“Palestine is not Russia, Tevye. We will control our own fate in our homeland.”
This Jonathan has an answer, a loud one, for everything. “I don’t wish to be impolite, but what is it that you do?”
“You insult our friend,” Moshe said. “He is a hero and a vattik, a founder of the kibbutz.”
“It’s all right Moshe. It’s a fair question. I suppose you’re referring to this.” Jonathan used his good arm to hold up the empty sleeve. “I lost it in the war with Japan. It wasn’t so heroic, believe me. But you ask the wrong question. The question is not what I do, but what Palestine requires. I will do whatever the nation demands. Is a hammer needed? I will be that hammer. If a well must be dug? I will dig it. Do we require policemen to protect the nation? I will put on a uniform. I am ready to do anything and everything!”
“That is quite a speech, but our faith requires deeds, not words.”
“It’s not just talk,” Moshe said indignantly, and stood in front of me poking me in the chest with his finger.
“Jonathan has established training centers in Minsk and Simferopol. People like us, who have graduated from his schools, are going to Palestine and making the desert bloom.”
“That is a miracle I would like to see.”
“Come with us and you will see it,” Simcha said with so much enthusiasm I thought he might burst if I agreed.
“I must admit I’ve been drawn toward the Holy Land for a long time. I would love to pray at the Western Wall, visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs and stand beside Mother Rachel’s grave. I have dreamed of following the footsteps of Moses up Mt. Sinai and gazing upon the River Jordan.”
“Those dreams can become a reality. Palestine is a small country, a fraction of the Russian empire,” Simcha burbled. “From here, God has to strain to hear your prayers. From Palestine, you can whisper in his ear.”
I stood dumbly, scratching my beard and considering what these men were saying. On the one hand, I thought, I can go to live in America and probably make a good living. On the other hand, they are right. I will be a Jew in a Christian land. Who knows what the future may bring. On the other hand, Palestine is such a barren, desolate land. There is nothing there but sand and camels, and if there are camels, there must be. . . . And Arabs. We will still be a minority, even in our homeland. On the other hand, how can I pass up the opportunity to live in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Not even Moses was permitted this blessing. As the psalm says, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right leg go weak in the knee.”
I looked into their expectant faces and finally shouted, “I will go with you!”
“Wonderful,” Moshe said.
“We will return to the land of milk and honey and be free of the Tsar,” added Simcha.
Putting his arm around me, Jonathan squeezed my shoulder and said, “We will work and we will build a Jewish state, just as Herzl foretold.”
“May God be with us,” I said. “Now all I have to do is tell Golde.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.