TEVYE TAKES REVENGE
Just like Am Yisrael was transformed from an oppressed and downtrodden people in exile into a powerful nation in its own Homeland, Tevye, the milkman from Anatevka, becomes a pioneer freedom fighter in the battle against the British.
That night, Tevye also had trouble falling asleep. His body was sweating from the heat. It was one of those hot nights in August toward the end of the summer when a desert sharav gripped Jerusalem, leaving the Holy City sweltering and stripped of its usual, cool-mountain breeze. Whenever Tevye closed his eyes, he saw Hava on a bright green mountain, running toward him happily with outstretched arms, like Heidi running over the hilltops, then suddenly vanishing into the air before she reached him. Over and over, the dream returned, giving him no rest. Finally, after turning from side to side, he sat up in bed, shaking his head, as if to dispel a demon. Feeling that he could no longer get any sleep, he sat up and recited the words that he had said every day of his life upon rising, “I give thanks before You, the living and everlasting King, for restoring my soul – great is Your faithfulness.”
Deciding to go to the Kotel to pray, Tevye bent down toward the small basin of water on the floor, filled a tin natlah, and poured water over his hands, back and forth three times, just as he had done since his childhood, as his parents had taught him, to remove the impure spirit which rests on one’s fingers at night, when sleep leaves a man defenseless, as if he were already dead. Spent of emotion, and feeling as tired as a corpse, Tevye walked into the dark kitchen area and lit the oil lantern on the counter. A knife laying on a wooden chopping board glittered in the flickering light. It was a large knife, with a broad cutting edge, which Carmel used to cut vegetables, fruit, and fish. A man had the right to defend himself, didn’t he? If an Arab attacked him on his way to the Wailing Wall, he would be ready. Tevye was tired with philosophical discussions and endless talk. All of the arguments gave him a headache. His Hava had been savagely raped and murdered by Arabs while the British did nothing. And years before, Hodel’s husband, Hillel, had been butchered as well. Along with so many others. Somewhere, somehow, it had to stop.
After dressing, he slipped the knife into a deep pocket of his work pants. Quietly, so as not to awaken Hevedke, Nachman, and the youngsters who were asleep on the floor, he slipped out the door. With another day of sitting shiva before him, with more visitors, and words of comfort, and political discussions and arguments, and the need to be strong for the children, all he wanted to do was to pour out his broken heart at the Wall. The courtyard of the Galitzia Compound was dark and silent. Startled by sleepless footsteps, a cat cried in fright and bolted from under the stairs as Tevye descended. Tevye’s milk cart rested against a wall, as if it was slumbering. During the shiva week, he wasn’t allowed to work. In another two hours, someone would have to hook up his mule to the cart and begin the morning deliveries. Tevye didn’t know who. He hadn’t asked. Here and there, a kerosene lamp shed patches of light on HaGai Street. All of the shops and doorways along the alley were closed. It was around four in the morning, Tevye guessed. The Old City was still fast asleep. Devout Jews and Kabbalists who studied and prayed all night at the Kotel continued with the custom in their homes, not daring to venture outside lest the wild wrath of Ishmael reawaken.
At the end of the dark and deserted street, a British policeman sat on a wooden crate, guarding the alleyway leading to the Kotel, a rifle slung over his shoulder. As Tevye approached, he stood up and grabbed his police club, blocking the passageway to the Wall.
“Where do you think you are going?” he asked.
“To the Kotel,” Tevye answered.
“Don’t you know that the Wall is off limit to Jews? Dogs are allowed and donkeys, but no Jews.” He laughed coarsely at his perverted sense of humor. “Too bad the Arabs didn’t slaughter you all. That’s what you deserve for killing our Christ.”
“Who taught you that?” Tevye inquired.
“My father, my mother, our priests. Everyone knows that the Jews are cursed for killing Jesus. The world would be better place without you.”
“Eureka!” Tevye realized. That was the reason the British let the Arabs massacre the Jews! It wasn’t just because of their imperialistic designs to rule over Palestine and swallow the entire Middle East into the British Empire. It was because of the ancient blood-libel that the Jews had killed Jesus - the same reason the goyim had been slaughtering the Jews for nearly two-thousand years.
“I want to pray at the Wall,” Tevye insisted.
“Pray somewhere else,” the policeman told him. “Besides, G-d doesn’t listen to the prayers of pigs.”
The policeman laughed heartily, pleased with his joke. When Tevye brushed by him, determined to pray at the Kotel, the policeman raised the club in the air.
“Don’t you have ears, you two-legged donkey?” he asked, crashing the heavy club down on the Jew’s neck.
Tevye groaned. A knee buckled, but he remained on his feet. The policeman laughed. Like an angered bear, Tevye turned to face the Englishman as he raised the club to strike again. This time, the husky milkman blocked the blow with his forearm. Neither Cossacks, nor Arabs, nor Turkish constables, or British policemen would beat him again. Even after the knife pierced the Englishman’s heart, the policeman kept laughing. Then, a puzzled look spread over his face. With a growl, Tevye shoved the blade deeper into the heathen’s chest.
“Very funny joke,” Tevye said, giving the knife a twist before pulling it out from the gushing wound. With a dumbfounded look in his eyes, the policemen crumpled to the ground. Bending down quickly, Tevye yanked the dead man’s rifle away from his shoulder. Standing, he slid the rifle down his shirt into his baggy work pants. Then, as if he were limping, he hurried home, along the very same path of the Old Jewish Quarter where Jesus had reputedly carried the heavy wooden cross on his back on the way to his crucifixion.
The first “shot” had been fired in the war against the British.