toward the compound of mud and wood dwellings. Within minutes, all of the settlers sat crowded together on the benches in the dining hall. With great indignation, Ben Zion related how the Arabs had ambushed them at the well and stolen his horse and two rifles. He demanded that a small force be organized immediately and set off in retaliation.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” someone asked.

“We were outnumbered, and I did not want to endanger the girl,” he answered, leaving out the embarrassing details of how the Arabs had snuck up and surprised them.

“You know the rule that a shomer is forbidden to go out on guard duty alone. Why did you break it?”

“I was teaching the girl how to shoot.”

“I wish he would teach me how to shoot,” a plain-looking girl quipped loudly enough for her neighbors to hear. Other girls giggled. Ben Zion’s friends broke out in laughter. Since it was Gordon’s turn to preside at the general meeting, the gavel was in his hand. He gave it a bang on the table, and the ruckus subsided. Sonia, standing in a corner of the hall, flashed a look of accusation at the faithless Don Juan. Ben Zion smiled. Rogue that he was, he cherished all of the attention.

“No one wants a war,” Perchik said. “Let the Arabs have the well. We can always dig another.”

Immediately, another clamor broke out in the crowd. Shouts of protest or agreement came from all corners of the hall. Once again, the fierce-looking Gordon wielded his gavel.

“Water can’t be found everywhere,” a kibbutznik asserted. “Without our wells, what will we do in the event of a drought?”

“What about the stolen horse and the rifles?” another man asked. “Do we give them away too?”

The uproar resumed. This time it took a full minute of gavel banging to restore a semblance of order.

“I volunteer to lead a contingent from the kibbutz to enter into negotiation with the Arabs,” Perchik announced. “If nothing can be accomplished in a peaceful manner, then we can think about fighting.”

“If we don’t respond with a show of force, they will only take advantage of us in the future,” Ben Zion warned.

Once again, a vote was taken. This time, Ben Zion’s followers were one vote shy of a deadlock. Peter had gone to Tiberias to have a doctor examine an infection in his wounded shoulder.

“That’s not fair,” Ben Zion protested. “Peter is not here to vote.”

“You know the rules of the voting,” Gordon responded. “A voter has to be present.”

Ben Zion cast a frustrated look over the crowd.

“One minute,” a voice called from the doorway. “You didn’t count me. I vote with Ben Zion.”

It was Bat Sheva.

“She doesn’t belong to the kibbutz,” Sonia called.

“I want to join,” Bat Sheva responded.

Tevye stood up from his seat on a bench in the back of the room and glared at his daughter. She stared defiantly back at him. Ben Zion’s frown immediately turned to a grin.

“The vote is even,” he said.

“No it isn’t!” Tevye bellowed. “I too want to join the kibbutz. And I vote with Perchik!”

It was no easy decision for Perchik. On the one hand, Tevye’s vote assured a majority for his non-violent faction, averting the danger of military encounter. On the other hand, if Tevye were actually to reside in Shoshana, that would be the end of Perchik’s happy home life with Hodel. But, then again, if Ben Zion’s forces won out, Perchik’s influence on the kibbutz would be seriously weakened. For Tevye also, siding with his socialist son-in-law was no easy matter, but he was willing to do it to bring about Ben Zion’s defeat.

“We have the majority,” Perchik claimed, accepting Tevye’s vote.

“The decision is final,” Gordon announced. “We negotiate with our neighbors.”

Another commotion erupted. Everyone had something to say, either about the Arabs, or about the way the kibbutz had accepted new members without a community vote. Bat Sheva glared at her father and strode out of the hall. Tevye started after her, but Perchik walked over and gave him a congratulatory pat on the back.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Seventeen: The Milkman’s Daughter

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Tevye decided to stay in Shoshana until the birth of Hodel’s baby, which was only a month away. He forbade Bat Sheva to speak to Ben Zion, and asked Goliath to keep his eyes open to make sure there were no rendezvous. Tevye, by nature, had a trusting, good-natured soul, and in the past, it had led him to be too lax with his daughters. This time, he was determined to keep a tight rein on his youngest, lest her impetuousness lead her astray.

Hava went to work in the kitchen. For all of her openness to modern ideas, Hava felt ill at ease with the notion of women’s rights. To her way of thinking, a man had his duties, and a woman had hers. The theory that a woman could do the work of a man seemed foolish to her. As far as she was concerned, it was better to work in the kitchen, feeding people, than to work in a stable, feeding horses and cows.

Everyone in the commune ate together in the dining hall, so there was always plenty of work to occupy Hava, and to keep her from thinking about Hevedke’s new life in a faraway Jaffa yeshiva. The kibbutz diet consisted of sour cereals, vegetables, olives, goat’s cheese, black bread, eggs, and sardines. Meat was a luxury which the treasury of the kibbutz could rarely afford. The unrefined olive oil they used for cooking was purchased from Arabs in goatskin bags which gave the oil a bitter taste. There were not enough knives and forks for everyone, and settlers had to sometimes eat their main course with spoons. Though many of life’s staples were lacking, a spirit of thankfulness and singing accompanied the meals. Even Tevye was impressed. He had been in the luxurious homes of the rich people of Yehupetz and had never experienced such genuine happiness and joy. Inspired by their mission of working the land, the kibbutzniks were happy with the little they had. Hava tried to do what she could to improve their conditions, but when she put flowers and tablecloths on the tables for the Friday night meal, she was criticized for being bourgeoise.

