“Excuse me, Tevye. May I speak to you for a moment?”
“Who is this? Ah, Chaim the socialist. Have you come to help me build the sukkah? This is manual labor, just what you believe we all should do. Here, you can hang some fruit inside,” I said, and handed Chaim a carrot, apple and pomegranate.
“I will be happy to help you, but I have something important to discuss first.”
“So speak. Can’t a socialist work and talk at the same time?”
Chaim stood on a chair in the sukkah and attached the fruit to a string and hung it from a slat in the roof.
“Tevye, we have known each other since you came to this kibbutz from Russia. I grew up in the same children’s house with your daughter Shoshana and I work in the orchards with her every day. We are almost like family.”
“Yes, almost. One of the things I’ve always liked about the kibbutz is that everyone is almost like family, but, fortunately, they are not part of the family. That way the people you love are close to you and the people you don’t love aren’t too close.”
“You make this more difficult.”
“You seem to be having a hard enough time,” I snickered, watching Chaim try to attach a string to the pomegranate. “Would it be easier to use a cucumber?”
“No, I don’t mean the fruit. You make it more difficult to say what I have to say.”
“Well, say it already,” I told him as I walked outside to the back of the sukkah. “These walls aren’t solid, so I can still hear you.”
“Tevye, I would like to have your permission to have Shoshana’s hand in marriage.”
I stared at the outside of the sukkah for a moment, and then raced back inside. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”
Chaim cleared his throat, but his voice still cracked. “I said I would like to have your permission to have Shoshana’s hand in marriage.”
I picked up the lulav and etrog again and shook them in all directions. I pretended Chaim wasn’t there and looked for help from the Almighty.
“Are You still here? Haven’t I had enough troubles from my daughters and their men? First, a nearsighted tailor, then a revolutionary, then a Russian peasant, and now a socialist who rebels against his parents, gives up a fortune and spends all his time picking fruit and filling my daughter’s head with crazy ideas. Is this Your way of reminding me of the trials of the children of Israel when they were in the desert?”
“Please, Tevye. I love Shoshana. We’ve grown up together, worked together and played together.”
I stroked my beard and looked at the boy with the hopeful eyes standing in front of me. This is a match? He’s not much to look at; he’s not even as tall as my daughter. I’ve heard him talk a lot, more than even Pertschik used to do when he first arrived in Anatevka, but I haven’t seen him demonstrate any commitment to Torah, in word or deed.
On the other hand, he is sharing in the work of building our homeland.
On the other hand, I have always wanted my daughters to have a better life; Chaim will keep my daughter here and her life will be no easier than it has been. Of course, she’ll be close by. Here on the kibbutz, the children usually make their own matches, sometimes they don’t even get married under a chuppah, they just announce they are moving in together. If I say “no,” how will I prevent them from doing just that? I saw Shoshana’s eyes that day in the orchard, when the ladder broke and she fell into Chaim’s arms. If I say “yes,” at least we might have a real wedding.
“At least you asked. I suppose that’s progress.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.