“I understand you need a ride into Tel Aviv,” Moshe said as I stood staring up into the clearing blue sky.
“Is Tevye’s life everyone’s business?”
Moshe laughed. “By now, I’d think you’d be used to it.”
“But how did the news travel so fast?”
“With Faiga spreading gossip, how long do you think it takes?”
“Faiga. I should have known. If she worked as hard at her job as she does snooping around, she’d be the most productive worker on the kibbutz.”
“Quit grousing, Tevye. Do you want a ride or not?”
“Yes, I would like a ride. Where’s your wagon?”
“Wagon?” He laughed again. “Don’t you realize this is the twentieth century? We have cars and trucks now.”
“You mean those mechanical moving beasts?”
“It’ll take us a fraction of the time to get to Tel Aviv.”
I stood staring at the tin can with wheels he wanted me to ride in.
“It’s up to you, Tevye. If you’d rather take a horse.”
“No, no. Of course, I’ll go with you.”
“Great. I could use the company.”
Moshe walked around the car and climbed behind the wheel. I stood dumbly trying to figure out how to open the door. Moshe must have guessed the problem and reached over and pulled something on the inside of the door and it popped open.
“It’s a new and exciting world, Tevye. You might as well start getting used to it.” As he spoke, the car started with a shake and a pop.
“I don’t mind new or exciting. I’m just not sure a metal coffin is better than a wooden one,” I said, gripping the seat with all my strength.
The car began to roll down the road, jumping over bumps and sinking in holes. Moshe waved to the guard as we drove through the kibbutz gate and headed for Tel Aviv.
I sat silently for a long time, holding on for fear of flying through the front window the first time we hit a big bump.
“Tevye, the seat’s bolted to the car,” Moshe said, breaking the silence. “You don’t have to hold it down.”
“Yes, but I’m not bolted down.”
“Relax already. It’s a lot more comfortable than riding a horse or sitting in a wagon. You’re a lot safer too.”
“I’ll pray for a safe journey just the same.”
“I’m surprised at you Tevye. I’d think you would see God’s hand in progress.”
“I’d feel better if God’s hands were on the wheel.”
Moshe laughed again as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He held it out to me and I just shook my head. He pulled a cigarette out with his lips and struck a match against the outside of the car with his left hand to light it. I couldn’t decide if it was scarier watching him, or staring straight ahead, unaware of whether his hands were on the wheel.
“Try to enjoy the ride, Tevye. Look out the window and see how much has changed since we traveled this route from Jaffa when we first arrived in Palestine.”
“It still looks pretty barren.”
“Just wait. Soon you’ll see how much a handful of Jews has accomplished. If we were going through Haifa, you’d see a soap factory, a flour mill, the salt works. I tell you it’s amazing. Even in Tel Aviv the changes will astonish you. Remember the handful of houses and trees we saw beyond the road from Jaffa? There was practically nothing. Now you’ll see rows and rows of houses, a brick factory and the new electric power station.”
“We’ll have electricity on the kibbutz eventually. You won’t believe it. Instead of lamps and candles, we’ll have bulbs to light our way. Machines will be powered by electric engines to make our work easier.”
“Really? I will see these things in Tel Aviv?”
“Perhaps. It depends on what you’re going to be doing.”
“You mean Faiga didn’t know?”
“She probably did, and maybe she told everyone else on the kibbutz except me.”
“I might as well tell you. It’s nice to share good news with a friend anyway. I’ve given Chaim permission to marry Shoshana.”
“Mazel tov! That’s wonderful news,” Moshe said reaching over to clap me on the shoulder.
“What are you doing?”
“Congratulating you. What do you think I’m doing?”
“I mean, why are you taking your hand off the wheel. We’ll be killed and I’ll never see my daughter wed.”
“Stop panicking, Tevye. This car practically drives itself,” Moshe said and held both hands over his head.
The right front tire rolled into a gully bump and it felt like we were going to turn over. Moshe grabbed the steering wheel and righted the car.
“All right. It can’t quite drive itself. I’ll bet one day cars won’t need drivers. We’ll just sit back and tell the machine where we want to go and, boom, a few minutes later, we’ll be there. Maybe Oren will invent one.”
“If Oren has anything to do with it, the boom will be the sound of the car exploding.”
Moshe laughed again and then started coughing. So many of the kibbutzniks smoked now I was beginning to think a permanent cloud might hang over our heads.
“You may be a great prophet, Moshe but, for now, I’d settle for a competent driver.”
Moshe gripped the wheel tightly and made an exaggerated expression of seriousness. In the meantime, sweat was pouring down my face, but I was too scared to let go of the seat long enough to take out my handkerchief and mop my brow.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.