Farmer Without a Roof
Farmer Without a Roof

By Israel Zwick

A Musical Tragedy in Three Acts
(Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)

The action takes place in Gush Katif, a small Jewish farming community in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. All the scenes take place in May, 2005 in, and immediately outside of, the Milchiger home. It is a small, simple home, but neatly maintained.

TEVYE MILCHIGER, a farmer, and head of the household, about 45 years old.
ZAHAVI MILCHIGER, his wife, about 43 years old.
ZIPPORA MILCHIGER, the eldest of their five daughters, 19 years old
CHAVA MILCHIGER, the youngest of five daughters, 9 years old.

Act I
The opening scene takes place in the kitchen. It is simply furnished, but neat and clean. ZAHAVI is standing near a cardboard box on the kitchen table. She is wearing a simple house robe and a kerchief. She is slowly picking up items, examining them, and putting them into the box. TEVYE walks in. He is wearing an orange T-shirt, soil-stained jeans, leather sandals, and a knitted kipah. He washes his hands and approaches ZAHAVI.

TEVYE: How’s the packing going, Zahavi?

ZAHAVI: It’s painfully slow and difficult. I’m having trouble selecting which items we’ll keep and which will have to go. We never had much money, so every item we ever bought was always carefully chosen and cherished. Each of them has a memory attached to it.

TEVYE: Well, you’re going to have to part with many of them. We’re not going to have much room in the trailer park in Nitzanim, so we can only take the bare essentials. I’ve contacted a Gemilus Chesed Charity in Jerusalem. They agreed to pick up the boxes and assured me that each item will go to a poor family that probably needs it much more than we do.

ZAHAVI: This little house has so many fond memories. Do you remember when we moved here 20 years ago before Zippora was born? Our parents didn’t have any money to help us buy a home so we took advantage of the government subsidies to move here. It was the only place we could afford. We worked so hard to build it up and we raised all of our children here.

TEVYE: Sure I remember. I recall that when we started our bug-free, organic broccoli business, we sat right here in the kitchen packaging the broccoli by hand in plastic boxes. Today, they are vacuum-packed by big machines and shipped out all over the world.

ZAHAVI: Tevye, will there be room in the trailer park for my sister to come with her children for Shabbat? You know that since she got a divorce, she likes to come to us for Shabbat.

TEVYE: There’ll barely be enough room for us. I don’t know where we’re going to put up your sister and her kids.

ZAHAVI: You mean my sister will never be able to come to visit us?

TEVYE: Right now that’s not our biggest problem, we have more important things to worry about.

ZAHAVI: Tevye, do you think there will be mikveh in this trailer park?

TEVYE: I’m not sure. Anyway, most likely, the whole family will be sleeping in one room. Under those conditions, why would you need a mikveh?

ZAHAVI: Tevye, what are you saying? Are you saying that you don’t love me anymore?

TEVYE: Of course I love you. Why would you think otherwise?

ZAHAVI: Then why did you say that I don’t have to go to mikveh anymore?

TEVYE: I’m so confused that I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry if I upset you.

ZAHAVI: Hashem blessed us with five wonderful daughters but we agreed that we would try to have another child so we could have a little boy. I know that it’s been a long time since we had Chavele, but it’s not my fault. I’m still a young woman. I can still have children. You don’t have to give up on me.

(ZAHAVI starts to cry and runs out of the room. TEVYE runs after her)

TEVYE: Zahavi, come back here. I love you so much. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please forgive me.

(ZAHAVI goes outside to see her daughters and sings the following song to them)

SABBATH PRAYER (Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)

May the Lord Protect and defend you.
May He always shield you from shame.
May you come to be
In Israel a shining name.
May you be like Ruth and like Esther.
May you be deserving of praise.
Strengthen them, Oh Lord,
And keep them from the strangers’ ways.
May G-d bless you and grant you long lives.
May the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayer for you.
May G-d make you good mothers and wives.
May He send you husbands who will care for you.
May the Lord protect and defend you.
May the Lord preserve you from pain.
Favor them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.
Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.

Act II
Shortly after Act I. TEVYE is sitting alone in the kitchen, studying the weekly Torah portion. ZIPPORA, the eldest daughter, rushes in, excited and out of breath.

ZIPPORA: Abba, I have great news.

TEVYE: I’m happy to hear that. It would be nice to hear some good news for a change. What’s the news?

ZIPPORA: Mordechai called me from his army base. He’ll be discharged in three months. He’s in a special anti-terrorist unit so they didn’t want to release him, but now his discharge has been officially confirmed.

TEVYE: That really is great news. We’ll be looking forward to seeing him. It’s been a long time.

ZIPPORA: Abba, can we get married now? You promised us that as soon as Mordechai is released from the army, you’ll make a wedding for us.

TEVYE: In three months is when the disengagement is scheduled to begin. I don’t know where we’ll be. Also, we won’t have any money. We’re losing the house and all the greenhouses. I don’t know what we’re going to live on.