For all of his devotion to Torah, Tevye was not a fanatic. Though the lifestyle in Shoshana irked him, he was able to restrain his chagrin over the secular character of the kibbutz. He remembered the words of the wise Rabbi Kook who said that the very act of settling the Land of Israel was a religious act in itself. Hadn’t the Sages of the Midrash taught that living in the Land of Israel was equal to all of the commandments in the Torah? Perhaps it was his age, or because Hodel was his daughter, or because Tzeitl’s death had left him too tired to fight – whatever the reason, Tevye accepted the lapses of Yiddishkiet as a situation which was not in his power to change.

Shmuelik’s reaction was different. The fervent scholar was horrified by the kibbutzniks and by their disdain for Jewish tradition. While Tevye had traveled far from Anatevka with his wagonful of cheeses, rubbing elbows with the rich and meeting free-thinkers in Boiberik and St. Petersburg, the young Shmuelik had never left the sheltered confines of his shtetl. To him, the kibbutznikim were heretical apikorsim who were to be avoided as much as the plague. “Gentiles who speak Hebrew,” he called them. Their desecration of the Sabbath, of the dietary laws, and the laws of family purity, were offenses that cried out to Heaven. That their heretical behavior should occur in the Holy Land was even more of an outrage in his eyes. When he learned that an animal pen under construction was intended for the breeding of pigs, that was the end. Though Shmuelik had come to love Tevye as a father, he found the situation unbearable. After ten days, he decided to set off for Zichron Yaacov, where the central office of the Jewish Colony Association was located. Just as Jacob’s son, Yehuda, had journeyed to Egypt to prepare the way for his family, Shmuelik would scout out new settlements and send word to Tevye regarding the opportunities he found. That way, Tevye would have a kosher, religious community waiting for him when he left the kibbutz. Alexander Goliath, the oversized Jew with the oversized heart, decided to stay by Tevye’s side. At Tzeitl’s gravesite, he had made a solemn promise to look after her children. Her last wish had been that Moishe and Hannie would grow up with Ruchel and Nachman, and Goliath felt it was his duty to carry out her request.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Sixteen: A Vote is Taken

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Ben Zion’s troop returned empty-handed to the well. They found Tevye hiding behind a tree, sunburned and poised to shoot. Back at Shoshana, a community meeting was once again summoned by clanging the dining-hall bell. Everyone in the kibbutz gathered to express an opinion. Perchik and Ben Zion sat at the head table, representatives of the two leading camps. Within minutes a fiery debate erupted over the best course of action to follow – whether to negotiate with the Arabs, or to declare outright war. Shouts in Russian and Hebrew were heard from all corners. Tevye did not understand every word, but he gathered that Perchik led the pacifists, while Ben Zion championed a more militant posture. As far as Tevye could tell, the settlers were divided in half. Even the women participated, shouting out opinions as vituperatively as the men. The milkman had never seen anything like it. In fact, all of his life, he had never attended at a gathering where men and women sat mixed together. Even at a wedding, the sexes were kept discreetly apart.

During the week-long conversations in Perchik’s home, Tevye had learned enough history to grasp the roots of the problem. Rome’s long conquest over Eretz Yisrael had been brought to an end by the Persians. Omayyad Moslems chased out the Persians, overcoming the last Roman strongholds. Then came the Crusades, as the Christians set out to conquer the Holy Land by slaughtering all of the Moslems and Jews in the country. Then Mongul hordes swept through the region, leaving behind a devastating trail of destruction. Cities were razed, landscapes burned, fields uprooted, and the population terrorized. Two-hundred years of savagery followed as warring Moslem tribes battled for control. They had names which Tevye could scarcely pronounce – Abbasids, Fatamids, Seljuks, and the barbarous Mamluks. Throughout the rampage of history, Jewish life in the Holy Land always continued, like a candle that never burns out. Finally, for the last four-hundred years, the Ottoman Turks had ruled over Palestine. Presently, the country was a hodge-podge of Ottoman districts, ruled over by Turkish Muktars who took orders from Constantinople and Damascus. The Bedouin and Arab tribes who roamed through the country never had ruled over Palestine. Some sheiks possessed legal deeds, but more often than not, they lived far away in other districts. Roaming Arab tribes ignored Turkish law and squatted on lands to which they had no legal right. Thus their claims of land ownership brought them into conflict with the new wave of Jewish settlers who were purchasing tracts of land. These transactions were officially recorded in the Ottoman Land Office in Constantinople, which people were now calling Istanbul. The tiny community of Shoshana was not the first Jewish settlement to find itself at odds with the largely unfounded claims of these nomadic Arab tribes. Further complicating the matter was the lackluster way which the Turks had made surveys and maps. Property boundaries were forever in dispute and detailed deeds were a rarity, if they could be located at all in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the disorganized Istanbul archives.

When the tall, stately figure of Gordon rose in the hall, the noisy, raucous debate momentarily quieted to give the respected visionary a chance to speak.

“Herzl proposed that the benefits of economic advancement would outweigh Arab nationalism,” he said. “We have to let our hard work and economic endeavor convince the people of Palestine that our presence here is a boon to the area and not a threat.”

Following his lead, another intellectual rose to his feet.

“Sokolov wrote that cultural rapprochement would bring a new Palestine civilization. We should invite our Arab neighbors to Shoshana for a social encounter.”

A statesman for Ben Zion’s camp rose in rebuttal.

“Arthur Ruppin asserted that a policy of transfer is the only solution. The Arabs need to be chased out of the Land.”

A roar of approval from the militants sounded throughout the room. With a gavel, Perchik banged on the table.

“You all know how I feel,” he said. “Marxists believe that peace and world unity can only be achieved through a cooperative society – through a pan-worker state without nationalist factions. As Herzl said, if we will it, this region can be a model for the world.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/chapter-sixteen-a-vote-is-taken/2012/10/05/

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