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For Jabotinsky’s Yahrzeit: Jabotinsky enlists Tuvia in the Haganah

Today, most teenagers lack even basic knowledge about the history of Modern Zionism. Unfortunately, a great many Jewish parents know very little themselves. Everyone, perhaps, has heard the names Trumpeldor, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, and Begin, but they know very little about their lives.

When it comes to other heroes of Modern Zionism, people like Shlomo Ben Yosef, David Raziel, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Yair Stern, Abba Achimeir, and others, a large percentage of Jews know nothing at all.

The series of novels “Tevye in the Promised Land” is an entertaining way to learn about these larger-than-life fathers of the State of Israel and to become acquainted with their passionate ideals. In honor of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s yahrtzeit, here is a chapter from the historical fiction authored by this writer, Tzvi Fishman.

From the novel “Arise and Shine!”

Jabotinsky was convinced that the storm on the horizon was quickly approaching – not desert sands or locusts, but Jihad, sparked by Ishmael’s old resentment of Isaac, and abetted by the British. With his usual singlemindedness and refusal to take no for an answer, he hounded the Jerusalem-based Zionist Commission with his foreboding premonitions, pointing out that the promises contained in the Balfour Declaration had not been fulfilled on the ground. On the contrary, the British Military Administration in Palestine demonstrated clear favoritism toward the Arabs, to the point,

Jabotinsky asserted, “The Arabs believe that the British would welcome a massacre of the Jews.” With the unofficial approval of the local Zionist Committee, and with the 800 young Jewish men and women who responded to his call, Jabotinsky formed the “Haganah,” the first Jewish defense force in the Land of Israel since the days of Bar Kochva. Veterans of the disbanded WWI Hebrew Brigade, and pioneers who had learned how to shoot as Shomerim guards in the settlements in the north, brought their experience to the youth of Jerusalem who rushed forward to join the new Jewish military legion.

Though he lacked the physical stature of Trumpeldor, the scholarly and bespectacled Jabotinsky was no-less charismatic. He was a soldier, writer, visionary, and passionate orator, all in one. Responding to Jabotinsky’s promise that, “Tel Hai shall not fall again!” the youth of Jerusalem found a leader with a towering new spirit of Jewish valor and pride.

A full-fledged military training camp was established on the outskirts of the city, where recruits gathered to learn how to march and shoot, though there were only a few rifles to share. Without money to purchase grenades, the enthusiastic trainees threw rocks instead. “We may not be the most impressive army in the world, but we won’t be an embarrassment,” Jabotinsky asserted. “In our own country, no one is going to treat us as they do in the Diaspora!”

Once again, Tevye was making deliveries on his milk route in the Old City when Perchik Aronov appeared with the news that Jabotinsky wanted to see him.

“Jabotinsky wants to see me?” the milkman responded.

“Yes, you,” Perchik insisted.

“I don’t deliver milk outside the Old City. That’s Yankela’s district.”

“He doesn’t want milk,” Perchik responded. “He wants to form a Jewish army.”

Tevye glanced around cautiously.

“A Jewish army? To fight who?”

“Arab marauders.”

That made sense. At least he wasn’t talking about fighting the British, as Trumpeldor had hinted on the eve of his last battle.

“We can’t let them stand in our way,” Perchik continued.

“Stand in the way of what?” Tevye asked.

“In the way of Jewish destiny?”

Jewish destiny? What was that, Tevye wondered? He had heard of Jewish holidays, and Jewish prayer, and Yiddish stories, but what destiny did a Jew have other than to suffer in this world and to pray that he would have better luck in the World-to-Come?

“Didn’t he already have a Jewish army with the Hebrew Brigade?” Tevye observed.

“That was a part of the British Army. This new army will be completely ours. Instead of receiving orders, we will give them. With our own army, and an economy built through the labor of our hands, we will have the foundations we need to be self-sufficient. Come with me to speak with Lieutenant Colonel Jabotinsky and he will tell you himself.”

Tevye tugged on the rein of his mule and led him slowly down the alley.

“You’ve enlisted?” Tevye asked.

“I am to be one of the commanders,” Perchik answered with a tinge of pride in his voice.

“Mazel tov. What about the kibbutz and your wife?”

“I have taken a leave of absence.”

“From the kibbutz or from your wife?”

“From both if I have to. The welfare of the collective must be our prime concern, not our private lives.”

Tevye nodded. That was the old Marxist dribble of the Perchik Aronov who had stolen the heart of his daughter. “Well, with all due respect, tell the Lieutenant Colonel that I’m too old to be a soldier.”

“He is expecting you to come to his office on Jaffa Street this evening at six o’clock. I will meet you by Kikar Tzion – Zion Square – to show you the way.”

