Why is it that bad news seems to follow good news like night follows day?
At last, my eldest daughters are coming home. What could be better? But my wife had to go and spoil the joy by reminding me of another child I once had. As if I needed reminding. Each day I feel the pain of having lost my little girl. But Tevye is not a worm. Though my heart tells me she still walks the earth, my will remains unbending. She is as dead to me as my poor, sweet Shoshana.
You may ask me, “Tevye, if you had the power to bring back Shoshana, would you do it?”
And, of course, my answer would be, “Faster than you can say Methuselah.”
“But,” you say, “it is within your power to bring your other daughter back, and yet you refuse to do so. Why?”
It is the very bedrock of our tradition. The one that has kept us alive for centuries. If we don’t remain committed to our faith, above all, what will sustain us? To voluntarily do to ourselves what the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Crusaders, the Muslims and the Russians failed to do to us would be the greatest of all sins.
I cannot bring Chava back even if I wanted to, and though I have refused to speak of her, I have never given up hope that someday she can again be part of our family.
You’re probably thinking, the chaverim are not such great examples of piety, yet Tevye does not ostracize them. Worse, you live among them.
It’s true that most of my friends here would rather work than study, dance than pray, argue political ideology than Talmud, but, in their own way, they all know they’re Jews. To them, living in the Promised Land and building a Jewish homeland is what it means to be a Jew. And it’s not as bad as it was in the beginning. I’d like to think I’ve had some influence, but it was surely God’s will that even our anti-religionists have begun to observe the holidays in a more traditional way and to seek me out to discuss what the Bible says about a particular problem or dispute they are having.
And, let me tell you something else. As nonobservant as kibbutzniks may be, I can’t imagine one marrying outside the faith. It has never happened since we arrived and I don’t believe it ever will.
I consider the chaverim to be my family, but still, you’re right, my own flesh and blood is my greatest love. How can I explain what Golde considers my cruelty toward my own child? Perhaps God has hardened my heart as he did Pharaoh’s for some greater good for our people.
“Dear Lord, why is it that Your poor servant Tevye should be treated as the evildoer? I couldn’t be the liberator?”
See how the mind quickly becomes infected with negative thoughts? I can’t stop them any more than my horse can stop attracting flies. It’s Golde’s fault. All she had to do was tell me about Tzeitl and Hodel and I would be dancing instead of kvetching.
My baby, Tzeitl. It has been so long since I held her in my arms. It seems she was still a child when I last saw her, and now she’s a grown woman, and not so young anymore. And a mother. At last, I’ll have the joy of looking at the faces of my grandchildren. And little Rachel and Abraham will have nieces and a nephew, and learn what it means to have family. I’m even looking forward to seeing Motel. I always said he was a good man, and a hard worker, and now he’s earned enough money to bring the family home. So why should I stand here complaining to the Master of the Universe for such good fortune?
I am not the only lucky one. Now Hodel can start her life over. What better place than here on our little kibbutz? Here she’ll find Pertschik’s utopian dream of poor schlemiels breaking their backs for no money. We don’t have any Feferels here, but there’s no shortage of blather. God willing, Hodel will find another husband among the prattlers here.
“I see you’re talking to yourself for a change, Tevye,” Moshe said, coming up behind me as I saddled my horse. “It’s a good thing God has other things to do besides listen to you or He’d need fingers to put in His ears.”
“So, you’ve discovered God, eh Moshe? Your friend Marx will be upset.”
“He’d only be upset if I tried to talk to him in the grave. I reserve my conversations for the living.”
“And who says the living make the best conversationalists?”
“Talking to you Tevye often makes me wonder.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.