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After Anatevka – Tevye in Palestine Excerpt 9: Tevye the Rabbi

On the kibbutz, I have even less control over my daughters than I did in Russia.

That’s just one of the things I haven’t grown used to yet. Another is our choice of clothes. I was never very concerned about my appearance. As I’ve gotten older, I worry more about my disappearance.

Still, I like to choose what it is I will look terrible in. Here, a committee even tells you what you can wear. I was forced to wear these shorts. All right, they didn’t hold me down and tie them around my waist. But it took some getting used to. The chaverim made fun of me wearing my prayer shawl and keeping my head covered. They say those traditions are antiquated, from another time and place where Jews had to distinguish themselves from the goyim. No, I said, showing respect for God does not get old or become obsolete. The closer we are to him, the more reverent we should be.

These socialists, with their visions of a world where everyone is equal, want to do away with everything that has kept us a strong people for generations.

“We will start our own traditions,” they tell me.

I admit I don’t know how all our traditions got started, but even a simple man who does not have the vision of our Jonathan can see that you don’t just throw away something that has worked for centuries. Who is man to make all the rules? I have seen what the edicts of men can do and I prefer to place my trust in the Lord.

It’s funny. I used to dream of being the most learned man in my village, a person everyone would come to for advice and now I am that person. I admit I’ve changed. It was necessary to be part of the community. But, you know, I’ve changed them a little bit too. Now the kibbutz celebrates most of the holidays; before, the only festivals were ones associated with harvests. At first, I studied alone, but today I lead discussions once a week on the parsha. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Still, I miss our old rabbi. It’s been many years since I last saw him and yet I can see his face clearly. His long grey beard and stern expression betrayed by eyes that sparkled with excitement at even the simplest question. I remember how he used to bang his fist on the lectern to make a point, and how he would shout: “Tevye, Hillel was able to explain the entire Torah on one foot. You are always trying to do the same; the trouble is your other foot is always in your mouth.”

Ah, our rabbi. Such a learned and righteous man. And now I am playing the role, but lack the knowledge and the spirit. I pray for God to give me the wisdom to answer the questions my friends ask. I always have a response, but I don’t think it’s the same one the rabbi would give.