Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #38, A Heavy Load

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

In this episode our hero takes on a new line of work.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eleventh Era, Part 8-Saadia’s Tale, 3, 1040 C.E., Metz

Cocks are squawkin’ in the first light and I groan on my bench in the beit midrash. The gabbai* arrives from knockin’ on doors and ringin’ his bell, wakin’ every man to pray Shachrit.** Of course I’m there. I always am. But what’s the taste of such prayers as mine? Acrid and raw and hardly worthy of the Lor of us. But where will I go if I daren’t pray, seein’ my home is the house of prayer?
* Hebrew: synagogue attendant; ** Hebrew: morning; morning prayers

Aleinu.* Reluctant, I rise to go, reduced as I am to carryin’ loads like a donkey, and just as hungry and mean.
* the closing prayer

As if I were drunk on a bitter wine pressed from the grapes of self-reproach, sourin’ into self-pity and guilt, and the usual toxins well infused, envy mostly, but confusion too, some homesick aches and some back ache too; and once you’re drunk, you starts to laugh at yourself and the world and the Lor of us.

Well, that’s what’s a- coursin’ through my veins as I shuffle along these empty lanes down to the docks to look for work. The western sky still ultra-marine and people just groanin’ and yawnin’ a-bed. But the docks are bustlin’ and the foremen bark and the porters all jostle and growl and gripe.

Well here’s my days: told to wait while locals get all the choice loads. And then piled high with bundles of wood or cotton bales or Moroccan rugs. Then, bent in half like a grovelin’ slave, I drip my sweat all around Metz.

Like them men that visited Aberham, crossin’ plains in the heat of the day, deliverin’ their message and then departin’ into Sodom and its vicious ways , now here am I in this sodom of Metz. I call on the Lor to burn it down, but the only burnin’ is in my gut.

Gruntin’ through a crooked lane overhung by eaves and balconies, where the sewage trickles through cobble and mud, there some merchants sell off the wine of the poor vintage and the leaky vats. Plus plenty of foamy beer and ale.

That’s where I first met the porter Fritz, though I seen him skulkin’ around at the docks.
“Hey you,”
he mumbles into his jug, and I wonders, ‘Is there a little man inside that jug he’s talkin’ to?’ Again,
“Hey you; your ears plugged up, or don’t you talk to the likes of me?”
I turns with a quizzical squint of my face.
“Yah, you. Who else is sloggin’ through here? Want to buy me another pitcher of ale? These shop owners here are all my friends. For me they’ll give you the best price.”

Disgusted and weary and raw to the bone, I lays down my yoke and its bundle of pains and squats a pace from that drunken sot.
“What do they sell that’s fit to drink?”
“Fit to drink? There’s none of that. But soon enough the barley ale will make you forget the way it goes down.”

“For a pitcher of it, what’s the bite?”
“Oh, a half a copper pfennig will fetch two big jugs and a re-fill as well.”
“I suppose that’s fair enough, alright, but I ain’t got a copper to my name.”
“What did I expect from a cursed Jew? You brews the barley and ferments grape; you loans the gold and cooks accounts to squeeze the prince and the burgermeist; but ask for a sip to ease your thirst and ‘I’m so poor’ and ‘tut, tut, tut.’”
This he mumbles to that little man in his jug who answers, ‘tut tut tut’.

So stunned, I starts to beg forgive,
“No, really, look at me. I’m broke as you…”
and then I comes to my senses.
“Stop lookin’ in that empty jug and look at me, you drunken sot. Would I wear a horse’s yoke and carry stones if I was rich?”
And then, it’s like he really was talkin’ into that gapin’ jug as if it was Ali Baba’s cave.

So he fumbles in his leathern pouch that hangs on the rope that holds his pants.
“It don’t mean nothin’. Everyone knows Jews will hang us all on a cross when the end times come. But I don’t mean you. You’re just a regular low-down slug like me. Here’s a copper. Go in that door and tell them Fritz must deliver some ale to the tanneries outside town. That should get us three full jugs to relieve the drought that’s parchin’ my froat.”
And he hands me a bent and well-shaved coin.

Stampt on that coin is a many branched tree, and what I does in that fraughtful moment is also a tree in its many branches, each growin’ into separate worlds. In one, I clops him on his grizzled chops; and in one I buys the ale and cracks both jugs on his head; and in one I buys the ale for myself, him howlin’ and yelpin’; and in one I turns and walks away with nary a word nor violent acts and I never returns to that stinkin’ lane or the foul precincts that abide him.

And the branches branch, nor all the pens to scribe scripts, nor all the books that ever will be could contain the tales. And the branches branch, but the gnarliest one is the one I’m about to tell you now.


In the next episode our hero tries some new medicine. His doctor says it’ll be good for him.

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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