I opened the door and was shocked to see the American. Bernice had moved to Jerusalem a long time ago to be closer to the Jewish Agency and devote full time to the politics of the yishuv. I last saw her at Shoshana’s funeral. I noticed she had begun to put on a little weight and was starting to look more like a grandmother than Golde.
“Well, are you going to just stand there staring at me?” Bernice bellowed. “A person could age ten years waiting for you to answer. Does it take as long to get invited inside?”
“Come in, Bernice. Come in. I’m just a little surprised to see you. I thought you were in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv with the big shots from the Jewish Agency.”
“I was, but you know I can’t stay away for long.”
At the sound of the American-accented Hebrew, Golde bolted out of the kitchen and came over to embrace Bernice.
“How are you Golde?”
“I’m fine. It’s wonderful to see you, Bernice. You look wonderful. Let me make some tea,” Golde said, dashing back toward the kitchen.
“That’s okay, I can’t stay long.”
It was too late, Golde was already gone.
“Come,” I said, “sit and tell me the news from the big city.”
As soon as she sat, Bernice took out a cigarette. It was a habit many of the chaverim had acquired. Usually, the smoke made my eyes water.
“So, are we going to have our state?”
“I have no doubt about it, Tevye. But the British won’t make it easy. Remember how our good friend Churchill dismembered the Holy Land?”
“I confess, Bernice, I never understood how he could do that to our country.”
Bernice smiled wistfully. “He could do it because England was a great power that had just won The Great War. He felt he needed to reward the Arab allies who helped Britain defeat the Turks. So he lopped off four-fifths of Palestine to pay off Abdullah. Poof! All of a sudden, the world has a new nation, Transjordan. By installing handpicked leaders, Churchill hoped to ensure Arab allegiance to the Crown. It won’t work, of course, but we have no say in the matter. Our state will be in only a small fraction of our homeland.”
Golde came out and put a cup of tea in front of Bernice and sat beside me.
“Why doesn’t Churchill say, ‘Poof,’ and create a Jewish state?” I asked rubbing smoke from my eyes.
She sipped her tea and then gave a little sarcastic laugh. “He needs Arab friends, Tevye. He doesn’t give a fig about Jews.”
“Didn’t the League of Nations give England a mandate for Palestine to fulfill the Balfour Declaration?” Golde asked.
“Of course not! Britain and the other powers control that collection of yentas,” Bernice said, waving her hand dismissively. “They just divided the spoils of war. We’ll have to fight for everything, hopefully by diplomacy and not force, but the situation here is deteriorating.”
“Why? What’s happened?” I said before starting to choke.
“You sound like you’re going to cough up a lung, Tevye. Have a glass of water,” Golde said, pouring me a cup from the pitcher on the table.
Bernice waved the smoke away and finally held her cigarette below the table.
“We’ve had reports of marauding bands of Arabs coming from the north to steal flocks and set fire to the fields of kibbutzim near the border. Jews in some of the smaller towns have also been attacked. We fear an outbreak of widespread violence soon, so we’re going around to all the kibbutzim, warning them to prepare for possible raids. The Haganah is sending people to help train the chaverim to use various weapons. This brings me to the real reason I came.”
“You mean it wasn’t just to bring us such good news?”
“Tevye, you’re a good man, but courteous you’re not. Actually, I brought a surprise for you. I don’t know what’s taking so long. Excuse me for a moment.”
Bernice got up and walked outside.
Golde and I looked at each other in bewilderment. A few minutes later, Bernice came back.
“You had asked me to do you a favor some time ago, but for reasons that will become clear in a moment, it wasn’t possible to deliver. I figured it was better late than never.”
Just as Bernice finished speaking, Devorah walked through the door.
Golde and I were so shocked we sat staring with our mouths open. Devorah ran over and embraced us.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.