“Tevye, I pray that I will never have to fire a weapon at anything but a decoy. Actually, I’ve brought some guns for the kibbutz, just in case.”
“Just in case of what?” Even my horse looked startled.
“It’s just a precaution. You’re isolated out here. If, God forbid, anything should ever happen, it would be difficult for the Haganah to get here in time. You have to have the means to defend yourself, at least until our troops can arrive.”
“Troops? Now we have troops?”
Moshe ignored me.
Many of our weekly meetings had been devoted to possible attacks on the kibbutz, but, so far, the area has been quiet. I didn’t know if Sheikh Jabber was protecting us as part of my bargain with him, or if our time had not come yet.
“You’re avoiding the question, Moshe. Please tell me if I should worry.”
“You’re on automatic worry all the time Tevye. No, for now, there’s nothing new for you to be concerned about. I’m going to hide some guns here for an emergency, okay?”
I led my horse out of the stable and walked along the dirt road toward the gate. Moshe walked beside me. For the first time, I noticed the bulge under his jacket.
“The only concern for you is a British raid. Hopefully, they won’t think of searching here and, even if they do, they won’t find the guns, but it’s always a possibility. That’s why it’s important for you to be able to truthfully say you don’t know anything. Do you understand?”
“Yes. But —”
“No buts. Stick to your books and leave the soldiering to me.”
Moshe patted me on the cheek as though I were a child. Before I could say anything, he asked, “So, Tevye, where are you going?”
“It’s a beautiful night and I thought I’d go for a ride. Outside the gates I can talk to whomever I want in peace.”
“Don’t worry, no one will miss hearing your monologues,” Moshe chuckled, before turning serious. “But I don’t think it’s a very good idea. You heard what Devorah said about the Arabs’ religious leaders inciting their followers to attack Jews.”
Ah, my daughter the general. When Devorah returned to the kibbutz after Shoshana’s death, she stayed to help Dr. Susser and train the chaverim to protect themselves. Golde is happy because she knows where her daughter is — and her hair has grown back. What Golde doesn’t know is that Devorah periodically sneaks off to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to do errands for the Haganah and comes back with what she calls “intelligence reports.” Most recently, Devorah warned us that some of the imams are devoting their sermons to the heresies of the Jews. Arabs leaving some of those mosques, she said, have been involved in assaults against kibbutzniks working in secluded fields.
“Moshe, I thought you just said not to worry.”
“I said I didn’t expect the kibbutz to be attacked; that doesn’t mean it’s safe to go gallivanting around the countryside by yourself in the middle of the night.”
“The Mufti and his henchmen are no different from the hoodlums we had in Russia.”
“I know. That’s what scares me.”
“I’ll be all right. Don’t worry.”
“Maybe you should take a gun.”
“A gun? Me, Tevye, carry a gun? Do I look like my commando daughter? If anything ever happened I’d probably accidentally shoot my horse and then I’d have to walk home. No thank you. I’ll do as you suggested before, stick to my books.”
“Fine. You know best. For a minute I forgot who I was speaking to, Reb Tevye, authority on all things.”
“What? I don’t want to carry a gun so you insult me?”
“I’m sorry. Please don’t get angry. When you get angry you start quoting from the Bible and we’ll both end up standing here all night.”
Before I could tell Moshe what the Bible said about quoting the Bible, he was gone, waving as he left in the backhand way he used when he was fed up with me. I’ve seen it from enough of the chaverim that I’m surprised the executive committee hasn’t declared the gesture an official part of the kibbutz language to express displeasure with Tevye.
And Moshe wonders why I prefer talking to the Almighty.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.