I spend every free moment I can with little Abraham and Rachel. Actually, they’re not so small anymore. We read together from the Scriptures and I tell them stories about our life in Russia. They sit in my lap, one on each side, listening to every word as though it were coming from Moses himself. I must admit, it’s a nice feeling.
Rachel is like a sponge. She remembers everything I say and can recite from the Talmud like a yeshiva student. Of course, she turns every lesson into a production, choosing to act out the parts of the different rabbis. She portrays Rav Eliezer as a finger-wagging boor. Rav Gamliel is always half asleep, coming alive when a point is disputed. Hillel is quiet and thoughtful. Everyone becomes a character in her play. Golde finds her acting entertaining, but it drives me to distraction when I’m trying to explain the meaning of the words she’s parroting.
Abraham is equally capable of absorbing the information, but he still doesn’t want to spend the time or the energy. Sometimes I think he just wants to spite me, but, most of the time, I think he just has his mind elsewhere, either on soccer or his older sister. He adores Devorah. Whenever she comes to visit, he sits with her listening to stories about the Haganah. He talks a lot about fighting, and one day I caught him trying to sneak into the field with my rifle to practice shooting.
Golde is mortified by his interest in the Haganah and yells at Devorah not to fill his head with stories about the danger and adventure of her work. I would prefer that he focus on his studies, but — and I can’t say this to Golde — I fear that he will need to know how to fight. By the time he is an adult, the deciding battle for Palestine that Sheikh Jabber predicts may be upon us.
I don’t know whether to wish for that climactic battle or not. We have created a nice life for ourselves here in our homeland. Will it make so much of a difference if we have a state or not? Bernice says it will.
“Unless we can control our own destiny, we will never be safe, nor will Jews in the Diaspora,” she lectured me. “Look at the Jews in Germany, Tevye. No country wants them. Where will they go if not Palestine? And if we do not control immigration, how can we ensure they will be allowed in?”
We are lucky to have Bernice working for the Jewish Agency. She looks like such a mild-mannered lady, but she is as tough as a camel is mean. She understands politics far better than I, and what must be done to guarantee our independence.
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.