The Lion's Roar: Tevya the milkman in Israel

If you remember Tevye as the beloved, downtrodden milkman of Anatevka, powerless to overcome the blows that fate sends his way, then Fishman’s updated version of Tevye joining the Zionist Enterprise in Israel will change all that.

Yisrael Medad, | updated: 12:31

Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad
צילום:

Having worked, first as head of the Education Department of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and then as director of its Information and Resource Department for seventeen years, and as someone who has studied and written a great deal about Modern Zionism, I can vouch for the historical accuracy of Tzvi Fishman’s wonderful Tevye in the Promised Land Series. In fact, I observed him spending hours in the Center’s library, researching the background drama of his books.

While the very well-written novels follow the fictional adventures of Tevye the Milkman (famous from “Fiddler on the Roof”) in the Holy Land, the historical canvas is painted with realistic brushstrokes which make the leading events and characters of the era jump off the page. The author’s portraits of Yosef Trumpeldor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Avraham Stern, and Rabbi Kook, to mention a few, have the light and clarity of a classic painting, capturing their towering personalities with an artistic touch lacking in many biographies.

Below is an analysis of the third volume of the series;

The Lion’s Roar, the third volume in Tzvi Fishman’s Tevye in the Promised Land series, continues the Zionist saga, placing Tevye and his family in the eye of the storm as the Irgun and the Lehi undergrounds abandon the Jewish establishment’s policy of restraint in the face of Arab terror in the late 1930s, and set out to chase the British occupiers from the Land.

If you want to remember Tevye as the beloved, downtrodden milkman of Anatevka, powerless to overcome the blows that Fate sends his way, then Fishman’s updated version of Tevye is not for you. Just as the vicissitudes of history forced the Jewish People to rediscover their long-lost valor in returning to Zion, so too is Tevye transformed into a new kind of Jew who is willing to pick up a rifle and fight back when his family and freedom are threatened.

Fishman, who was a screenwriter in Hollywood before becoming an ardent Religious Zionist and moving to Israel, knows how to spin a spellbinding story. The great drama of the Modern Zionist enterprise provides him with ample material. Not to detract from his talents, he only needed to shape all the struggle and intrigue, and find the thread which puts it all together, and that he has done through the character of Tevye and his skill as a gifted storyteller.

I can’t think of a more exciting adventure than the modern return of the Jews to their ancient Homeland. The novel succeeds in capturing the great courage, self-sacrifice, and heroism that went into the creation of the Jewish State. Reading this compelling series of historical novels, Tevye in the Promised Land, Arise and Shine!, and now, The Lion’s Roar, the reader finds himself in the middle of the battle for Jewish sovereignty in in Palestine, and discovers himself involved in the fierce ideological debate which accompanied our hard-earned revival.

It is obvious that Fishman not only wants to tell a gripping tale. Ever since the establishment of Israel, the history of modern Zionism has been told through the distorted and manipulative glasses of the Socialist-Labor-Mapai regime which ruled the country throughout the first decades of Statehood. Films, textbooks, historical treatises, and biographies were aggressively disseminated, all with a generous dose of Leftist propaganda and blatant untruth.

For instance, it is commonly presumed that Ben-Gurion founded the Haganah, but its true founder was the father of Betar and the Revisionists, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, during the winter of 1919-1920. I recall the storm when Meyer Levin’s book, “The Settlers” appeared in 1972. The Zionist elite at that time were beginning to face the new generation of “settlers” in Gush Etzion and Hebron and were upset that Levin’s positive portrayal of Jews resettling the Jewish homeland in the face of Arab and Turkish hostility would be understood as confirming the justice of Jews doing so in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Sinai.

Fishman’s novels come to shed a new light on the Zionist drama, presenting events from a clearly Right wing and Religious Zionist perspective. In old Zionist textbooks, Rabbi Kook might have received a passing mention, Jabotinsky was pictured as a radical extremist who threatened chances for peace, and Hashem wasn’t mentioned at all. In Fishman’s novels, Rabbi Kook, “Jabo,” and the Almighty are all leading characters.

One of the most frightening episodes of Modern Zionist history was the murder of Haim Arlozorov, and the subsequent trial of Avraham Stavsky, who was framed in a well-oiled blood libel created by the Leftist Socialist camp against the Revisionists, in order to damage Jabotinsky politically and seize control of the yishuv – the Jewish settlement in Palestine, and the Zionist Congress.

While there is a novel on that incident, the 1971 “Wall of Glass” by Desmond Meiring (the pen-name of the son of the British Police Inspector Harry P. Rice involved in the original investigation), Fishman’s The Lion’s Roar, tells the dramatic story in more authentic detail, with a clear intent to rectify the “Fake History” fabricated by the era’s Leftist media and leadership of the Jewish Agency. In Fishman’s tale, the murder victim is Perchik Aronov, Tevye's former communist son-in-law, but it's the Arlozorov case all the same. The sinat chinam (gratuitous hatred) which surrounded the witch hunt to convict and execute an innocent man, threatened to destroy the entire Zionist enterprise, and the reader cannot help but compare the shameful affair with the political schemes and unholy agendas which mark the political Left in Israel until today.

“B’kitzor,” as Sholom Aleichem would say, the novels in the Tevye in the Promised Land series are engrossing and edifying reads. And there is a lot of humor and romance, along with the doses of ideology and movie-paced action. I especially enjoyed how the author squeezed gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meir Lansky into the Zionist yarn.

Fishman says he hopes to bring the saga to a climax in two upcoming novels which will bring the ageless Tevye and the Jews to sovereign Statehood in the Promised Land. If the author continues with the same flowing prose and concern for the Right's side of the story, he will have created a great literary treasure for Am Yisrael.

(Editor's note: In Israel, the books can be ordered through Sifriyat Beit El)


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