The Bedouins are a strange people. After threatening me and my people, Sheikh Jabber served the most sumptuous meal of lamb, rice and pita. I was reluctant to eat the lamb, but after Ali’s earlier flash of anger, I wasn’t about to risk insulting him by not eating. I pretended to enjoy it. Actually, I didn’t have to act. I hope God will understand why I violated his commandment to eat only kosher food.
We did not talk while we ate. The sheikh stared at me silently, eating slowly with three fingers. Ali wolfed down his food as if the quicker we were done, the sooner he would be rid of me. At one point the sheikh spoke to his son. If it was meant for me, Ali did not pass on the message.
After this awkward feast, Ali surprised me by announcing that his father wanted to strike a bargain with me. I couldn’t imagine what kind of deal he would want, other than to agree to lead my people into the Mediterranean. Then again, it was hard to tell how much of what Ali had said before was his opinion and how much was really his father’s.
I was happy to accept his proposal. Ali said his father agreed not to steal — his word was “bother” — from the kibbutz if I would periodically come to report on the attitudes of the Jews toward the Arabs. Ali added he would also be willing to share information about the Arabs.
Apparently, I was the first Jew Sheikh Jabber had ever met, and he considered me a bit of a curiosity, like an animal in a zoo. He wanted to study Tevye and learn more about the Jewish people. I think he also hoped to use me as a kind of spy to keep abreast of the plans for our state. Since I’m not privy to any of the yishuv’s secrets, I was sure that nothing I could tell him would hurt our cause. At the same time, I did hope to learn more from Sheikh Jabber about Arab intentions, so perhaps I would be forewarned before any violence. Of course, I’m smart enough to know he doesn’t plan on giving away any secrets either.
The whole experience was quite nerve-racking. Ali’s mood shifts from fury to cordiality kept me off balance. Until the end, I was never quite sure why I had been brought to the Sheikh’s tent, or if I would be allowed to leave.
When I rode back through the gate to the safety of the kibbutz, I was still trembling.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s new novel, After Anatevka – Tevya Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.