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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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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.

Rav Eliezer Lippa

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Among the great giants of Chassidism were two brothers, Rav Zusha of Hanipoli and Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk. But the apple does not fall far from the tree and the deeds of the father are lessons for the children. These two tzaddikim owed much of their character to their father, Rav Eliezer Lippa.

Rav Eliezer Lippa was a wealthy man who lived on the outskirts of Lvov. Throughout the area he was known as a man of great charity and also one whose house was continually open to the poor and guests of all kind.

It was also his custom, when he journeyed to other cities, to pick up every poor man he passed on the road and drop him off at his destination.

One Poor Man

The story is related that Rav Eliezer Lippa was riding one day in his wagon and passing a poor man who was walking slowly, carrying a heavy sack. The good man’s heart was filled with pity at this sight and he stopped his wagon.

“Shalom Aleichem,” he said.

“Aleichem Shalom,” replied the traveler.

“I see that you are carrying a very heavy bundle,” said Rav Eliezer Lippa, “and you look quite tired. Please do me a favor and get into the wagon so that I may drive you to your destination.”

“Thank you,” said the poor man, “I would prefer, however, to go by foot.”

The Rav was very surprised and asked, “But why? The journey could take half the time if you went with me.”

“I know that sir, but if I walk I will be able to stop at each town and collect money.”

An Offer

“I see,” said Rav Eliezer Lippa. “Tell me, approximately how much money do you think you can collect in the towns that lie between here and Lvov?”

The poor man thought for a moment and replied, “I would estimate that I certainly collect about twenty-five gold pieces, and I cannot afford to lose that sum by riding with you.”

“Nevertheless, I cannot bear to see you walking in the heat with that heavy burden. Here are the twenty-five gold pieces – the amount you would have collected by walking – and ride with me.”

“Believe me, I appreciate it,” said the traveler, “but I still think it would be better if I walked.”

Rav Eliezer Lippa was now completely dumbfounded. “I have just offered you the same money that you could make by walking to these towns. What prevents you now from riding in the wagon?”

“You see, I have been going for many years to these towns. I know the people and they know me. They expect me at a certain time every year. If I should now go with you in your wagon, they will surely that I met with some accident and they will worry. I wish to spare them that.”

When Rav Eliezer Lippa heard these words he said, “I appreciate your thoughts, but at least let me carry your heavy sack in my wagon. I will drop it off at the hotel in Lvov and leave it with the innkeeper. When you have finished with your collections and arrive in Lvov, it will be there waiting for you.”

The Hat

Rav Eliezer was proud of being a Jew and never humbled himself before the lords of the area, as did many of the other Jews. He never lowered his eyes when speaking to them or flattered them needlessly. Because he behaved toward them with dignity, they respected and treated him on equal terms, which was rare in Eastern Europe.

Once, when Rav Eliezer Lippa was riding on his horse, he paused and alighted to allow his to rest. Continuing on his way, he decided to walk in front and lead the animal by the reins.

Coming from the other direction was a magnificent coach with four beautiful white horses and in it sat a Count who was a stranger to the area and did not know Rav Eliezer Lippa.

Commanding his coachman to stop the carriage, the Count stopped the rabbi and asked him in an imperious manner, “You, Jew, where are you from?”

“I come from Lvov,” answered Rav Eliezer Lippa quietly.

The Joy of Fulfilling A Mitzvah

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Rav Moshe Sofer (The Chasam Sofer), one of the greatest Gaonim in his generation, always preached and practiced charity and kindness towards his fellow man. His door was always open to the poor and to the needy for help and advice.

Once, on a cold wintry day, in the city of Pressburg, the Chasam Sofer was studying the Talmud with his two sons, when he heard an urgent knock on his door.

“It must be a poor man seeking alms,” he remarked as he opened the door. Imagine his surprise when he saw the leading member of his congregation standing at his door, looking like a beggar.

“Do not be surprised at my appearance, Rebbe,” he said, “I am in great trouble and I need your help. I would like to talk to you privately.”

Motioning to the man to enter, the Chasam Sofer told his children to leave the room while he made the merchant comfortable. “What happened to you? Why are you looking so sad?” he asked.

“A terrible misfortune has happened to me,” the man responded. “I was a very wealthy man and as you know I became a banker. But through a series of misfortunes, I lost all my money and now I am penniless. I have practically become a beggar.”

