“Let me look at you,” Golde said backing away from our daughter. “You’re so skinny. Aren’t you eating? And your beautiful hair, what have you done to it?”
I had been so excited to see her; I hadn’t even noticed Devorah’s hair was cut as short as a young boy’s.
“I’ve been eating plenty, Mama. Believe me. I just get a lot of exercise. Please sit and I’ll tell you everything.”
I noticed Bernice give Devorah a look that told her that was not such a good idea.
“Your hair. Oh.” Golde put her hand over her mouth and fell back in her chair.
“So, what tales of derring-do have you brought us?” I asked, expecting to hear that she had spent these many months nursing injured soldiers.
“Well, there are some things I mustn’t tell. The British have spies everywhere and it would be dangerous for you to know too much.”
“She’s right, Tevye. I don’t even know everything the Haganah does,” Bernice said.
“Arik had told me where to contact Yossi and Shimshon, the two boys who had brought him to the infirmary when he was shot. I found them in Tel Aviv and explained what happened. They said the Haganah could use a nurse to discreetly tend to injured soldiers after battles with the Arabs, since they could not take them to hospitals for fear of being arrested by the British. Fortunately, we haven’t had many casualties.”
“Were you in any riots?” Golde asked. She was holding her hands together in her lap so tightly I could see them turning red.
“No, I stayed at a safe house where they would bring the wounded.”
“What’s a safe house?” I asked.
“A secret place the British don’t know about.”
“But what about your hair? Did they make you cut it?” Golde asked again.
“Again with the hair. Let her talk.”
“It’s okay, Papa. I’ll explain. Like I said, until recently it was pretty quiet and they didn’t need my nursing skills. But they did need a courier, someone who could take messages to different safe houses, from one unit to another and, occasionally, to smuggle weapons. I don’t think it’s any great secret that we carried them in our bras and girdles. I’m pretty small, so I never carried much beyond pistols. You wouldn’t believe what some of the bigger girls smuggled.”
“Devorah,” Bernice interrupted.
“Anyway, I only carried weapons at the beginning. Shimshon figured the British were too gentlemanly to search a woman, so he would send me to take guns from place to place. After the Jaffa riots, the police started looking at everyone warily and Shimshon was worried I might be caught. He still needed a courier, so I started carrying messages.”
Golde started to interrupt.
“I know, Mama. The hair. Sometimes I had to take messages after dark, and Shimshon thought it would be too dangerous, and suspicious, for a woman to walk alone at night. I decided to cut my hair and pretend to be a boy.”
“A boy!” Golde gasped.
“Do you know what the Torah says about a woman wearing a man’s clothing? It says it is abhorrent to God,” I said.
“Tevye,” Bernice said trying to calm us. “I think God understands that this is a special circumstance.”
“I checked with a rabbi before I agreed to do it, Papa. He said it was all right.”
I could see Bernice had a disbelieving look on her face, but I didn’t want to make an issue of it. Having a daughter who dresses and acts like a son is probably God’s way of punishing me for complaining so much about having only girls.
“Really Golde, it’s a necessary ruse. Nothing to worry about.”
“That’s fine for you to say, Bernice. She’s not your daughter.”
“Mama, please. It’s not a big deal. I just pull a cap over my head and walk quickly. Most of the time I try to stay out of sight. When this job is finished, my hair will grow back.”
“It’s all your fault,” Golde screamed at me.
“Yes. You brought us to this place. First, our daughters live with boys, then they go to school with them, then they work with them and now, look, they’re even dressing and acting like them.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.