Tevye the Dairyman
by Sholem Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman Tevye Is Going to Eretz Yisroel Summary
- A quick brain snack before we begin—"Eretz Yisroel" is just Hebrew for Israel. Okay, cool, let's do this thing.
- This story starts as Tevye bumps into Sholem Aleichem on a train going to Israel.
- What we get in this story is basically the tale of how he ended up on the train in the first place.
- Turns out, Golde died. She got sicker and sicker, and at the very last moment, she and Tevye had what probably counts as the most romantic and tender moment of their whole marriage that didn't involve a dairy cow.
- He ends up growing really close to his youngest daughter, Beilke, who becomes the woman of the house for a little while.
- Soon enough, the matchmaker comes to Tevye with a great match for Beilke—a very rich, not too old, reasonably nice contractor named Podhotsur who is a rising star in society.
- Beilke doesn't seem as thrilled as you'd think. When Tevye confronts her about all her secret crying, she busts out saying that she doesn't want to be like Hodl.
- Tevye is baffled, but we're getting the sense that she knows that marrying big money will at the same time help her family and separate her from them.
- Still, the wedding is on. Beilke looks like a princess, and when the couple gets back from their honeymoon, they invite Tevye for a visit.
- He starts as usual about how Podhotsur is sure to offer him some kind of awesome job, and then want to go in fifty/fifty with him on all his enterprises.
- Look, Tevye, we're starting to get a little tired of crushing your dreams.
- When he gets to their mansion, he has a hard time getting past the doorman, and has to sweet-talk a chambermaid to be allowed in. Huh. That seems like a bad sign.
- Inside, it's a magic wealth wonderland. The most telling detail? Lots and lots of clocks everywhere—a sign of a big spender, since those suckers were super expensive back in the day.
- At dinner, Tevye is both shocked by how awesome the food spread is, and sad to realize that Beilke has never before eaten this well.
- She looks amazing and fits right in, but totally doesn't talk, because Podhotsur is both speaker and audience.
- Tevye starts to regret marrying her off to this guy, because he's bored out of his mind by the ceaseless monologue about business.
- Finally, after dinner, Podhotsur shows his hand. He's embarrassed to have a dairyman for a father-in-law, so how's about Tevye packs it in and heads off to America?
- Tevye is wildly insulted, but Podhotsur, like a good businessman, has another offer. If America is off the table, then how about Israel?
- Tevye is about to get mad again, but then starts to think about how much he has always wanted to visit all the famous religious sites there.
- Just like that, Podhotsur is counting out a huge wad of money, with promises of more, if only Tevye would just get on his way already. Finally, he leaves so Tevye can have a moment alone with Beilke.
- Beilke tells him the whole story. Turns out, Podhotsur is a totally self-made man who comes from absolutely nothing. But money is not enough to get him into society, so he's been inventing his own backstory and now he's making stuff up about Beilke's backstory as well.
- Obviously, it's not really convenient to have the real father-in-law around when the imaginary one is so much more awesome.
- Upset by all of this, Tevye cries. Beilke cries too, but again not for the reason that we're assuming.
- She is fine with her marriage, she says. Podhotsur is a nice and really generous guy.
- For example, he's going to spent a bazillion to get Hodl's husband out of exile (we're assuming this is mostly through tons and tons of bribes) and ship the couple off to Japan, where he has some business interests they can help manage. Which is pretty nice.
- So Beilke is crying more because she knows it all has to be this way. She's a pretty complex character, actually, and it's hard to know what to make of her.
- On the way out the door, Tevye runs into the matchmaker again, and they have a back-and-forth friendly insult-fest about who is worst off son-in-law-wise.
- Turns out it's the matchmaker, whose daughter's husband beat her and then abandoned her. Just goes to show that there are worse things than Podhotsur and his overbearing manner.
- Tevye goes home and sells off his business. It's hard because most of the tools and things are filled with memories of his family.
- The last thing he sells is his trusty horse. It really kills him to sell the horse off because he identifies so strongly with it.
- In the end, he tells Sholem Aleichem that he will miss everything about his village, and Boiberik and Yehupetz as well.
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