“What are you complaining about?” he said, spitting a shell through the gap in his teeth. “I’ve seen you chasing those twins around the kibbutz. You’ve still got plenty of energy.”
“And what choice do I have? If I didn’t chase them, they’d chase me, and I don’t think I can outrun them.”
“Well, little Abraham looks just like you. A tough break, but I suppose he’ll learn to live with it.”
“Fortunately Rachel inherited Golde’s looks. When she gets older, her father will not be the only one chasing her.”
“Well, Tevye’s daughters are all known for their beauty — and their intelligence.”
The wind kicked up and I shivered. Simcha poured some more coffee for me.
“Yes, yes. I know. You’ve told me two or three hundred times. And, I have to admit, you were not lying about Shoshana, Devorah or Sarah.”
“Speaking of Saraleh,” I interrupted. “When are you going to get married?”
The question was more on Golde’s mind than mine. Sarah and Simcha had been spending a lot of time together over the past few years and Golde didn’t think it was proper. She was anxious to have a real wedding, despite our less than happy experiences in the past.
“Married? We’re just good friends who enjoy each other’s company.”
“Friends, hah! I told you that you were too old for her.”
“Give it a rest, Tevye.”
“Okay, but my daughters are not known for waiting for men to ask them.”
“Well, maybe I want to see if your daughters in Poland are also such beauties.”
If he were not such a good friend, I would have punched Simcha. “Why, do you think my family is like a market, that you can go shopping?”
“Take it easy, Tevye. I’m joking. You’re the one who started it with all the marriage talk. I just wanted to ask if you think Tzeitl and Hodel will be able to get here now that the British have reduced the quota again.”
Simcha may be happy, but that doesn’t make him funny. I calmed down anyway and repeated what Bernice told me.
“God alone knows when they will arrive. Bernice said the Haganah is buying ships to smuggle more immigrants into the country, but it is very dangerous. The ships aren’t always the most seaworthy. Even if they make it to the coast, they may not be able to evade the British naval blockade. They could end up being sent back or imprisoned.”
My face must have betrayed my concern because Simcha grabbed my arm and squeezed it reassuringly.
“Was it so much different for us, Tevye? Our trip wasn’t exactly a luxury cruise. The dream of reaching the Promised Land will keep them going, just as it did for us. We will bring them home. You’ll see.”
Simcha put his arm around me. I wanted to share his optimism, but I was scared.
“Tevye, there’s something else. What is it?”
“Devorah is involved. I can’t tell Golde because she will worry herself to death.”
“What does Golde think Devorah is doing?”
“Bernice told her she’s doing courier work again for the Haganah in Tel Aviv. That makes her anxious enough, believe me.”
“And you’re worried too?”
“Of course. My little girl doesn’t know anything about boats. She doesn’t even know how to swim. What will she do if something happens to the ship? What if the British arrest her?”
The image of Devorah floundering in the water helplessly, surrounded by sharks, while English soldiers watch her drown has been a recurring nightmare.
“I’ve known Devorah since she was a little girl, Tevye. And she’s not a child anymore. She’s a grown woman and as tough as nails. She’s been working for the Haganah for a long time, and there’s always been an element of danger. To tell you the truth, I think she likes taking risks. There’s something about putting your life on the line that makes you feel more alive. That’s the way Moshe feels.”
“Only a fool seeks danger.”
“Everything about living here is a risk. You know that Tevye. Devorah’s in no more danger than the rest of us.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“Tevye, she’s not going to be the captain of the ship. She’s a nurse. And, if it will make you feel any better, I taught her how to swim.”
“What? When?” I nearly spilled coffee on myself.
“Before the troubles with the Arabs made it too dangerous, I used to take some of the kids for hikes and field trips. Sometimes we went to the Kinneret and I taught the kids to swim. Devorah was one of the fastest learners.”
I didn’t even know my daughter could swim. I wondered how many other secrets my family kept from me.
“And how, may I ask, did you learn to swim?”
“My father taught me in Russia.”
“Maybe you can teach me sometime.”
“I don’t know, Tevye. You’re awfully old, especially after raising eight children.”
“Hatzuf,” I said, slapping Simcha’s shoulder.
“And speaking of your children, you should have heard all the commotion coming from your house. I’m surprised you can’t hear them all the way out here. The kids are shouting and Golde’s voice is booming above theirs.”
What a surprise.
“Tevye, why don’t you go on home? I’ll stay here for the rest of your watch.”
“Thank you,” I said, handing Simcha my rifle. I felt immediately relieved to be rid of it. “I’d better go and find out what’s going on. Shalom, Simcha.”
“Shalom. Tevye. And don’t worry. You’ll be introducing me to those beautiful daughters of yours before you know it.”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.