Looking more like an Englishman than a Jew, Aronov strode off with the upright gait of a soldier, his arms swinging by his sides to the tune of a military anthem that only he heard as he brushed past the stooped-over, religious Jews of the Quarter.

Even before Tel Hai, Tevye, like everyone else, had heard a great deal about Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who had changed his first name from Vladimir to the Hebrew, Ze’ev, meaning wolf, which admirably fitted his constant, restless nature. A voracious reader, studious academic, and lawyer, Jabotinsky was widely considered the new Herzl – albeit one with an unabashed military posture. Having been discharged by General Allenby from the British army in 1919 because of his round-the-clock activism for the Zionist cause, Jabotinsky turned his attention away from the dismantled Hebrew Brigade toward the plight of the struggling Jewish community in Palestine.

Tevye had heard a lot about him from Perchik, whose earlier idolization of Karl Marx and Leo Tolstoy was now divided between Jabotinsky and another rising firebrand from the Brigade, a socialist advocator named David Ben Gurion.

Inspired by Rabbi Kook’s predication that, in the era of transformation and rebirth which Am Yisrael was experiencing, even a simple peasant from Anatevka could one day become a statesman, Tevye had attended several of Jabotinsky’s lectures in a Jaffa Street lecture hall on a variety of intellectual themes, all of them new to the milkman – Bialik’s poetry; the rights of national minorities; the philosophy of government; Hebrew usage and pronunciation; and woman’s suffrage – may the L-rd have mercy.

The philosopher-militarist believed that for Jews to achieve their own Statehood, it was essential to educate them with the basic understandings of civil service, politics, and diplomacy. For Jabotinsky, as for Rabbi Kook, a Jewish State was not some remote and vague ideal, but a near and certain reality for which the Jewish People had to prepare themselves. While Rabbi Kook spoke about the renewal of prophecy and the service of the Kohanim in the Beit Mikdash, Jabotinsky spoke in more earthly terms about mass Aliyah, private enterprise, and a full-scale Hebrew army to back them up.

To Tevye’s straightforward way of thinking, Jabotinsky made sense. While Perchik Aronov had a gift for gab, he resembled the noisemakers on Purim made out of empty cans filled with pebbles. Or as the Yiddish expression went, “Wisdom pours out of him like turds from a goat.” Jabotinsky’s genius with words was completely different – not only did they make perfect sense, they went straight to Tevye’s heart.

“If this generation of Jews is to be the vanguard of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel,” he declared at a lecture one evening, “the Jewish People must cast off the psychological shackles of exile, and the fear of the Gentile, which have become as much a part of the Jewish psyche as prayer. A new spirit of courage and freedom has to be instilled in our hearts. As the new generation turns its back on the exile, our enemies need to know that they won’t be met anymore by trembling, bearded Jews, but by clean-shaven, muscular ‘sabras’ holding weapons which they knew how to use.”

After Tevye had braved, on several evenings, the curious stares of the younger, and largely secular crowd at the lectures, the distinguished lecturer himself had approached him. No longer wearing his British Army uniform, the clean-shaven Jabotinsky was dressed in a buttoned suit jacket, starched shirt, and perfectly knotted tie. His hair was carefully combed. All he needed was his old riding crop to look like the famous lieutenant colonel of the Hebrew Brigade. Bowing, and, in his always polite and formal manner, he greeted the thickly bearded and clearly religious listener.

“Good evening, Rabbi,” he said. “I hope you are enjoying our series of lectures.”

“I’m not a Rabbi,” Tevye corrected.

“Then, my honored sir, to whom do I have the pleasure?”

“My name is Tevye, the son of Shneur Zalman, from Anatevka.”

“Tevye the milkman?” Jabotinsky asked in pleasant surprise.

“As Yentel, our beloved matchmaker would say: ‘Once a matchmaker, always a matchmaker. Once a milkman, always a milkman”

“Your modesty, sir, is praiseworthy, but your renown as a brave wagon driver is familiar to all. My sincerest apologizes for not having personally thanked you for your performance under enemy fire at the end of the World War. My duties overseas didn’t afford me an occasion. And I bow before the man who risked his life to save Joseph Trumpeldor and the defenders of Tel Hai.”

True to his words, he lowered his head in a humble bow.

While winters in Jerusalem are mild compared to the sub-freezing temperatures and massive snowstorms in Russia, that past December, Jerusalem had been inundated with more snow than it had weathered in the past ten years combined. Arab propaganda seized the unusual happening to blame the “Jews from Moscow” who had “purposely brought the bitter frost from the tundra of Russia in order to harm the Arabs.”

