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Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #26, Jonah Again

In this scene it’s another ship to Tarsus, and who knows if it’s the right direction this time.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Ninth Era, Part 3, ~1032 C.E., north to Andalus

Reading that scene I just told above, maybe you thought,
“That Jew gone mad. What’s the truth here; what really happened? That guy sayin’ there’s more than one world?”

Well, what’s been told to me — and you can take it or not — God’s creation is many folded, and every possibility is creasin’ us.

On the farthest edge of possible worlds evil prevails and they exile God, just like us Jews been drove from our land. But such an expulsion creates a void that will surely collapse in its own emptiness. On the other extreme, the human state is but a brief flicker in the conscience of God, and all these sorrows and all these pains are nothin’ more than the faintest spark (which I’m told is the truth in any case!). And in between, the fecund urge of God is eruptin’ in infinite worlds: consciousness and adamy things compressed and wrinkled together so tight they break into dimensional fragments, and no one can know where one edge ends and another begins. And we, in the midst of these many-edged worlds, in and out and back and forth we flicker and are flung.

In short, we be a many-layered dream, and our many dreams lain together begin to make form in the Splendors of God.

Sorry, but you know how I like to drift.

We come to Tunis, much unclean, besmirched by curses and ignorance, so we gone to the mikvah* right away, and I come out like a new man.
* bath house for ritual cleansing;

I circles around to the women’s side figurin’ a tedious wait for Batkol. But there she be in a restless crowd of local women she met at the bath. At first I thought they were arguin’ with her. But no, they’re competin’ to have a guest. Us, like angels in a lonely waste and all them aspirin’ to be Aberhams. When they seen me, a few of them hustles away and returns right quick with men at their side, husbands and brothers and fathers too. With a ‘where are you from?’ and ‘where are you going?’ and ‘how long are your planning to be in our town?’, they settles it out and we bustles away to pray Maariv* and return to a home for a simple meal, and take our rest.
* Hebrew for ‘evening prayers’

Such a boisterous night! Just a simple meal: savories and baked goods from a dozen homes; discussin’ our work, drashin’* texts, and humorous and heart-achin’ tales of our lives.
* Hebrew for ‘exploring, explicating’

But more important than our wise words was our laughter at joys and our thankin’ the Lor. And we learns the routes to the western lands: it’s the sea’s jaws or the desert’s claws. But they knows a merchant who owns a boat, and he plies the trades both east and west. Says a friend of his,
“Tomorrow we’ll go to arrange your portage to Andalus.”

So here we be, clamberin’ on deck, ‘the worthiest vessel as ever did sail.’ And there’s Batkol, all smiles and song.
“Oh how exciting to sail the sea.” and “What a lovely boat. Oh lucky me!”
Felt to me like I was climbin’ myself into the jaws of a hungry shark. The sailors watch me like cannibals and the waves murmur, ‘We’ll eat you yet.’ I’m sick as a street cat and pale as a mist and the boat ain’t even begun to heave.

Heavy fog dissolves the worlds. All that remains are echoey sounds: we can hear some grindin’ steps on the shore, and hollow cloppin’ on the pier. Now a faint glow in the thick fog, and sunrise begins to tint the air. A bell rings twice and a growly shout. Ropes cast off and the dock recedes. Ere long a dawn of drizzle and mist. From the deck I can barely see the sea. Soon a steady slappin’ of waves, and bumps on the hull, like a cart on a rutty road. Flutter and snap and woosh a sail, while the oarsmen groan. Screechin’ of gulls.

So passes the day and so the night and before the new sun expels the fog, shouts and bells and the squeal of rope. A thump and a heavy jolt and we dock.

Annaba it were, first of our stops as we hop our way, huggin’ the coast for trade and rest, and to avoid storms. Exchangin’ cotton and Indian teas for jars of honey of the jujube. Barterin’ by day and sleepin’ at night to the gentle rockin’ of our Moor’s boat.

Before the dawn washes out the stars, the bell and a shout, and hawsers cast off, and into the jaws of the sea we return.

A day and a night, then well before dawn the light of Bugia’s towers gleams. Like the name implies, they sell wax – in candles and crocks – as cheap as sand. Just a short time there; before midday back in the glarin’ sea and sky. We expects to dock in Dzayer at midnight, maybe by dusk if the winds bless. But uprisin’ feathery clouds in the sky, then the wind and sea consort to rebel. Now squalls, and the sky descends on the sea in a battle of wills in their deathly howls. And amidst them a murderous shoutin’ of crew, “Row for the shore; row for your lives.”

But this time the crew don’t turn on me. They rows as the captain somehow steers, weavin’ through crashin’ lightning bolts, as momentary breaks in the wind and rain expose the shore and its flickery lights. Half the night we are tossed about, then a quiet descends, then storm returns, then that eerie and awesome quiet again, and the faintest tint on the eastern sky announcin’ the dawn and our merciful Lor. Oarsmen exhausted, we drift on the waves edged in violet, then rose, then gold, like glowin’ embers edged in fire, until the sun rises and a burst of flame with the blindin’ sparkles of a thousand suns. We drift into Dzayer like a riderless horse, weary and afraid of tomorrow’s whip.

Walkin’ them muddy and smelly alleys, thinkin’ how lost I really am, so far from homes, those Adens of mine, and only Batkol to give me a center. Well, I seen an old man and two of his sons lightin’ a candle and some incense cones…

…And I remembers a time so long ago, during festive Sukkot*: me bringin’ a lamb for a sacrifice. As I hold its head to face the east, and the blade flashes, the hand of the priest like a lightning bolt, and the lamb sinks to its knees, and the blood pours through my fingers, as I let go. Later we roast that lamb on a spit and celebrate til the early dawn.
* festival of Tabernacles, 7 days of joyous celebrations

How far away that sweet savor be. How foreign, how strange, how fidgety it sits among my prayers, among the ways I try to serve God and talk to Him. Them memories sit there all outa place, with a savage look like some wild eyed man praisin’ fire, all sway and howl. Lookin’ back on my wild eyed self, my childish ideas and fantasies. Now that temple and that priest is gone. That child is gone, and his happy day. But there’s sacrifices still, just different ways.

I think how I offers myself to the Lor, burnt up on this altar of souls. And sometime I feast on the offerings, Mincha* and Zevach.** Those are good days. And sometime I offer and there’s nothing for me; it’s all for the Lor or it’s all for naught. And most of the time I’ve got no clue if I am truly servin’ the Lor, or if our God has a use for my gifts…
* fine meal offering; ** peace or wholeness offering, eaten in part by the officiating priest and his family, in part by the person/family offering it

…watchin’ that old man take a coal to light a candle, and his offering.

So this be Dzayer, the al jazir,* its whitewashed brick and sun-baked dung; sufis and swindlers, casbah and souk; its square minarets, its arches and domes; its hills too steep for donkey carts; its porters bent with loads on their backs — men worth less than a worn-out mule.
* “the white”; modern Algiers

We stays here only long enough to regain our appetites disgorged in the sea, and to trade Egyptian cotton bolts for the heavy earrings and necklaces and rings that the Berber women wear to display their wealth. Them women with their wild or braided locks, and rings in their noses and lips and ears, nasty lookin’ women, all snarl and sneer, that take no guff from any man.

~~~~~~~~~~

In the next episode the Eternal Jew’s first steps on European soil.

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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