“Do not lose faith in G-d,” answered the Chasam Sofer, while pity welled up in his heart. “You still have your good name, people will remember all the charity you have given and they will surely give you a helping hand. G-d may have taken your money only temporarily to test you.

“It isn’t my money which I am worried about,” cried the banker, but about the money of others, the widows and orphans, who trusted me. It is also gone. I will have to sit in the debtor’s prison.”

“No! No!” cried the Chasam Sofer, “It will never happen that the most charitable man in the community, its leader and banker, will sit in prison.”

The Chasam Sofer began to think of ways and means to help this unfortunate man. Suddenly, his face brightened. He approached his closet, and removed a small bag of coins, which he had been saving for a dowry for his daughter.

“In this bag is a hundred gold coins,” he said. “I am giving this to you as a loan. Now, go immediately to the city of Leipzig, and the first piece of merchandise that you will see, purchase it with these gold coins. And may Hashem be with you and make you prosper.”

The banker was reluctant to accept the money. He knew that the Chasam Sofer was not a rich man and it must have taken him a long time to accumulate this money. “Rebbe,” he said, “I cannot take this money for I cannot promise to return it to you and if I lose this money too, then I will also cause you grief.”

“The help of G-d comes momentarily,” replied the Chasam Sofer, “Do you think I would give you this money if I was not certain that G-d will see to it that you make good and you will return it to me very soon. You must never lose faith and trust in G-d. Remember, go to Leipzig and the first merchandise you see be sure to purchase.”

Meets An Old Friend

The following morning the merchant banker traveled to Leipzig and entered the trading market. He wandered around until he suddenly heard a voice call him. It was a merchant friend whom he had not seen for many years.

“It must be a stroke of luck that made me meet you here,” the friend said. “Only today a boatload of coffee arrived and I haven’t the time to make arrangements to sell it. Will you take care of it for me? You can pay me in three months. Only give me a hundred coins as a binder. I know you for many years and I trust you. I’ll sell it to you for the amount it cost me as long as I don’t lose anything on the transaction.”

The banker remembered the admonition of the Chasam Sofer to enter into the first business deal he sees, so he agreed. He signed the necessary papers and have him the deposit.

Reb Elimelech’s Ascent To Leadership (Part XII)

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Wandering from town to village, the Holy Brothers neglected their physical needs and were sustained by meager coins or scraps of food that were donated along the way.

One Sunday night they found themselves in a new town on a cold wintry night. The tavern keeper offered to lodge them behind the fireplace that heated the pub. The two of them took their places on the floor, with Reb Zusha, as always, offering his older brother the preferred spot nearer the fire.

No sooner had Reb Elimelech and Reb Zusha retired their weary bones when the tavern began to fill up with non-Jews who had come to celebrate nothing other than their inebriated state. Wobbling and singing as drunkards do, they made themselves merry until they stumbled across a real cause for celebration.

Right before their eyes, innocently sleeping on the floor, was a Jew who could serve as the evening’s entertainment. As many of them were wagon drivers, they were equipped with whips and staffs that could be enlisted to acquire the sleeping Jew’s expeditious cooperation.

“Up and dance!” they ordered, as they snapped their whips and beat their staffs to ensure immediate compliance. Reb Zusha sprang to his feet and danced energetically for the leering drunks. The wagon drivers were not looking for a quick performance – they had all night – and they unsparingly utilized their appurtenances to assure protracted amusement.

Eventually, the drunkards grew tired and allowed Zusha to collapse to the floor. But it wasn’t just one Jew that they had savagely beaten. Reb Elimelech felt every blow on his own back and urgently pressed his brother to exchange places with him. “They’ll be back and then it will be my turn to suffer their indignities.”

But in no way did Reb Zusha feel that he was getting the worse of the deal. Being beaten simply because he was a defenseless Jew was good for the soul, he maintained. And he knew his brother did not dispute this point.

Still, Reb Elimelech would have none of it. He was insistent that they switch places so that when the drunks would decide again to be entertained, he would be the butt of their vile behavior.

And indeed the wagon drivers returned, eager for another dance performance. Not for naught had they entered a tavern.

But in a display of uncharacteristic egalitarianism, they announced that it would only be fair to wake the Jew lying nearer to the fireplace, for the outer one had already made his contribution to the night’s festivities.

Reb Elimelech stood up and explained, or at least tried to explain, that the outer Jew was previously the inner one, for they had switched places. But his entreaties fell upon drunken ears.

