Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #129, Things Fall Apart, 3

Early navigation aid with trigonometric calculations; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, tondo e quadro of Andrea Bianco, 1436, in the public domain.
Early navigation aid with trigonometric calculations; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, tondo e quadro of Andrea Bianco, 1436, in the public domain.
In this episode… faces hiding behind other faces…
I come to the door of the studio… the door groans open and there in a cap and a rumpled nightshirt, Daniyel’s friend, groggy eyed and rumpled thoughts….

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eighteenth Era, Part 4, ~1425 C.E., Genoa

His son is still curled up on a mat, a blanket pulled up over his head, his feet stickin’ out the other end.
“Gabriel, it’s time to awake,”
he tenderly beckons as he lifts a pole and opens the shutter with a grinding squeal. That, and the light poring into the room, and the lad can’t squirm back into his dreams. He emerges from covers with a stuporous look.
“I studied those scraps you were working on, extracting coastlines and spurs of land, and shallows and shoals and look-out shacks. Good work, but there’s a couple of things you missed that we should go over. And your compass points are sometimes wrong. Don’t forget to adjust direction for the time of year. The tables I made will help you there. Daniyel’s got them somewhere in here.”
“Yeah. I seen them but didn’t know what they was. They’re right here.”
And I pulls them off of a shelf by my bench, and hands them to him, in spite of my feeling he belittled my skills, added to my previous judgment of him for abandoning our noble ways.
“Ah! That’s it,”
as I hand it to him. A crude booklet, poorly bound, the paper cheap and lackin’ size*, the ink blotted and feathery. But every page been laid in a grid, showin’ the deviations of the sun from true east to true west for each degree of longitude, calculated for each week of the year.
* sealant glue so ink doesn’t feather
He explains it all careful and slow with sketches and compass and diagrams, and sudden-like, what were foggy and dim become all lucid and obvious. And I marvels at his mathematic skills, and how he teaches it so easily, as if he looked into my mind and seen dirty windows and wiped them clean.
We works together til midday bells, and I seen that all I done before had to be scrapped, or at least revised.
“One of the greatest minds of the age,”
Daniyel croons when we stops for lunch.
“You’re a lucky man to be learning from him.”
Eatin’ skewers of fire roasted fish, and sippin’ a kind of honey ale all in silence. Wary I were, and not lookin’ to skewer myself with my pointed feelings an sharp thoughts, when Daniyel goes and kicks it up.
“Saadia here, he lived in your land, down in Granada. Isn’t that so?”
I shrugs my shoulders.
“Yeah, I guess, but that were pretty long ago. Riots drave us out of there.”
“Yes! Threats and riots, king and priest, all conspire to baptize us and establish Iberia’s Christian root. So surely you know, a man must keep a public face and a secret life, and a heavy wall of brick between, and never let your Jewish voice speak itself outside your home, or think itself of what might be if it weren’t a crime to be a Jew. And in Genoa it’s almost as bad… All my Jewishness comes surging out and I have to keep pushing it back inside so it doesn’t grow easy and comfortable, which will set me up to put my head in a noose when I return to Castile.”
“I can’t say I understand how you can live such a double life,* false to the world and false to yourself.”
* other say , ‘lie’
He stare at me for a long time, voices warrin’ inside his head, and which might be the best way to club my head.
“Yes, I live a double life with false words, many a one, but false to myself I am not. Not false but incomplete my lives. My worldly life shorn of its faith; my living faith shorn of kavod.* Are you so different, my judgmental friend? Your worldly life stripped of kavod, your life of faith hid from the world. Nor better to be Christian born, oppressing the stranger with blood on your hands. In a world of oppression all be oppressed.”
* Hebrew: honor
With such logic he twists out his facts. From false premise conclusions be false. Makin’ a double face for himself, he seen a double face in the world. But I didn’t want to batter the man, and didn’t want to antagonize Daniyel, so I keeps my peace.
Home and sippin’ ale with Batkol, I says,
“I heared their story today.”
“Different than you expected to hear?”
“The man has two names, Hiam and Juan, the hidden Jew and the Christian prince, but he treats them like they’re just coats to wear, choosin’ the one that serves the role. But his Jewish coat is hid in his chest and he struts about in a Christian cape, honored and proud and full of disdain for the moth-eaten rags he has hid away. His son don’t know Hebrew or the heart-meltin’ tropes of Torah chanted in a house of prayer. He be a branch broke from the tree of prophets and sages, to wither away.”
“Is that his say, or be those your words?”
“I didn’t hear no tear in his voice when he spoke of himself as a hidden Jew. He’s pleased enough with Christian kavod, which he says don’t touch his inner life. In his inner life he claims he’s a Jew, but it earns no kavod, so it’s empty too. I said that to him, but he just said, ‘foo.’”
“Did he tell you of his secret shame when he hears his people slandered and reviled? Or all the allure and relief he feels when he slips out of that prophet’s robe, all moth-et, and bloody as well, and sudden, arrayed in Christian garb, the world, it kindly takes his hand and shines in wonders withheld from a Jew?”
“Am I hearin’ you right, that you agree that it ain’t worth the trouble to be a Jew? Is that what you’re saying?”
I screamed in reply.
“God forbid,”
her eyes to her feet. Nor another word be spoke that night.
In the next episode, open battle.
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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