ZIPPORA: But Abba, you promised us. Mordechai and I have been together since we started high school. We’ve been waiting so long to get married.

TEVYE: If you waited so long, you can wait just a little longer. We’ll make the wedding as soon as we can.

ZIPPORA: Will the Camzoil’s continue to live near us when we move to Nitzanim.

TEVYE: No, they will be moving to Bat Yam. Mrs. Camzoil has a brother there who is a widower. He said that the family can move in with him. They’ll like it there. It’s a big, comfortable house near the beach. Mordechai can still come to visit you.

ZIPPORA: There’s no bus that goes from Bat Yam to Nitzanim. How is he going to get to me? Bat Yam is near Tel Aviv. There are so many beautiful girls in Tel Aviv and Mordechai looks so handsome in his army uniform. He’s going to meet other girls and forget all about me.

TEVYE: No he’s not. He loves you and wants to be with you always.

ZIPPORA: You’re just saying that to please me. I’m going to Bat Yam to be with Mordechai. With or without your blessing. With or without a chupah.

(She runs out crying and sings the following song outside the house.)

FAR FROM THE HOME I LOVE (Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)

How can I hope to make you understand
Why I do what I do.
Why I must travel to a distant land,
Far from the home I love.
Once I was happily content to be
As I was, where I was,
Close to the people who are close to me,
Here in the home I love.
Oh, what a melancholy choice this is,
Wanting home, wanting him,
Closing my heart to every hope but his,
Leaving the home I love.

Shortly after Act II. CHAVA, the youngest daughter, is sitting at the kitchen table having a snack of milk and cookies. TEVYE approaches her.

TEVYE: Chavele, you’re not involved in any romantic entanglements, are you?

CHAVA: What does that mean, Abba?

TEVYE: You’re better off not knowing. You have a long time yet to find out.

CHAVA: Abba, why is Zippora crying?

TEVYE: Because in three months the soldiers are coming to take our home away from us.

CHAVA: Abba, did we do something bad that they are coming to take away our home?

TEVYE: No, it’s just that the Sharon government has decided to give our homes and greenhouses to the Arabs.

CHAVA: But the Arabs have their own homes, they live right near us.

TEVYE: They’ll be giving our homes to other Arabs that will be coming in from Lebanon and Syria.

CHAVA: Why can’t the Arabs build their own homes and greenhouses? Why do they have to take ours?

TEVYE: Chavele, you’re asking me difficult questions that I can’t answer. Why can’t you ask me easy questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Where do babies come from?”

CHAVA: Abba, those soldiers that will be taking away our house - are they the same ones that are here to protect us - you know, the ones that we invite for Shabbat meals, use our showers, and we make them sandwiches to take back?

TEVYE: No, Chavele, those soldiers won’t be involved. They will be leaving and other soldiers will be taking their place.

CHAVA: You mean the good soldiers will be leaving and bad soldiers will come to take their place?

TEVYE: They’re not really bad soldiers, they’re just following orders from the government.

CHAVA: Then why don’t the good soldiers protect us from the bad soldiers?

TEVYE: Because then there would be a civil war.

CHAVA: What’s a “civil war,” Abba”

TEVYE: That’s when Jews are fighting with other Jews.

CHAVA: Why would they want to do that?

TEVYE: They don’t. That why different soldiers are coming in.

CHAVA: Then why don’t the Americans come to help us? Zippora said that the Americans have a ship in the Mediterranean that is so big that airplanes can land on it. Is that true, Abba? Is that true?

TEVYE: Yes, but only small planes and helicopters. The Americans aren’t going to help us. They want us to leave our homes also.

CHAVA: I thought the Americans were our friends. You mean we don’t have any friends in the whole world?

TEVYE: The Jewish people will always have a friend. He never sleeps and watches over the people of Israel all the time. He’ll come to help us, you’ll see.

CHAVA: When these soldiers come to our house, are they going to hurt me?

TEVYE: No, Chavele dear. These soldiers aren’t Crusaders, Cossacks, or Nazis. They’re Jewish soldiers. They wouldn’t hurt you.

CHAVA: But Abba, you told me that when your Sabba and Savta were living in Poland, bad soldiers came and put them into a railroad car and took them to a very bad place. Then afterwards they said that they were only following orders.

TEVYE: No, Chavele. These soldiers aren’t going to put you in a railroad car. You’re going to ride in an Israeli army truck with our blue and white flag on it. Don’t you want to ride in a big army truck?

CHAVA: No, Abba. I don’t want to ride in an army truck. I want to stay here. Abba, please don’t let the soldiers take me away. I’m so scared. Please, Abba, let me stay here in my house.

(TEVYE doesn’t want CHAVA to see him crying, so he goes outside to the tall tree, looks up and sings)

Adapted from SUNRISE, SUNSET. (Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)

Is the little seed I planted?
Is this the tree that grew so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday
That it was small?
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze.
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.
What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?

(The curtain closes)


Israel Zwick

(c) 2005, I. Zwick, NYC

Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.

(. . . and, it seems, something of a playright.)

Reprinted by permission.