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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 855

Before a group of men and women start on their journey to settle in the Land of Israel, a stranger named Hananiah enters their town of Buczacz, entreating them to allow him to accompany them. The man, barefoot and in rags, carries all his worldly goods tied up in a...

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Before a group of men and women start on their journey to settle in the Land of Israel, a stranger named Hananiah enters their town of Buczacz, entreating them to allow him to accompany them. The man, barefoot and in rags, carries all his worldly goods tied up in a kerchief. With some prompting, he recounts his adventures, full of perils and narrow escapes. He stayed for a time with robbers who were forced by their oppressors into a life of crime. Asking why the robber chief puts on phylacteries, Hananiah learned of the death of Zusha, the band’s former leader, whom the present one imitates by this action. Ashamed to have to decline the chief’s offer to lead him through a certain cave to the Land of Israel, Hananiah left the band to resume his journey.

The travelers are delighted to have Hananiah join them, for he will complete the quorum of ten men required for communal prayer. Among the men are Rabbi Shmuel Yosef, well versed in legends of the Holy Land, and Rabbi Yosef Meir, who divorced his wife because she refused to go to the Land of Israel. Among the women are Milka, who married a man on condition they would immigrate to Israel, only then to have him insist on staying and divorce her, and the wives of four of the men.

Hananiah rejects the group’s offer of boots, swearing that his feet must remain bare because, while in a country that never celebrates the Sabbath or festivals, he loses track of the time and fails to honor the Day of Atonement. He proceeds to polish the lamps and the other implements in the House of Study, to repair torn books, to make trunks for the pilgrims, and to fashion a Holy Ark for the Torah Scroll accompanying them to the Land of Israel.

The townspeople gather to speed them on their journey, except Buczacz’s rabbi, who believes that settlement in the Land of Israel must await the coming of the Messiah. The group hires and outfits two large wagons, the men and women to ride separately; the wagoner drives one and Hananiah, though denying he is a wagoner, expertly guides the other. Everywhere they stop, people, even rival townsfolk and Gentiles, show them respect upon learning of their destination.

As they approach Lashkovitz, which boasts a grand fair, Satan stands in their path and begins coaxing them to turn aside and indulge in the splendors of the fair. Coming to himself, one of the group urges the wagoner to direct the horses quickly on the road to the next stop. Passing a horde of cripples carrying waxen models of limbs, the pilgrims realize that they have escaped temptation.

Joining the company along the way is a woman whose husband, Zusha, had disappeared. Rumors arise that he became a robber chief and was hanged. According to Jewish law, the woman cannot remarry because her husband’s death remains unproved. Refusing to despair, the woman continues to search for Zusha.

Once the women of the company see the sea, on which their journey must continue, they begin to fear for their lives and cry for divorces. When these are obtained, the women remember the pains those buried outside the Land of Israel must endure to reach it. They then entreat their former husbands to remarry them, which the men do.

On board ship, when the men gather for prayer, they discover they lack a quorum and realize that Hananiah was left behind. Miserable, they blame themselves for this loss. As the dawn brightens, they stare in wonder at a man sitting on his kerchief and floating by them on the sea.

Arriving at Istanbul, a city of splendor and squalor, the comrades await the ship hired annually by Istanbul’s congregation for pilgrims to the Land of Israel. Boarding the ship with the Buczacz company are Jews and Gentiles of all nationalities. After three peaceful weeks, a storm threatens to sink the ship. Once the danger is past, the passengers find themselves back at Istanbul. A second departure is successful, and all arrive safely in the Holy Land. All along the way, Rabbi Yosef heartened the company with legends extolling the land.

Immediately, however, the group encounters the reality of the land’s fierce heat. Upon reaching Jerusalem, the men go to pray at the Western Wall, or the remains of the Holy Temple, adding a special prayer for Hananiah. At the synagogue, during the Sabbath service, they are reunited with him—grown taller and wearing shoes. It was Hananiah who sailed alongside their boat on his kerchief. He also met the robber chief who imitated the holy actions of his predecessor. Hananiah brought this man to the widow searching for her lost husband, thereby resolving the matter of Zusha’s fate.

While all eventually are reduced to living on charity, only Leibush the butcher leaves in bitterness. Two of the women die violently, and Rabbi Meir’s divorced wife arrives and they remarry. Hananiah lives past the age of one hundred, accruing strength with each year.

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