The Zionists were happy to have Tevye and his family join them. Feeling no pain from the vodka, Tevye invited their young leader to sit alongside him in the wagon. In a feeling of brotherhood, he even offered him a drink. Ben Zion refused. Alcohol, he said, was a drug which the wealthy class used to keep the peasants content in their religious stupor. He and his friends were drunk with the spirit of freedom, so who needed vodka? But if their distinguished traveling companion needed a drink, then by all means, he should imbibe – it was a day of emancipation, a time of independence, a cause for celebration.
“Emancipation from what?” Tevye asked.
“From the yoke of the Czar.”
“Amen,” Tevye said, taking another hearty drink.
Tzeitl reached out to take the bottle away from her father.
“Honor thy father,” Tevye warned, holding the vodka out of her reach. “Didn’t the angels inquire of Abraham, `Where is your wife?’ A woman’s place is out of sight, a queen in her palace, not with the men in the front seat of the wagon.”
“We believe that women should be liberated too,” Ben Zion said.
“You believe in a lot of foolish nonsense,” Tevye answered. “But you have an excuse – you’re still a young whelp.”
“Wasn’t Elazar ben Azariah even younger than I am when he was chosen to head the Sanhedrin?”
“Oh, I see I have the privilege of sharing my seat with a scholar of Torah. I truly am honored,” Tevye said.
“Just because I go with my head uncovered, don’t think that I haven’t learned. My father sent me to heder, and I was quite a good student until I discovered that the world had entered new times.”
“Hasn’t King Solomon taught us that there is nothing new under the sun?” Tevye asked.
“I can quote Scripture too, but don’t you see that it’s all an old-fashioned fable which doesn’t apply anymore?”
Tevye pulled on the reins until his horse came to a halt. “There will be no words of heresy in this wagon. While it may lack a roof, this is, for the time being, our humble abode, and Tevye, the son of Schneur Zalman, will not tolerate blasphemy in the presence of his family. So if you cannot control your speech, please step down from my wagon.”
Ben Zion smiled. “No problem, old man,” he said. “While I am unable to agree with your beliefs, I respect both you and your beautiful daughters. Besides, evening is approaching, and you probably would like to pray to your God. In the meantime, my comrades and I will look for a suitable camp site.”
“My beautiful daughters,” Tevye mumbled when the insolent scoundrel climbed down from the wagon. He would have felt safer if he were traveling with thieves. This free-thinking Herzl was cut from the very same cloth as his son-in-law Perchik. Why, Tevye wondered, had he turned a deaf ear to the Rabbi?
They camped in the woods by the roadside. Tevye unhitched his horse and fed him a bucket of oats. Then he spread out blankets and mats for his daughters under the wagon. The father intended to keep guard under the stars, where he could keep an eye on the Zionists. The family enjoyed a modest meal of black bread and potatoes which Tevye baked in the campfire. A swig of vodka helped to wash down the food. While they ate, Tevye’s eye kept wandering to the flickering light of a campfire on the other side of the road.
“He’s following us like a dog,” Tevye said.
“Please, Tata,” Hava appealed. “Don’t talk about Hevedke like that.”
“I see the devil still has you under his spell.”
“I’m not under a spell. If I were, I wouldn’t be here. But Hevedke is a good man. It isn’t his fault that he was born one of them.”
Tevye took a big bite out of his potato. Grumbling, he tilted his head back and poured some more vodka into his belly.
She’s right, he thought. It wasn’t the youth’s fault that he had been created that way, just as it wasn’t Tevye’s fault that he had been born a Jew. But just as Tevye had to suffer his fate, then let this Galagan suffer his fate too. How long was he planning on following them? Till he drove Tevye out of his mind?Tzvi Fishman