Reb Zusha sanguinely accepted his lot and commented, “Melech, don’t feel bad. You see that one who deserves to be beaten cannot avoid it. Your desire to switch places was willed from Heaven.”

Eventually the wagon drivers tired of their entertainment and they crashed to the floor in a drunken stupor. The brothers arose to recite tikkun chatzos and to thank the Almighty for having been separated from inhumane derelicts. Blessed were they to be servants privileged to worship the Almighty.

The Holy Brothers never forgot those that extended themselves on their behalf while they were in their period of exile. One such individual was Reb Aharon in the village of Ludmir who served as their host whenever they visited the village. Reb Aharon lived in abject poverty, but this never stopped him from extending hospitality and sharing his meager crumbs.

Once Reb Elimelech and Reb Zusha were revealed as famous tzaddikim, and their followers were everywhere to be found, they returned to Ludmir – this time in a horse- drawn carriage. Just as in the past, they turned to Reb Aharon for lodging, which he graciously offered, as always.

Overnight, Reb Aharon’s modest hovel became the focus of the town, and masses formed outside the door to seek blessings from the tzaddikim and their intervention in a host of matters.

One of the wealthy merchants in the town felt that he deserved the honor of hosting these famous guests, and he extended his invitation for them to come to his richly apportioned house where they could dwell in perfect comfort. But the brothers flatly refused.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Five: A Husband For Ruchel

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The next morning, Hevedke was waiting out on the road when Tevye and his Zionist entourage took up their journey. The two men stared at one another in silence.

“He has more guts than I thought,” Tevye brooded, giving the reins of the wagon a whip.

Hava was hoping that her father would give Hevedke a chance to prove his sincerity, but there was no sign of conciliation in her father’s angry expression. Hava herself was confused. Her heart was torn between a man she still loved, and the realization that the bond between them could never be sanctified as long as he belonged to the tormentors of her people. It wasn’t enough that Hevedke was ashamed of the evil decrees of the Czar. Unless he tore up all ties to his religion and his past, he would always remain one of them. Even if he were to fast a hundred days to prove his love for Hava, that would not be enough. Hava knew that he loved her. He had to prove he loved God by taking on the yoke of her people. Though Hava felt compassion and pity for Hevedke, she didn’t plead with her father to accept him into the fold. If she had listened to her parents in the first place, the whole painful situation would never have occurred. Now she wanted to make amends for the breach she had rent in the family. She wanted to be faithful to her father. She wanted to show her mother in Heaven that she was sorry for the pain she had caused. So sitting beside her father as their wagon drove down the road, Hava fought off her desire to gaze at the man she had lived with only a short time before. She stared forward at the future as if Hevedke did not exist, as if they had never crossed paths, trusting that one way or the other, God would restore peace to her torn, aching heart.

That evening they reached the Jewish shtetl of Branosk. The ultra-religious community was smaller than the Jewish community of Anatevka, but the sights, sounds, and smells were the same. The same wooden porches, tiled roofs, and shutters. The same sagging, weathered barns which stood erect by a miracle. The same aroma of horses, chickens, and soups. The same beards and black skullcaps on the men, and kerchiefs and shawls on the women. Even the fiery red sunset had been stolen from Anatevka and pasted over the Branosk forest.

The villagers rushed out of their houses when they heard that pioneers on the way to the Promised Land had arrived in the shtetl. Children and teenagers crowded around Tevye’s wagon. They all wore the caps and long curling peyes sidelocks which distinguished the Branosk community. Apparently, they had seen other Zionists, but the sight of Tevye, a bearded, God fearing Jew among them, was a novelty to be sure. Ben Zion jumped up on a porch and tried to deliver a spirited harangue, inviting the townspeople to throw off the yoke of the Russians and join them in rebuilding the ancient Jewish homeland, but he only drew heckles and a rotten tomato. Tevye and his daughters attracted a far larger crowd.

Where was he going, they wanted to know? To Eretz Yisrael, he answered, the Land of Israel. With the heretics, they asked? Tevye said that by accident they were traveling together, for safety along the way. But, Tevye assured them, his family was headed for a settlement more religious than the city of Vilna – in God’s Chosen Land. What could be better than that? For hadn’t they heard? The great Baron Rothschild, may he live several lifetimes, was building “frum,” God fearing communities throughout the Holy Land. Everyone who came got a villa and acres of orchards bursting with olives, pomegranates, fig trees, and dates.