The snowfall was so deep, many people found themselves barricaded at home. A figure in thigh-high boots, clutching a shovel, and carrying a sack on his back, trudged through the snow to dig out stranded residents, and to deliver loaves of bread to hungry souls. A Jewish Santa Claus, you ask? A snow-covered Eliahu HaNavi? No, it was Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Concerned over the welfare of his snowbound Jewish brethren in the city, he ventured out through the Jerusalem tundra with a dozen youngsters to help in the rescue effort. To Tevye, that display of kindness spoke accolades about the man, even more than his political and military achievements.

Tevye arrived ten minutes early for the meeting with the famous Lieutenant Colonel. Perchik led his former father-in-law up a flight of stairs to the second floor of the building housing the Zionist Commission, where two rooms had been turned into emergency headquarters for the Haganah. Jabotinsky sat in the inner office whose window looked out upon Jaffa Street. A large, hand-drawn map of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem was taped to one wall. A map of the Old City was spread out on large table. Jabotinsky rose and, with another slight bow, extended a hand to Tevye.

“Thank you, sir, for coming,” he said, motioning for his visitor to be seated. “And thank you, Captain Perchik for arranging the meeting.”

Aronov stood at attention, saluted, spun around in an about face, and strode out of the office, leaving them alone.

Tevye smiled awkwardly, wondering what the Almighty had in store for him now.

“I hope you won’t find this another boring lecture, but before we get down to the business at hand, I would like you to present you with an overview of our situation and of the Zionist project in general.”

The internationally-known Zionist spoke to the milkman as if he were an equal. Tevye sat in perplexed and embarrassed silence, concentrating on his words, not understanding why he had been invited to hear a lesson in modern Jewish history by one of the people who was making it. Jabotinsky paced back and forth in front of the window as he spoke. Now and again, he stopped and gazed at Tevye with a penetrating stare.

“Zionism, of course, has its source in the Torah. Moses was commanded over and over again to bring the Children of Israel to Zion. Any eight-year-old child can tell you that the goal of the Exodus was to bring the Jews to the Land of Israel, where we were to live as a sovereign Israelite Nation in the Promised Land. Certainly, I don’t have to quote Scripture to you. When Hashem first spoke to Moses out from the Burning Bush, he said,’I have surely seen the affliction of My People who are in Egypt, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey.’

“Receiving the Torah in the Wilderness of Sinai was not the final station. The destination was Zion. However, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and our long exile, our return to Zion became a faraway dream without any real chance of fulfillment. Throughout the centuries, there always remained a small but constant community of devoutly religious Jews in the country, but a mass immigration of Jews from the four corners of the globe was simply not feasible.”

Tevye was surprised by the religious perspective which Jabotinsky had chosen. The Zionist activist was not known to be a Torah practitioner. Why was he speaking like a Rabbi?

“While most people attribute the birth of Zionism in our age to Theodore Herzl, modern Zionism began some two-hundred years earlier with the Vilna Gaon. He sent students to settle the Land of Israel, saying that only in Zion would the Jews find a refuge from a terrible storm of persecution which he saw rising on the horizon. After him, Rabbis Mohliver and Kalisher raised up the Zionist banner amongst religious Jews, in what became known as the ‘First Aliyah.’ As more groups of pilgrims set off to Zion, the awareness of the movement spread, until it caught on amongst secular Jews as well, igniting a longing for their own Homeland. Of course, everyone embraced Zionism on his or her own level. By and large, the majority of the pioneers who came during the ‘Second Aliyah’ were non-religious, motivated by dreams of building a socialist paradise. This gave Zionism its secular look, which the old-fashioned guardians of the Torah have come to loath.”

Jabotinsky sat down at the table and faced Tevye directly. In the course of a day, Tevye conversed with many people, discussing a gamut of things, from the day’s weather, to a new pain in the back, to the high price of chickens, but none of the discussions had the life-and-death seriousness which surrounded Jabotinsky’s long speech. Feeling like he was facing a prophet who had a Divine fire in his eyes, Tevye sensed that it would be hard to say no to the man.

“The point of the matter is, as Rabbi Kook writes, that the inner soul of the Zionism movement derives from a holy source. And this is where you, my good sir, can play a vital role.”

Tevye took a deep breath, waiting to hear the rest.

“I need your help in attracting volunteers from the Old Yishuv to join the Haganah. Perhaps rightly, they are afraid to expose their young people to the lifestyle of the secular pioneers. Having barricaded themselves in ghettos for centuries, they are afraid of anything new. For them, military matters are strictly for the goyim. They seek only to live in peace in the Holy City and devote themselves to Torah. What do they need with Statehood and military training? Let England take care of national needs and matters of security. Others claim, ‘Hashem will protect us!’

