Our British friends searched the kibbutz and originally found nothing. For some reason, though, they returned the next day and seemed to know exactly where to go to find a cache of small arms Moshe had hidden in the garden behind the dining hall.
“We warned you against building private arsenals,” the British commander said as he supervised the confiscation of the weapons.
To everyone’s surprise, he then pointed at Simcha. “Cuff that man. He’s coming with us.”
“What?” Hodel screamed.
I was in shock. Another of my daughter’s loves being carted off to jail. How do they have such luck?
“There must be some mistake,” I said. Everyone knew Simcha was about the most peaceful soul on earth, but I knew I couldn’t explain that to the police. I certainly couldn’t tell them that Moshe was the one who had brought the guns. Fortunately, Moshe was back in Tel Aviv with his Haganah unit.
“Yes, there has been a mistake,” the Englishman answered. “And you all made it by hiding these guns. Someone must be held accountable and I’m told this man is your leader.”
“We have no leader. We all share in the responsibility for the kibbutz,” Hodel said, pushing her way to stand directly in front of the commander.
“Would you prefer that we arrest everyone?”
“Yes,” Hodel answered.
The officer considered that for a moment. Then probably realized the British didn’t need the bad publicity that would come from putting the membership of an entire kibbutz in jail.
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Then take me,” Hodel said.
“What are you doing?” I whispered and gestured for Hodel to step back.
The commander stared at my daughter warily. “It’s commendable that you are willing to stand up for your friends.”
“It is my duty, just as it is the kevutzah’s obligation to obtain the means to defend ourselves.”
“All right,” the Englishman said, waving his finger at her almost dismissively. “Take her too.”
One of his men started to put handcuffs on Hodel. Golde dug her fingernails into my arm so hard I thought blood would spurt out.
“That won’t be necessary,” the commander said, and the soldier put the handcuffs away.
Then the soldiers took Hodel and Simcha to a car and put them in the backseat. A few minutes later they were gone.
Golde started sobbing.
“What should we do?” Eitan asked.
“First, we’ll contact Moshe,” Motel said, suddenly taking charge. “He’ll know what to do. It won’t do us any good to worry in the meantime. The good news is they didn’t find most of our weapons. I just don’t understand how they knew to look in the garden.”
Everyone had the same thought, that someone had betrayed us, but no one could bring themselves to utter the words aloud.
“All right, everyone go back to their work,” Motel ordered, sounding every bit as forceful as Jonathan when he was our unquestioned leader. “We’ll meet tonight to discuss what needs to be done. I’ll try to reach Moshe.”
Everyone shuffled back to their jobs, mumbling amongst themselves, wondering who could have done such a terrible thing.
As Golde and I walked back to our room, I thought that our family had been cursed and I vowed never to agree to any more weddings. I wonder if Hodel noticed the tendency for her mates to land in jail. Knowing Hodel, she’ll probably arrange to marry Simcha in prison.
I went into the bedroom to change clothes. Golde just sat in a chair staring out the window and wringing her hands.
Sarah suddenly burst in, shouting, “Oh Mama!”
When I came to see what was the matter I found Sarah crying hysterically. She was kneeling at Golde’s feet.
“What have I done? What have I done? Oh Mama, what have I done?”
“What’s wrong, Saraleh?” Golde said, stroking her head. “Hodel will be home soon. I’m sure the British won’t put her in prison.”
“That’s not it,” she sobbed, shaking her head as though she didn’t want to be comforted.
“Then what?” Golde asked.
“I was the one who betrayed the kibbutz.”
“What?” I was so shocked I could barely speak.
“I did it, Papa,” Sarah said, crawling to put her arms around my knees. “Oh, I’m so ashamed.” She choked back the tears for a moment. “I told the British officer where the guns were hidden and that Simcha was responsible.”
“But why? You know we need those guns to protect ourselves. And turning in Simcha?”
“Forgive me, Papa. Please, forgive me. I was so jealous of Hodel. Ever since she came, everyone has done nothing but talk about how brave my sister is, how smart, how this, how that. And then Simcha rejected me and chose Hodel. After all those years of waiting for him. I was angry. I was hurt. I —”
“You’ve done a terrible thing, Sarah. In your desire to hurt your sister, you’ve endangered the whole kibbutz.”
“But I didn’t tell them where the rest of our guns are hidden.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “And to bear false witness? You have falsely accused Simcha and he may now be sent to prison.”
“I know, Papa, I know. I’ll go to the police. I’ll tell them that I smuggled the guns to the kibbutz. I’ll say they should arrest me instead.”
Golde came over and drew Sarah to her breast.
“There, there child. You’ll do nothing of the kind. We will find a solution. Don’t worry.”
Golde was looking up at me over Sarah’s shoulder with an expression of hopefulness.
How could my own daughter have done such a thing? I knew she was upset by the attention Hodel was receiving, but who could imagine this would be her reaction?
“Oh Papa, forgive me. Please, forgive me,” Sarah said, dropping to the floor and grabbing my legs again.
“It’s all right,” I said, bending down to take her arms and lift her off the ground. “As your mother said, we will find an answer. But it is not I that must forgive you. You must ask forgiveness from the entire kibbutz and, most importantly, from Hodel and Simcha.”
“But I’m so ashamed. How can I face any of them again?”
I lifted her chin with my fingers and gazed into the cloudy green eyes. “Repentance is not supposed to be easy. You have done a terrible thing, and the punishment should be much worse than to simply apologize. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how the chaverim will react. They might decide to expel you from the kibbutz.”
“No!” Golde yelled. “Not after we’ve finally got our family together.”
“Like everything else, it will be up to the committee,” I said, scared of how the membership might react.
Sarah swallowed hard. “All right, Papa. I’ll do it. Tonight, when Motel calls the meeting.”
She started to walk away. I pulled her back and hugged her tightly.
“It will be okay, Sarah. As the rabbi said, ‘If her mouth had spoken falsehood, let it now be opened in wisdom.’”
This excerpt is from Mitchell Bard’s novel, After Anatevka – Tevye Goes to Palestine available now in paperback and on Kindle.