People bombarded Tevye with questions. He answered with authority, as if he truly knew, as if he were the Baron’s agent, auctioning off parcels of land. When a question came his way for which he did not have an answer, he responded with a verse or two of Torah. One thing was clear – the expulsion which had hit Anatevka was sure to reach Branosk. Surely they had heard that the Czar’s Cossacks had been thundering throughout Russia, slaughtering thousands of Jews. Now was the time to flee for their lives. Now was the time to stop praying for God to take them to Zion, and let their feet do the talking instead.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Four: ‘Thou Shall Not Murder’

Monday, July 9th, 2012

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?

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Three: Off to the Promised Land

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Tevye saw him when they reached the outskirts of the village. At first he wasn’t sure, but when he saw Hava keep turning her head, his suspicions proved true. It was Hevedke Galagan, the Russian who had stolen his daughter, the gentile she was supposed to have left – he was following the procession of Jews as they made their way down the bumpy dirt road.

“What’s this?” he said, tugging on the reins of his horse. The wagon stopped. Tevye turned a fierce eye on his daughter.

“What?” Hava asked.

“Don’t what me,” Tevye roared. He started to stand up in the wagon. His hand rose threateningly up in the air.

“I swear, Tata,” she said. “I’ve left him, I have. I told him I can’t be his wife. But he wants to come with us. He’s ashamed of his people. I told him no, it can’t be, but he wants to be a Jew.”

“A Jew!” Tevye roared. “A Jew! Is our life such a picnic that he wants to be a Jew!?” Tevye stared up to Heaven. “I ask you, good Lord. Isn’t exile enough of a punishment? Or is Tevye to suffer this disgrace as well?”

“It doesn’t have to be a disgrace,” Tzeitl said.

“Silence!” Tevye shouted. “The answer is no!” He sat down in his seat and whipped the reins of the horse.

The procession moved on through the dust. Wagons rattled under their loads. Golda’s coffin bounced over the rocks in the road. Glancing over his shoulder, Tevye could still see the tall Hevedke, following at the end of the long march of Jews. His fleece of blond hair shone in the sun under his brown student’s cap.

“No, I don’t want to know what is written,” Tevye brooded to himself, fighting to keep control of his thoughts. No, no, no. Hevedke could walk. He could crawl. He could die from hunger and thirst before Tevye would let him into his wagon.

Tevye, the guardian of tradition, refused to look at his daughter. He refuse to speak. For miles, they road in silence. Yet as they turned every bend, he could still see the lone figure of Hevedke Galagan walking determinedly after the Jews.

Suddenly, the procession came to a halt. Tevye’s horse snorted. “What’s the matter?” Moishe asked. “Why have we stopped?”

“Are we there already?” Hannie questioned.

“I’ll go and see what the problem is,” Tevye said, getting down from the wagon. He trudged off toward the head of the line. The caravan had stopped at a crossroads. One road led north to a stretch of Russian wasteland where pogroms had not yet erupted. Another road led to Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and America beyond. And the third path led to Odessa and Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem.

Naturally, a lively debate was in progress. Everyone had an opinion on which direction to take. All of a sudden, Jews who had never ventured beyond the boundaries of Anatevka became experts in international travel. Yitzik, the woodcutter, advised journeying on to Broditchov, a distant part of Russia, where at least people spoke the same language. Leb, the ritual slaughterer, argued that Jews speak the same language wherever they live. Tzvi Hirsh, the tanner, had an uncle in America who wrote that all the Jews had houses as big as hotels and rode in fancy carriages just like the gentiles. But Shammai, the scribe, warned that ocean travel after the winter rains was a dangerous affair.

“Is that so?” Tzvi Hirsh retorted. “And since when did you become a Columbus? How many times has our village scribe sailed around the world?”

“Here’s Tevye,” Shammai said. “You can ask him.”

Everyone turned to the milkman. Tevye looked up at the sign at the crossroad and gazed down each path, as if he could see the future at the end of the road.

“What do you say, Tevye? Which way should we go?”

Before the milkman could answer, Elijah, the town herald said, “The Midrash teaches that every road leads to Jerusalem.”

“Well, the Midrash must have been wrong,” the tanner responded. “Only one of these roads leads to Jerusalem.”

“The meaning is that wherever a Jew wanders, sooner or later he is going to get beaten over the head until he ends up back in Jerusalem,” Elijah explained.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-three-off-to-the-promised-land/2012/07/03/

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