Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #109, A Tale on 4 Levels, 3

Who Is This Nun?; video produced from an image colorized and modified in multiple ways by the author. Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Ermitage, by dePassy, MET-DP160061, in the public domain.
In this episode… a prayerbook the size of a woman’s hand.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 7, 1320 C.E., Chelm
2. The Secret Jew’s Tale, part 2

… “but after Compline when the bell rings ten, come to the door at the end of this alley,”…
Night. Near where the alley ends we steps into a dark alcove and waits. Finally. Ten bells ring. I cough. Breathless we listens and waits. Many minutes. I cough again. We waits again. And one more time.
“She ain’t comin’. Let’s go home.”
Wasted time and wasted hopes as we try to walk foxy soft to avoid the watchman makin’ his rounds.
“Mister Jew, I’m over here.”
We stop.
“Behind this broken wall.”
Can’t hear a thang. Can’t see a thang. Dark as the curses in Ki Tavo*. I slip my knife out of my boot. Batkol probably pulls hers too.
* Torah portion, Devarim/Deut. 26:1-29:8
“Mister Jew, I’m sorry I must hide. A nun is forbidden to be alone, to walk the street or talk with a man, or to be outside the convent with him. Quickly then, what is your need? I keep records and documents. All the Orthodox in this town, their records are all beneath my hand.”
“I works for the hetman, Danyo Shvarn. He must prove he owns his lands, and that his people owned it long before, and that his fief was granted by the king many a generation back. We’ll pay you well for what you find.”
“Silver? I have no need of that. The Maariv* prayers are all I want, in Hebrew. The smaller the better for me. Two sheets of mine for a sheet of yours. I must go. Give me one week’s time.”
* evening prayer service
A slight rustle and nothin’ more. I whisper,
but she be gone.
Quiet we rush thru the fathomless dark, tryin’ to fathom the heart of a nun.
That week Batkol and me transcribe the Maariv prayers in clear script on half-size octavo signatures. Sew it and bind it into a book about the size of a woman’s hand, sixteen pages, front and back.
Near it were to the full of the moon; not even alleys were safely dark. Click-clack of the watchman’s boots not five steps away as we squeeze ourselves into a shadowy niche in a wall. We wait. Ten bells. Then slither of cloth. Black on black she glides thru the night and hands me a bundle.
“This I found.”
Wrapped in a veil, a score of sheets. The light of the moon verifies some as important events in the Shvarn clan. We then hand her a little sack. When she lifts the Maariv siddur* out of it, a moment of lookin’, a moment of gasps. In the moonlight a teary streak on her cheek.
* prayer book
“I was born in a Jewish home. As a young girl I got swept away by a Polish boy, handsome and proud. My parents beat me and threatened me, and in my passion I ran away. That boy only wanted one thing, and left me abandoned, homeless, defiled. And so I gave myself to the church in bitter shame, frightened, alone. Like a babe in Mother Superior’s arms, and like a prize, a Jew redeemed. And like a captive chained to these stones. To leave the church is a mortal sin — to burn at the stake and to burn in hell. But it seems my Jewish soul never died, but grew like a hungry spirit in me. And like a foreign spirit I walk these halls mouthin’ the church’s liturgy but learnin’ Hebrew and Jewish prayers. And devoted to servin’ Adonai. One day I’ll die in those dank rooms and then at last my soul will fly free. And some day my notes, my leaves, and my books will be discovered. Some will declare, ‘blasphemy.’ Others will gape and wonder why God hid these leaves there.”
In fathomless dark, staggered and stunned we stand awe-struck before this nun.
In the next episode… what a riot!
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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