Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #119, Bottleneck

Falling stars; image colorized and modified by the author, derived from a public domain image, Meteor Storm.
Falling stars; image colorized and modified by the author, derived from a public domain image, Meteor Storm.
In this episode Saadia and Batkol have been released from their game of “chess” with Black Death, and they find themselves at loose ends.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eighteenth Era, Part 1, ~1380 CE, lost
The C14 Bottleneck

And there we be, lost and stunned, standin’, starin’ at Vienna’s gate, without a thought of what to do.
“Let’s find our people,”
Batkol says, and takes my hand and leads me in.
Now, Vienna be a city exceeding great, a three day’s journey to pass thru it, with all its markets and enticin’ goods, and this one and that one grabbin’ your arm to draw you into his dingy shop, each one ‘unique in all the world,’ and ‘special for you at a special price.’ For three days back and forth in its streets seekin’ the Jewish kehilla* here without announcin’ our real intent, these bein’ times of suspicion and fear, when Jews be blamed for every ill wind, and burnin’ a Jew and lootin’ his home be the favored** way to suppress that fear.
*Hebrew: community; ** others say ‘fevered’
Inclined towards shadows and obsequiousness, a bare minyan* is what we find, tryin’ to live as invisibles, tho a fine synagogue prominently stood not far from the Danube, inside the walls. It seems that plague and riot and decree have threshed and winnowed and eaten away the once thrivin’ community here. And these, the remnant, like a sack of wheat that rats have gnawed till only husks remain; old and shriveled and nary a child. We brung them a generous *oneg Shabbat*, but there weren’t much ‘oneg’ left in their eyes as they told us all the sorrows that befell, of the few survivin’ children who fled.
“Where did they go?”
“We don’t know. Bereaved, we are, as if they died; neither letter nor traveler brung us word. But go to Prague. There’s many a Jew livin’ within them buttressed walls.”
* ten men required for a full prayer service
*-* ‘joy of Sabbath’, a celebratory meal, usually after Friday night prayers
But wherever we wander these many long years, a blighted remnant is all we find. Has the Lor abandoned His favored child? If so, He’s abandoned this world, too, like a fire burnin’ out, first the flame flickers and fades, leavin’ but coals that glow theirselves out to a charred ash; so this world would flicker away.
But no! God won’t abandon us! This world be His word and Torah his reign, and we the fruit the Lor does tend.
And tho my mind tells it that way, there’s so much grief and broken hearts, and so many tangibles compressed into doubt — has the Lor turned His back on our world? — that our ways be like famine and drought, hunger and thirst that weaken our knees; an unsteady step, fainted our hope, til finally we sit and can stand up no mor, parched and panting and waitin’ to die.

Shattered Spheres

Like a broken mirror this world become. Here, some reflections that pass by my eyes.
A decrepit cottage swallowed in vines in a far corner of an abandoned field that outskirts a village forgotten by the world, that’s where we stop to await our end. Survivin’ on roots and crawfish and bugs and other such treif* as the Lor forbids, we the last Jews at the world’s end. We become like hermits, unkempt, wild, and much a-feared when some spirit appears on this road (which don’t go nowhere), talkin’ spirits, be they demon or beast, wearin’ a human form like a cloak, like a death shroud remindin’ us that the plague ain’t never far away. That’s all that ever comes our way.
* unkosher food; from the Hebrew into Yiddish, which is beginning to emerge in Europe
And then it arrives one sweaty summer night: a thousand stars fallin’ out of the sky. All night long the fiery rain, like the gears of heaven got jammed and broke up. Surely this be the end of it all. Shock, then terror, then preparin’ to die. I nods to Batkol and she nods at me.
In the early mornin’ I close my eyes. Awake or asleep, this I see…
A fiery angel plunges from the sky, his body a-sparkle like coals in a hearth. And as he tumbles, twirls and twists, he changes shapes — now young, now old, now joyous, now solemn, now tearful, now fierce, now a woman, now a man, now a little child. Behind him like a shower of fallin’ stars, spirits come tumblin’ thru the air. Like many fiery raindrops, they strike the furrowed fields. Their flame descends into the earth and is seen no more. But from the char, abundant crops.
But sometimes these fiery raindrops strike a person workin’ these meager fields. I seen them, senseless, crumple to their knees, and then, their body, like a wrinkled shell of an almond, brakes and falls away, and a child arises, vibrant, amazed. Unhesitant, it leaves the field to pursue the sparkly meteor man.
One of the children, a bright young lass, quick and proud, she carries herself. Come to a warped and rotten fence, she pushes thru the creaky gate, and up to a tiny, ramshackle hut. Inside, she seen a ragged, old man.
“Who are you?”
he grumbles at her. But she takes his hand and leads him out into the sun. Do my eyes deceive? His clothes ain’t filthy anymore, and three frolickin’ children follow them.
“Momma, where have you been?”
says one. And now I see his tzitzit* swing. And as they enter the cottage door he touches the mezuzah** and kisses his hand.
* fringes on a Jewish prayer shawl; ** a blessing placed on the doorpost of a Jewish home
But that ain’t all that passes by the way. There’s a drunk man drivin’ a wooden cart. His horse limps on the rocky road. Touched by a drop of that fiery rain, like a moth come out of a dreary cocoon, he looks around and shakes himself, then clucks his tongue and sings out, ‘giddyup.’ The horse trots off in lively gait over the river and thru the woods, rushin’ home to greet Shabbat.
And a child runs out of a peasant’s hut on a windy lane. Mud and rut, human waste and donkey dung splashin’ from his leathery feet, out to the cobbled cathedral square. Across, and into another lane, and now he can hear the rumble and hiss, shout and scream, hammer and crash, and now the smoke is burn his nose, and now the flame is glare in his eyes, and now the roof of the synagogue — where Satan and all his brood pray — collapses amidst a thunderous roar. Among the eruptin’ spray of sparks a luminant ember from out of the sky falls on the boy. Shock, and he yelps as a hand grabs him, and he’s dragged away. He turns to catch one last glimpse — a festival, acrobats, clowns, fiery batons, fragrant smells — and back to that dreary little class where a cranky teacher with rancid breath makes him memorize Leviticus*.
* this is the book where Torah learning began for the youngest children, aged six or before.
And out thru the neck of the bottle us Jews re-emerge in these eastern lands.
In the next episode, returning to Prague, do our heroes enter an alternate reality?
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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