Bernice strode up to the podium like a general addressing the troops. Without any preamble, she began.
“We have all suffered a terrible, terrible loss. Jonathan can never be replaced, but we must carry on in his stead. Tonight, many Jewish families are grieving. They grieve for us and we grieve for them.”
She spoke with strength and emotion. I felt myself straighten up. Others did the same. Bernice had a gift for inspiring others.
“The Mufti incited the Arabs in Jerusalem and they attacked the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. Later, marauders went to Hebron, the site of the Cave of Machpelah, where our forebears, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried. The Arabs massacred men, women and children. Villages around the country were also attacked. Even Tel Aviv was not spared. I don’t know how many casualties we suffered, but the number of dead might number more than one-hundred.”
The audience groaned and the sniffling turned to wailing.
“Kill the Arabs!” someone yelled from the back of the room. Then others joined in chanting, “Kill the Arabs! Kill the Arabs!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My friends, these peaceful farmers were in such a frenzy they were prepared to commit murder.
Bernice held up her hands and shouted, “No, that is not what we will do! We will bury our dead, and we will mourn for them. But the one thing we will not do is dishonor their memories.”
The chanting faded.
“We will avenge these murders!”
The crowd cheered.
“Oh yes, we will have our revenge. But our retribution will come the way Jonathan would have wanted. Not by violence.”
“How? How?” several voices asked.
“By living! Living here on our kibbutz in our homeland, the land God promised the Jewish people. We must live and we must continue to build. The creation of an independent Jewish state is the best revenge for what the Arabs have done. Because when we have our state, no Jew anywhere in the world will have to live in fear again.”
Bernice was right. That is exactly what Jonathan would have said.
“No one will hand us our independence. Not the British, not the Americans, not the League of Nations. We must be prepared to fight for it. I am not speaking about blind rage to avenge the deaths of our loved ones, I’m talking about using all our resources — our brains, our money, our negotiating skills and, if necessary, our arms — to achieve our goal.”
By the time Bernice had finished her speech, you couldn’t hear a sniffle. People who practically crawled into their seats, strode out with their heads held high, determined to fulfill Jonathan’s mission. Others swarmed around Bernice, asking her what they could do.
“Bernice is quite a woman,” Golde said, sitting more upright herself.
“She’s a great leader,” Devorah said. “Someday, she will lead our whole people.”
“Don’t start, Papa.”
I had to admit, at least to myself, that Devorah was right. Bernice is a great leader and I will follow her wherever she asks me to go.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.