So, what do you think were Golde’s first words after setting foot in our homeland, where not even Moses was permitted to walk?
“Well Tevye,” she said, “you wanted to come to Palestine. Here we are. Now we can go back.”
And if you think she was excited when we arrived, you should have heard her after we reached the kibbutz. She acted as though I had taken her to another planet.
“There’s nothing here, just sand and wind and rocks,” she whined. “Where will we sleep? In those tents? I could light the Sabbath candles, puff out the match and blow the whole thing down. For this we left Russia?”
“This isn’t the kibbutz,” I reassured her. “It’s just a camp outside the kibbutz. Wait, you’ll see there are houses and trees and gardens and orchards.”
“Not yet,” Jonathan interrupted, still shouting even though we were right beside him. “This is the kibbutz. But all that you have dreamed about will be a reality after we build it.”
I thought maybe Jonathan had lost more than his arm in the war. He was delusional.
“God promised us a land of our own, he didn’t say anything about houses being here waiting for us,” Jonathan said.
“But what about the land of milk and honey?”
Jonathan laughed. “Golde, we have cows and bees. They will do their part if we do ours.”
And so we did.
It was not easy, and it seems like more than a lifetime has passed, but today, as you can see, we have a barn with cows that provide us milk. Someone else is collecting the honey from our bee hive. Many of the chaverim still live in tents, but we now have houses also, nothing fancy like the dachas in Yehupetz, but they are comfortable. They’re also a lot sturdier than the clay huts we first bought from the Arabs to replace some of the tents. One day I was getting dressed and a strong wind blew my house away. I stood half-naked in the cold while the rest of the kibbutz stood by laughing hysterically.
Now Golde and I qualify as vattikim, founders of the kibbutz, so we were among the first allowed to move into the new wood cabins. This is real luxury! We have one big room with an iron bed covered by a seaweed mattress along one wall. Our closet consists of eight nails in the same wall. The kibbutz just started a carpentry shop, so, eventually we will have some real furniture. For the time being, we use pachim for everything. We get these five gallon tin cans from the British. You can cover them with a blanket and use them for chairs and tables or cut them open and use them for garbage cans or flower pots.
Slowly, we are transforming our surroundings as well. The toughest task has been to drain the swamps and to try to rid ourselves of the mosquitoes, gnats and sand flies. So far, we’ve drained some of the area, but the mosquitoes still outnumber us. When the watchmen go out at night, they have to wear long pants and shirts, hats, veils and gloves to protect them from the swarms. The only other defense is to smear Vaseline everywhere so the pests will stick to the skin and, even then, we usually can’t escape from being bitten. You can always tell who was on guard duty by the people scratching themselves at dinner the following day. We initially put the cows nearest the swamps; it’s not that we want the poor animals to be sick, but we thought the mosquitoes would kill them first and spare us.
We planted trees between the rocks and now there is the beginning of a forest. Our orchards are yielding oranges, grapefruits, apples and olives. And flowers are everywhere you look on the kibbutz. Red and pink cyclamen, wild poppies, cornflowers, yellow jonquils, freesias, crimson dahlias. Everyone has their own garden. Of course, my Golde’s is the most beautiful.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.