Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #19, Welcome to Kairouan

Rav Khushiel; modified and colorized image from the public domain book, Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.
Rav Khushiel; modified and colorized image from the public domain book, Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.

In this scene, “work protects from shame.”

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Seventh Era, Part 3. ~1000 C.E., Kairouan

I seen a woman, looks like a Jew, glance at me and then turn away. She moves off fast into the crowd while the Berbers continue to bargain for me.

Wasn’t long when up strides a man with mean lookin’ eyes and a gash on his face. They palaver and argue and spit on the ground. The regular dance for buyin’ goods. Seems he wants me enough to pay their price, a golden coin or two. When it was settled, he throws me a filthy rag to wrap my loins. Then he chains my neck.

He marches away pullin’ the chain, me stumblin’ along. There ain’t no words to describe the shame and horror and despair, the furies and terrors all grippin’ me. This must be a punishment, but what my sin? Does this come from the Lor? If not, am I the target of some evil spirit? Surely the world ain’t randomly cruel.

It wasn’t but one or two turns down lanes when my new captor shouts, and suddenly thrusts me into a door, open and shut, and I fall to the stone, waitin’ the whip.

“*Atah medabaer lashone kodesh, khaver?*”
Another episode of delirium sweepin’ over my battered brain, as I lay there shiverin’ and gaspin’ for a breath.
*-* Hebrew for: Do you speak the holy tongue, friend?

I hears myself repeatin’,
“*Ken, ken. Anee medabaer medabaer,*” but no response. Just silence after a few whispered words. Then I feel a warm cloth wipe my face.
*-* Hebrew for: Yes, yes. I speak, speak.

Eighth Era, Part 1 ~1000 C.E., Kairouan

Like Joseph sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar’s house, the hand of God that cast him down then picks him up. So me, redeemed by Khushiel’s house.

Of course, you know their many sons, *Khananel, Nissim, and the Rif.* But in that day the Africk states were just beginning to make their rise from the blowin’ sands, and bring forth wisdom, many a crop.
*-* Three famous rabbis descended from that family

Rav Khushiel’s wife prepared a bed, and they lays me in it, and brings me tea. Oh, the comfort of a warm sip and a pile rug to lay my bones. For a week or more I hardly move, my knotted muscles, my bruised bones, my burned and abraded and flayed skin. Not to mention my battered soul and the horrors workin’ their way out of me.

As soon as I can rise from bed I accompany the rav to his synagogue, glad to add my voice in prayers among the minyan gathered there. Instead, in accents strange and thick, the leader chants in an unknown trope, and many piyyutim* and many verses that I had never heard before.
* poem prayers from post-Temple times

The rav he watches me stumble through, and figures I’m slow of tongue. Yet work protects a man from shame, and he has to find a job for me. And so by Minkhah* he assigns me service to the community. He tells me as we walk to prayers,
“You will clean the synagogue.”
* afternoon prayers

And so, reduced to shame, I clean the place. And day by day I learn the Hebrew dialect they use, and all the verses of their prayers.

And day by day Rav Khushiel comes to sit and talk with me. He calls me ‘son’, (which amuses me), me, a thousand years older than him. At first he talks, just chitterin’ with me, but then he begins to push on the doors where I’ve locked my memories — fury and fire, doused in the waters and burned in the sands — that somehow dissolve themselves like salt and spread out into my liquid thoughts, reshaping everything I feel and know.
“Tell me, son, in dread detail, of your life among the Berber tribe, and what the cause and what the sin to end up chattel that they would sell.”

And slow the tale slips from me like barbs dragged from out of my gut, tearin’ me all the way up to my lips.

“Redeemin’ Rav, I lack the eyes to see the logics and the cause. And if my sins were scarlet hot, was that my mikvah*? Am I now clean?”
* ritual bath to cleanse spiritual impurity

“I sailed to Andalus to trade, when sailors threw me overboard. A fish carried me ashore to thwart the evil done to me. Cast upon a dreary shore I tracked a boy into a cave. And fell into the vicious hands of them that sold me here to you.”

Mild his words. Without rebuke on me who questions God’s design, and whether the harsh decrees of life are woven by the Lor’s own hand.

“You tell the outer shape of things, but are your inner landscapes flat? I’ll wager you’ve walked some rough terrain and rocky fields. Tell this to me.”

Then like a miner diggin’ ore, tryin’ to extract the kinky vein, I looks down into the ground of me, to dig it out, both the corrupt and pure.

“Water and wave, they lashed me hard, but the sailors lashed me harder still. And lashed, too, in the Berber’s thongs, them the forty lashes of God. Like a shattered vase, a delirium, my mind nearly burst in flickery light. I clung to the mast and I sank in my sea and a fish lifted me up to these middle worlds, to this crucible world, it’s red-hot shore. In my fevers I followed Azazel’s* kid into the cave of a demon band. Flayed and splayed they sold me to you.”
* see Vayikra/Leviticus 16:5-10


In the next episode Rav Khushiel extracts a clearer look into our hero’s soul.

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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