Tevye's oldest daughter, in "Today's Children," turned down a proposal by a rich man to marry a poor tailor. The next daughter, Hodl, does something even worse: she falls for a university student. She "reads and write both Yiddish and Russian and swallows books like hot cakes." That'll lead to trouble.
Here Tevye first meets the student, Peppercorn:
"Just then I looked ahead and saw a young man trudging along by the side of the path, a bundle under one arm, all sweaty and falling off his feet. 'Hurry up or you'll be late for the wedding!'* I called out to him. 'Come to think of it, hop aboard; I'm going your way and my wagon is empty. You know what the Bible says: help the jackass of your neighbor if you pass him on the road, and your jackass of a neighbor too.'**
He laughed and jumped into the wagon without having to be asked twice." (p. 55)
Tevye likes the student and invites him home. Soon Peppercorn is tutoring Tevye's daughters, and is practically one of the family. Just one problem:
"But I will say this for Peppercorn: when he opened his mouth, it erupted like a volcano. You wouldn't have believed the things that came out of it then, such wild, crazy ideas, everything backwards and upside down with tis feet sticking up in the air. A rich Jew, for instance - that's how warped his mind was - wasn't worth a row of beans to him, but a beggar was a big deal, and a workingman - why, a workingman was king, he was God's gift to the world - the reason being, I gathered, that he worked.
'Still,' I would say, 'when it comes to livelihoods, you can't compare work to making money." (p. 57)
The student is a radical, a revolutionary, in Russia in 1904. He marries Hodl - I'm skipping a funny scene where they announce their engagement to Tevye - but then disappears, into a prison, it turns out. The story only has five pages left. Hodl tells her father that she will join her husband in Siberia; Tevye argues with her is his usual indirect way; they sit on the porch all night and talk; Tevye takes her to the train station.
Those last few pages are funny, sad, warm, psychologically insightful. What more do I want? "Hodl" is one of the best short stories I have ever come across. I had not been expecting that.
I have been enjoying the Hillel Halkin translation, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories, but am delighted to see that Penguin Classics, just a couple of weeks ago, published a new version by Aliza Shevrin, an expert translator of Sholem Aleichem. This one is called Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor's Son. The latter contains the monologues of a nine-year-old who migrates to America. The Railroad Stories or Motl the Cantor's Son, which should you choose? I haven't read either, but will, soon, God willing. Politely request that your library own both.
* Just to be clear, the "wedding" is merely Tevye's joke, although a joke that backfires.
** Exodus 23:5 "If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden... thou shalt surely help him." Close enough for Tevye.