“But, dear Tevye, to my great sorrow and fear, our long history amongst the Gentiles proves that we can’t rely on the goyim to protect us. Nor on Hashem. I was a young man of twenty-three in Odessa when Christian mobs attacked the Jews of Kishinev, murdering forty-seven Jewish men, women, and children, while musical bands played happy tunes in the city gardens, and the town bishop blessed the rioters from the steps of the church, and the policemen of the Czar looked on contentedly, as if they were attending a sports event. Many Jewish men ran away in fear when the pogrom erupted because they had never learned how to fight. That terrible tragedy made me aware of a simple but revolutionary truth – our Jewish youth must learn, not only the Torah of what is permitted and what is outlawed, they must learn the Torah of war as well.”

His dark eyes stared through Tevye with a look of burning anger, as if he saw the victims of the Kishenev pogrom before him. His jaw locked in a determined expression. Tevye sat speechless, hypnotized by the intelligence and passion of the man.

Jabotinsky picked up his old army riding crop which lay on the table.

“The Jews of the Old City are helpless,” he said. “When the Arabs attack, no one will defend them. Just like the policemen of Kishinev, the British will look the other way. If the Rabbis don’t want their students to become soldiers of the Haganah, then at least persuade them to allow Haganah recruits to patrol their neighborhoods.”

“You want me to persuade the Rabbis?” Tevye asked with an incredulous chuckle.

“That’s correct, sir. That is the reason I invited you here.”

Trumpeldor’s friend and co-founder of the Hebrew Brigade continued to stare at Tevye with a very non-joking expression.

“Perhaps the British will act to quell further Arab violence, not wanting to suffer the protests of English and American Jews,” Tevye suggested.

“English and American Jews have their own problems and self-interests to worry about,” Jabotinsky replied. “Unfortunately, for most of them, what happens here in Palestine has nothing to do with their lives. They believe they have discovered the Promised Land where they are. As for the British themselves, they have imperialistic yearnings of their own. Lord Balfour was very gracious in his gesture to help us, but his sentiments are not shared by British Military Authority in Palestine.”

“I have a growing suspicion that by quietly encouraging the Arabs to make war against us, they can claim that a strong British presence is needed here on a permanent basis. It is the old ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that they have used with substantial success in other colonial endeavors. I have met with several influential ministers of the British Government, and with the brunt of British military leaders, and I can assure you that although they appear to sympathize with the Zionist cause, their plan is to keep the Land of Israel for the Empire. Not only will they not prevent mobs of bloodthirsty Arabs from slitting our throats, they will further incite them by looking the other way, just like the Cossacks of the Czar in Kishinev.”

Tevye shivered under the intensity of Jabotinsky’s gaze. Behind the round, black frames of his spectacles, his eyes glowed like a wolf’s.

“You are a good devout Jew,” he continued. “You look haredi, you speak like them, you respect their customs and traditions, and you believe in the very same things. For them, I am a Hebrew-speaking goy. Even if I were to speak to them in Yiddish, they would look at me like a sheretz which has learned how to talk. You, they can trust.”

“Perhaps Rabbi Kook can recommend a better candidate,” Tevye suggested, feeling that the assignment wasn’t for him.

“Rabbi Kook’s vision of Zionism is different from mine,” Jabotinsky explained. “Like a Biblical prophet, he sees to the end of time, while I, like a blind man, see only the darkness of the present. Rabbi Kook has dreams. I have nightmares. He sees a great future light shining out from a Temple which shall descend from the heavenly firmaments in the sky, while I see a raging fire of destruction just moments away. Today, our people need a refuge from the lion’s den of Europe, before we are devoured alive. We need our own Land, our own Statehood, and our own powerful army. Whether in the future we be socialists, or capitalists, or a Kingdom of Jewish Priests and a Holy Nation, this is not my major concern. Que sera, sera. Right now, the survival of the Jewish People is what matters the most. That means having trained soldiers who know how to fire guns.”

“I am a milkman, not a military officer,” Tevye responded, feeling emotionally and mentally whipped. “In my humble opinion, it is far better to live for your country than to die for it.”

“That’s precisely why we need the Haganah – to insure that we live. You have captured the idea completely!”

“Gevalt!” Tevye thought, knowing from the beginning of the conversation that Jabotinsky’s granite conviction would checkmate him in the end.

“I can try,” he relented, sensing that all argument was useless against the Lieutenant Colonel’s sledgehammer of Jewish patriotism.

Thus it came to pass that Tevye, the milkman from Anatevka, became Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s liaison to Jerusalem’s haredi community, with orders to report directly to the chief-of-staff himself.

Source: Tzvi Fishman – Arutz Sheva