As I drove into the shed, I saw Motel in an animated conversation. I put the tractor away and came outside to hear my son-in-law shouting. I remember when he was afraid of his own shadow. Now he debates the chaverim like a sabra.
“What do you know? You’ve only been here a short time. We’ve gotten along with our neighbors for years,” the son of Laban the Miser said.
“Udi, I’m telling you,” said Motel, “when I went to the village to buy some cloth, I overheard some of the men talking about an attack.”
“And since when do you speak Arabic?” asked Rafi, the know-it-all son of Timur.
“I’ve learned so I could deal with the Arabs in the market.”
“The only way we’ll have peace is if we trust each other,” said Udi.
“The way the Jews in Hebron trusted them?” chimed in Benny, who had taken his father Enoch’s place as beekeeper.
“That was years ago,” Rafi protested.
Benny held his fingers in front of Rafi’s face. “We cannot even go to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem anymore because our friends complained to the British about our holiday observances.”
“Listen to me, all of you,” shouted Motel. “We can’t afford to take any chances. We must be prepared for an attack. If one comes, we will be ready for them; if it does not, so much the better. We will have lost nothing.”
My Motel, a leader, a fighter? I have to admit, he was inspiring me a little bit. I walked to his side and patted him on the shoulder.
“Motel’s right. We never thought our village in Russia would be the scene of a pogrom, that the neighbors we had lived with peacefully for years would turn on us, but we were wrong. There we were a tiny minority and could do nothing to protect ourselves. Here, here in our homeland, it is different. Here we can defend ourselves. We must!”
“But the Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself,” said Rafi.
“All of a sudden the socialists are quoting the Bible to me? The Good Book also says that if a man comes at you with a sword, you should kiss him with the steel of your sword.”
“Rafi, do you remember how Moses killed the Egyptian who was beating a slave?” Motel asked. “The Rambam says every Jew is obligated to rescue any victim of violence from the pursuer, even at the possible expense of the pursuer’s life.”
“Excuse me, but are you expecting trouble,” a British officer said from behind me. Soldiers were fanning out behind him, picking at the dirt with the ends of their rifles.
“Motel was in the Arab village today and says he heard the Arabs are planning an attack,” replied Udi.
“Really? I’ve heard of no such plan. You should know that there is really nothing to worry about. My men will protect you from any harm.”
“The way you protected the Jews in Hebron?” said Benny.
“There was nothing we could do in Hebron. By the time we got there the Arabs had left.”
“And why did you disarm the Jews who tried to defend the city?”
Benny had not learned to speak to officials with the proper deference. In Russia, challenging a soldier in such a manner would be grounds for arrest, if not execution. I was surprised by the Englishman’s calm demeanor.
“Now you all know it’s illegal to carry weapons. We were simply doing our duty. How can you expect the Arabs to accept you if they are afraid you will attack them?”
“Attack them?” I said.
“Yes, that’s what they fear. As the mandatory power in Palestine, it is our duty to keep the peace, so I will have to insist that you make no effort to obtain weapons; otherwise, we will have to confiscate them. If you don’t mind, I have orders to search the kibbutz. Good day, gentlemen.”
“Good day,” we answered politely, helplessly watching the soldiers enter our homes.
“You might as well follow them. You’re probably going to have a big mess to clean up after they leave,” I said to the other chaverim.
As they left, I shook Motel’s hand. He had a surprised look on his face. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Well, it’s just that I never felt such warmth from you before, Papa. You know, when I wanted to marry Tzeitl, you were not exactly thrilled.”
“Could you blame me? You made your own match! Whoever heard of such a thing back then? Now, well, now the papa is lucky if he gets invited to the wedding, let alone have a say in the partners for their children. I wanted a scholar, and Golde dreamed of a wealthy man to marry our daughter and you, forgive me for saying it, were neither.”
“I know, but I promised your daughter would not starve and I kept that vow.”
“Yes, you did. And you did more, much more. You are rich in spirit. Don’t tell anyone I said this, because I’ll deny it, but you have made me very proud. I’m glad that you married Tzeitl.”
“Thank you, Reb Tevye,” Motel said, kissing me hard on both cheeks. “You don’t know how much it means to me to hear you say that.”
“Remember, you didn’t hear it from me,” I said, and slapped him on the back the way Moshe and Simcha did to me. “Now go home to my daughter and grandchildren. Enjoy them. They are treasures.”
“I will,” he said and ran off.
He looked back at me with a smile to rival Simcha’s and then tripped over a flowerpot. He shakily got to his feet and shrugged his shoulders before turning and racing to his house as if it were on fire. This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.