Stephen Berer
Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #12, Ultimatums

Desolation
Desolation; Modified and colorized image from the public domain book, Picturesque Egypt, published 1878, owned by the author.

In this scene Caliph Omar demands Sura surrender.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Fifth Era, Part 2, ~635 C.E. Sura

He turned back on me, growly now.
“This man here is a messenger of God, him, Umar, the Caliph of Islam, here to make the whole world into believers. I told him you were the head rabbi here, and you have proffered welcome to him. He wants to know by what power you can make such an offer to him. Circumcise your lips, or he will for you.”

I says,
“Behold. The fear of you ripples ahead of your proud ship. The waves bow down or turn and flee. The winds behind and the oars that cut the tender skin of the ocean’s neck drive you forth to these waiting lands. All the peoples feel your fears. Your enemies run. The rest hide. Our gates are shattered. Our leaders scattered. I alone emerged to say ‘The land is open. Welcome, Caliph.’”

“And to you my khaver* in mercy of law, I say, ‘the Lor resides here. But now like a Roman jackal you come. Will you, as them, burn our house, and drive out God from yet another place? Arise from your fears. Return to your house.’”
* Hebrew: brother

Abruptly he turned to address Umar, with snarls and growls and doggy yips. My few words become his many and I wonders how long this charade will play before my head goes skippin’ along.

Once more he directed his words to me, me, the face of his enemy, me, the Jew that he has cast out. Wan his cheek and gone his pique and not on me he turned his eye, but to the dust or into himself .

“Our great caliph has much to say to you, you miserable cur and Jew. First, the day of the Jew is gone. Isa* foretold it, Muhammed ordains. Behind our sword is the region of peace. The Jew will submit in the near or the far. Second, since you claim that you are the mouth of the land and its people, prove it now. Bring forth the princes and all of them who judge: ministers, scholars, men of wealth. Bring them to bow before their caliph.”
* Arabic: Jesus

Strange, he spoke in a trembly voice but his words were all proud and full of disdain. Stranger still, here I be, the Eternal Jew, now the voice of our people, as never elected before. This the moment the Lor has awoken, great and terrible in our sight.

And now I trembles, my cheek wan, not in fear of the caliph’s sword, but that all my words be true to the Lor.

Says I,
“You Jew who tasted the bitter herbs, the Lor’s twisty and gnarly root, may you lift a cup with sweet wine with the holy sons of Jacob again. Tell your caliph all the land is watching in fear. Well we know the way of the tyrant, Byzantine and Persian, before. Are you the same? Set your sword into its sheath. Withdraw your horses and war machines. Decree an amnesty from war, and all the chieftains of the land will meet you here on the morrow about noon, and bow to you and serve your ends. Or bind me up and kill me here, but who will trust your motives then? Look! From every narrow crack a thousand eyes upon you now.”

Then him whose face had lost its blood, whose soul had lost its color, interpreted my words. As he ended the caliph looked around the square and so I knew at least in part his words reflected mine.

Fifth Era, Part 3

Abrupt, the caliph drew his reins. His steed turned, reared and pranced, and off he galloped through the square. And like the sea at Moshe’s staff, the tide of Arab horsemen split. At first the single cloppin’ hooves of Umar’s horse, and then a surge of thunderous swells, in buck and nay, like a foamy surf returnin’ to sea.

What remained? A deadly silence, the seering sun, the thick tang of horse manure. Our disbelief.

And then a few, and then a throng of people rushin’ from concealment. They swarmed me like starvin’ men that tear a roasted hen apart, grabbin’, shoutin’, shove and plea. What was the wind that just blew through? What fate for Sura and its Jews?

Like sparks that leap on a pile of hay, upflames the town and rumors spread wild and fast and uncontrolled, til every home is burn. By dusk all hope consumed; our tongues blackened, scorched our hearts.

But in the synagogue the rabbis, elders, judges, princes meet to hear my tale and make plans, as certainly the caliph will return.

I tried to remember all I said to the caliph and the apostate too. But most of all, I urged and pled, I stomped and begged that every man, and women too, gather at dawn in bright array and prayerful mien to meet the Arab with fist unclenched.

Around me, the spokesmen and reasoners, the remnant of Yisroyel’s, righteous and devout, the elders, the scholars, and holy converts, them that sharpen and polish the rough edges of Talmud, that matrix of higher sefirot* that links every word of Torah to the One. These, our sages, well known Above, must duel with demons in this nether world.
* Kabbala; 10 attributes of divine emanation into consciousness

Rav Mar opens,
“We are taught, ‘Go in your goings from out of your land’.* Not by murder and not by martyrs does the priesthood climb the heavenly rungs.”
Rav Hanina enhanced the command to leave,
“‘Flee yourself to that one in Haran.**’”
But Mar Rav Huna said,
“Take a further step. We are already in Haran, and Esau is waiting in Philistia. Va’Yishlakh*** is our portion now. Climb the next rung to the strategy of Jacob. Select rich gifts and set the women and children behind.”
* Genesis 12:1; ** Genesis 27:43; *** Genesis 32:4-36:43

At that the angel-wrestlin’ began, thrashin’ out every possible twist. At first light of dawn all was agreed: who would take the women, who the children, who the wagons of books and scrolls. The hush and hurry, the creakin’ loads away from sword and torch and beast. And remaining here, our sages, and me at their head. (Go figure!) We shuffled out to the square, dissemblin’ our hearts with a show of courage.

Fifth Era, Part 4

An then we heard them, and here they come!

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan with an awe of The Eternal and an unbounded love of Judaism that shapes everything I think and do. 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: http://steveberer.com/work-in-progress. In the process of reconstructing lives, I also reconstruct English, in an effort to achieve heightened and multi-dimensional perspectives. I have recorded some brief thoughts about this philological journey in a series of essays entitled "Essential Notes on Linguistics." You can read these on my website or at Academia. My creative life also includes arts and crafts. For example, my older son and I are working on an illuminated Megillat Esther. Finally, and in many ways most importantly, I currently live with my bashert just outside Washington, DC, and have two remarkable sons, the three of whom light my life.
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