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November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Tevye’

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.

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-eighteen-peace-in-the-middle-east/2012/10/25/

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